Friday, June 29, 2007

God Bless America

Lewis Beale levels the sweeping indictment that most American movies made about the Vietnam War are racist, and one his prime examples is the POW camp Russian roulette scene in "The Deer Hunter". This scene is problematic because it has no basis in fact, and Beale implies that its only purpose is to portray the Vietnamese as inhuman savages.

I don't know why director Michael Cimino chose to include this pivotal scene--Russian roulette also figures prominently elsewhere in the film--but the most generous interpretation is that it symbolized the war's utter futility, and the damage it wreaked on America's national psyche. (Of course, part of Beale's argument is that Vietnam War films show little concern with what the war did to the Vietnamese people.)

I've always liked "The Deer Hunter", in part for the textured performances from its leads, and in part for the portrait it paints of small town western Pennsylvania in decline. (The film's non-Vietnam scenes were set in Clairton.) Those of us who are from western Pennsylvania no doubt find some of the deer hunting scenes laughable: They were filmed in Washington state, which explains the presence of snow-capped mountains.

(Hat tip to The House Next Door.)

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