DVD: Hearts and Minds

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Peter Davis' landmark documentary "Hearts and Minds" unflinchingly confronts the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Using a wealth of sources--from interviews to newsreels to documentary footage of the conflict at home and abroad--Davis constructs a powerfully affecting portrait of the disastrous effects of war.
"Hearts and Minds" is an overwhelming emotional experience and the controversial winner of the 1974 Academy Award for Best Documentary. It only played very briefly in a few theatres at the time of its original release. Now on DVD for the first time as part of the Criterion Collection, noted for their outstanding attention to quality in re-storing and re-issuing older, neglected and overlooked classic films.

This film should be required viewing for any serious study of the War in Vietnam. The mis-calculations, misinterpretations and mistakes made by our government and leaders during that war should have served as lessons to have learned from our recent history. Instead, tragically, we see similar misguided leadership, willful deception and imperial arrogance wreaking havoc today in yet another war for power, oil and dominion based on lies, fabrications, fear-mongering and empire-building.

Extras include:
an audio commentary by director Peter Davis.
a 32-page booklet featuring essays on the Vietnam War and the histrorical context for Hearts & Minds.
English subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired.
a new high-definition digital transfer enhanced for widescreen televisions.
optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition.
Comes with a 14 page review of the film from a 1975 issue of Jump Cut, the progressive film magazine, written by Saul Landau, activist, scholar, and filmmaker ("Paul Jacobs & The Nuclear Gang" and many other films) Donate a copy to your local public library! "Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it." - George Santyana

A Review by Judith Crist: Peter Davis' provocative Oscar-winning HEARTS AND MINDS, released to the American public in 1975, is that rare documentary whose truths and relevance have been underlined and amplified by the passage of time. The title is derived from President Lyndon B. Johnson's noting, as he escalated American involvement in the Vietnam War, that "The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there." But Davis' triumph is that he is even more concerned with the hearts and minds of Americans. And though its time-set is the 10-year foreign war that cost some 60,000 American lives and caused internal upheaval and bitter aftermath, his work endures as a touchstone for our concept of Americanism, patriotism and personal and political principle.
Controversy marked the public debut of the film, at the height of the international and domestic furor over our involvement in Vietnam. Davis had already come to prominence with THE SELLING OF THE PENTAGON and HUNGER IN AMERICA for television when HEARTS AND MINDS was greeted with enthusiasm at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1974. The film's release in the U.S. was delayed. Threaened lawsuits and negotiations ensued and a change of distributor led to its general release in March 1975. When Davis and his co-producer, Bert Schneider, received Oscars for Best Documentary Fewatire on April 8 that year, controversy erupted again: at the ceremonies, Schneider read a message of "Greetings of friendship to all American people" from the Provisional Revolutionary Government delegation to the then-ongoing peace talks in Paris. Later in the proceedings, one host, Frank Sinatra, read a statement written by another host, Bob Hope, disclaiming respnsibility "for any political references." It was greeted by boos and applause and the controversy was fueled.
But what matters most is that, over the decades, Davis' work has become confirmed history history that we must learn from or be condemned to re-live. Second only to his prescience is Davis' directorial style, an even-handdness in counter-ponting the American and Vietnamese experience. His is a thesis documentary, political and unabashedly compassionate, its righteousness and rightness its ultimate achievement.
The historic outline of our involvement in Vietnam is presented in newsreel clips and interviews gathered in 1972 and 1973 in that country and the U.S. and in Paris. The last is the source for hidden details of our support of French rule of Vietnam and of our diplomatic interest in South Vietnam's subsequent rule in te 1950's and thereafter. Almost inadvertantly, President Eisenhower offers a moment of truth, noting that if the French colonial interests were not taken up by us, "the tin and tungsten we value so much would stop coming." And thereafter it is the Cold War and anti-communism that are the themes - and excesses - of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Throughout, there are the hawks and the doves, the military men, the advisors, the public figures and statesmen. Some recant their earlier hawkishness. Most memorably, Daniel Ellsberg explains his own change of viewpoint, recalling Robert kennedy's assassination and breaking down briefly, overcome with emotion at the thought of what might have been. In counterpoint, Davis offers heartbreaking exposition of what the Vietnamese are enduring, the horror and the sorrow and the devastation; the rage and frustration of the victims; the corruption and debauchery in high places and low; the steadfastness of exiled leaders. There is the bewilderment of those who see themselves fighting their own war of independence only to be beseiged by the very nation that won its own freedom from colonial rule barely 200 years earlier. The last is Davis' quintessential concern, the question of how we, initially a nation of revolutionary freedom fighters, has evolved into one of compulsive winners, from battlefields to football fields, literalizing its civilian urge to "kill the competition." the issue is addressed: Colonel George S. Patton III describes his men as "reverent, determined, a bloody good bunch of killers." A high school football coach tells his team to pray for victory and another urges his to "win - kill'em - win."