The Vietnam Oscars

Throughout the duration of the bloody, wasteful, and fratricidal Vietnam War—roughly, say, from the commitment of the first American military advisers, in 1961, to the war’s end, in 1975—the Hollywood studios maintained a discreet silence, save for a few exceptions, such as John Wayne’s jingoist picture, The Green Berets, released in 1968. This was a deeply unpopular war, and conventional studio wisdom held that Americans saw enough of it on the six-o’clock news. But the dam finally broke in 1978, when the studios released two high-profile features, both replete with Hollywood’s best and brightest, Coming Home and The Deer Hunter.

Even though three years had passed since the panicky evacuation of U.S. personnel and some South Vietnamese friends from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon, the two pictures, which seemed to come down on opposite sides of the conflict, brought the war home with a vengeance, reopening old wounds and inflaming passions long thought spent. As Bruce Gilbert, associate producer of Coming Home, puts it, “The war may have been over, but the war over the interpretation of the war was just beginning.” Both movies vacuumed up Oscar nominations—The Deer Hunter nine, Coming Home eight—setting the stage for the war to be refought at, of all places, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in Los Angeles. It was a battle that would echo the real one in its bitterness....

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