Who are they, the Vietnam War veterans who have become such powerful, contested symbols on this election's battlefield? Perhaps they are the vets in the documentary Stolen Honor -- aging former POWs in medal-bedecked suits, the unbowed and angry men who say that John Kerry's anti-war activism lengthened their time in torture cells in Vietnam and tarnished their honor as American soldiers at home. Or maybe the ones in George Butler's Going Upriver, the latest Vietnam documentary qua Kerry campaign biography -- young men in crumpled fatigues, screaming, weeping, and crumpling to the ground after they hurl their medals in protest over a war they believed was, as Kerry testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, “the biggest nothing in history.”
A white room, a shabby desk, feeble light seeping through a window: The set of Alison MacLean and Tobias Perse's new documentary, Persons of Interest, is deceptively bland. But as 12 stories unfold within its confines -- the narrators are Arab and Muslim immigrants who endured the terror and confusion of post-September 11 detention -- the room begins to resemble less a blank stage set than an existential interrogation cell, a prison block, a waiting room out of Franz Kafka's The Trial.
DALLAS – Call them Ishmael, the fans of director Mike Wilson, transported on a quest of mad righteousness rivaling that of Herman Melville's Ahab. Just as Melville's hoary old sailor took to the seas to hunt down a murderous white whale, Wilson goes in search of a similarly terrifying nemesis: the elusive, bloated doppelganger that scarred his soul and smashed his dream of home. The beast in question? Michael Moore.
As I staggered out of Zhang Yimou's latest epic, Hero, I found myself puzzling over a question bordering on blasphemy: Can a film be too beautiful? I felt a twinge of shame at the thought. After all this time banging my spoon over an unrelenting diet of grey, cinematic gruel -- this year's spate of political documentaries -- how could I whine about Zhang's dishy film? The murderous ballet of the fight scenes, the blistering beauty of the cast, the optic nerve–sizzling colors -- Zhang's art-house chopsocky flick verged on visual rapture, yes. But fickle ingrate that I am, I longed for my gruel, its gluey political convictions, the quiet devastation it wreaks on one's innards.
What really happened in Vietnam? Was John Kerry a hero who saved his “Swift” boat crew from a rocket attack or a prevaricating coward who shot an unarmed man in the back? Was he wounded by enemy fire or injured by his own incompetence? Official history tells us that the Democratic presidential candidate deserves the Bronze Star, Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts he earned in a four-month tour in Vietnam; the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), meanwhile, have set about trying to dismantle that 30-year-old record.