Sunday, November 07, 2004

The United States war in Vietnam, which began in 1955 and lasted until 1975, marked one of the most controversial periods in the country's history. The American public was deeply divided on the issue of war, and the once-popular war genre in film had become taboo. No film studio was willing to risk lost profits by producing a film about the Vietnam War. Many studios were worried that the United States would pull its troops out of combat before a potential film was released, so almost no movies regarding war in any context were produced until the late 1960's.

John Wayne, America's favourite World War II film hero, was probably the only person willing to risk making what he called "an American film about American boys who were heroes over there. In sense…propaganda." But The Green Berets, a film about a Special Forces Unit that finds itself fighting with an overwhelming Vietcong force, never manages to stir up the same dramatic black and white, good versus evil mentality present in Wayne's earlier war films. The shades of grey present in every conflict that had become part of the American consciousness during the Vietnam War caused the audiences for a pro-war propaganda film to dwindle.

During the early 1960's, there was a lull in the Hollywood film industry. Epic films like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Cleopatra (1963) weren't doing it for audiences anymore. In order to reflect an increasingly socially conscious youth market, the industry needed to make a change. And that it did. By the late 1960's, the film industry was producing anti-establishment, youth-oriented films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Graduate (1967), and the reformation of other old genres followed suit.

The war genre found revision in two major films made in 1970: Patton(1970), and M*A*S*H(1970).These films re-examined America's role in World War Two, the Korean War. M*A*S*H, a comedy, was meant as an anti-war statement of sorts; the soldiers wild, funny antics were done so that the horrors of war could be ignored. Patton marked the first time an American war General had been criticized for his actions on the silver screen. Towards the end of the Vietnam War, anti-war statements were favoured to pro-American cinematic propaganda. It marked a short-lived period in American history where the actions of the military were put under serious scrutiny by the public, and this scrutiny was reflected in popular film.