Movie Review: Hearts and Minds

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
A newly restored version of žHearts and Minds,Ó the 1975 Academy Award Winner for Best Feature Documentary is being re-released. When it was first made, this documentary about the Vietnam War met with controversy and a delayed release. When it received the Oscar co-host Frank Sinatra read a statement written by co-host Bob Hope disclaiming responsibility žfor any political reference.Ó The audience applauded and heckled, fuelling the controversy more.

Director and co-producer Peter Davis and cinematographer/associate producer Richard Pearce combined stock footage, news reports, and footage they shot in the United States, France, and Vietnam, and edited some 200 hours of footage down to 112 minutes. The film is concise and dense, packed with fascinating clips from interviews and speeches with everyone from General Westmoreland, Robert Kennedy, Daniel Ellsberg, and Lyndon B. Johnson, to vets, to a coffin-maker in Saigon. Scenes are juxtaposed with contrasting scenes which illuminate the irony of war.

The title žHearts and MindsÓ comes from a Lyndon B. Johnson speech, žUltimate victory depends on the hearts and minds of the people who live out there.Ó We can surmise American attitudes towards the Vietnamese from other quotes. General Westmoreland says žOrientals do not value life the way we do in the West.Ó The next scene is of the son of a North Vietnamese soldier wailing by his fatherŪs grave.

Davis shows scenes of human suffering of Americans, North Vietnamese, and South Vietnamese which illustrate the horror of war to all humans. žHearts & MindsÓ is the first documentary that introduces the pain and suffering of the Vietnamese and humanizes them. This had a powerful impact on the American public.

A vet named Randy Floyd who performed 98 aerial bombing missions eloquently discussed his change of heart after he realized the connection between what he was doing and the suffering it caused. He compared his work to a žsinger doing an ariaÓ. He said he never saw the people and only occasionally saw the houses. He couldnŪt hear the explosions or see the blood or hear the screams. He said: žYou were doing your job; you were an expert at what you do. I was a technician.Ó

The Saigon coffin maker said he made eight to nine-hundred coffins per week for children who died from Agent Orange. He himself lost seven children. Little did he know that thirty years later children would still be dying from that war with an average of one landmine/uxo accident per week in which most of the victims are children.
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At first the pace of žHearts & MindsÓ seems slow and deliberate, especially compared to the fast-paced documentaries we saw this year. After watching it once, I felt compelled to watch it a second and then a third time. And, I am planning to see it when it opens. With each viewing, I saw and heard more than the time before and realized how rich it is. The composition created by the cinematography, editing and choice of clips achieves the status of a work of art. This is an important documentary, and anyone with an interest in American history and the issues surrounding war will love žHearts & MindsÓ.

In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine International.
More Information:
Hearts and Minds
USA - 1974