Genre and Ideology in Vietnam War Films 1978-1987
(2016) Genre and Ideology in Vietnam War Films 1978-1987, no. 39.
Introduction: The Vietnam War was a major event in the 1960's and 70's that can be seen as the USA's first major defeat in a heavily escalated conflict with far-reaching consequences that are still being felt today. Unlike previous conflicts there wasn't an immediate bank of war films produced that documented and, to an extent, celebrated the war. The reason for the lack of films produced is theorised by Neale (2000) as the war divided public opinion, the audience that Hollywood wanted to appeal to was predominantly young and anti-war and the US military was against funding films that might criticise their actions in Vietnam. These factors delayed critical efforts to make sense of the war and so the films that did eventually emerge came later in the late 1970's and throughout the 80's. Existing evidence surrounding the ideology within Vietnam War films heavily debates the message portrayed by these films in response to the war. The traditional codes and conventions of war films had surrounded the representations of war America had won, World War Two for example, and so the codes and conventions of the Vietnam War were insufficient for describing a lost war. The annihilation of Americans and portrayal of the military is arguably highly critical and not heroic and disciplined like the portrayal is in World War Two combat films (Eberwein 2009). This lack of codes, conventions and support meant that the films made had to adapt the model of the war film to suit the wars and so the ideology and genre that structures the films isn't as straightforward. The films produced contained a lot of metaphors to try to find and make sense of the larger meanings of the war. This difference in generic conventions and changing, Calweti argues, can be traced to the cultural myths surrounding war changing within society and that directly influenced the way war films were made (Calweti, as cited in Eberwein 2010). Four of the most famous, commercially successful and critically acclaimed Vietnam films are The Deer Hunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987). The popularity and reach of this particular group of films leads us to the argument that by analysing the literature surrounding them, an attempt can be made to analyse the ideology and genre of Vietnam War films within the greater context of the war film genre.