Good Morning, Vietnam and Good Morning, Vietnam: Revisited: Two Depictions of One Story, One Conflict

The 30th April marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the US/Vietnam War and, partially in memory of the conflict, the BBC recently aired a radio programme entitled Good Morning, Vietnam: Revisited, during which the real life Adrian Cronauer (played in the film by Robin Williams) recounts his time in the country.

Cronauer is an interesting character. Depicted by Williams as a live-wire liberal, initially detached from the conflict but increasingly invested and disgusted by it, the real life Cronauer describes how he would not have 'got away with half of what Williams depicts'. At one point during the radio programme, Cronauer speaks of the protests against the war in the US as only muddying the waters, rather than presenting actual solutions. His Wikipedia entry claims he is 'a lifelong card-carrying Republican' who took active roles in Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and George W. Bush's 2004 campaign. The IMDb trivia for the film goes as far as claiming he was 'a vice-chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign'.

As always, the above reveals the truth is stranger than the fiction. There is little doubt raised in either Good Morning, Vietnam however, nor the radio production, that Cronauer was appalled by elements of the war. This does not change the fact that both productions fail to dig deeper into his political background. His comments on the protest movement in the US during the 1960s are glossed over as briefly as possible. In the film, there's little doubt that Cronauer is an active rebel, willing to risk his job for his opinion.

This is, of course, to be expected. Cronauer quite rightly points out that the film is a fiction of an actual event, which took his popular show and turned it into a symbol of resistance. As such, director Barry Levinson and writer Mitch Markowitz need an alternative villain to the Viet Cong. It arrives in officious US Lieutenant Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and his superior Dickerson (J.T. Walsh), constantly at odds with Cronauer's ill-discipline and left-leaning views. The problem for the film is that Good Morning, Vietnam is very much a production from the US point of view, which means that the Viet Cong are still the enemy. Hauk might be a bit of a prick, but it is not he who blows up Jimmy Wah's bar. Levinson gets himself into a muddle here, and offers no closure to the story of Cronauer's relationship with Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana) or her Viet Cong brother Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran). Once the latter has been outed, the film ends and Cronauer leaves, aping the changing US policy in the region.

Though loved by some, I have always struggled a little bit with Good Morning, Vietnam's Comedy. The BBC programme makes the reason for this clear: Williams is performing radio improv, not screen improv. In audio-only mode, his falsetto voices are more distinct, dialogue clearer, jokes funnier. On screen, it just looks as though Levinson has given him licence to continue with what is only a vaguely humorous skit. The best moments appear scripted. 'What does three up, three down mean to you?', Dickerson asks him, referring to his stripes and his rank. 'End of an innings?', Cronauer replies. There is nothing as well timed or considered in the improvised sections.

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing and Good Morning, Vietnam remains as a worthy monument to liberal attempts during the eighties to try to understand the war and sympathise with the Vietnamese. It's imperfection is merely a reflection of the fact that these attempts were themselves imperfect, mainly because their viewpoint was, and to a point continues to be, an attempt to understand the US side of the conflict. Paired with an internally uncertain personal subject, bravely liberated by Williams, it is little wonder that Good Morning, Vietnam is contextually fascinating, but muddily conceived and occasionally uncertain. In that way, perhaps it is, in fact, a reflection of its wider concerns.

Good Morning, Vietnam was playing on iTunes. Good Morning, Vietnam Revisited is available on BBC iPlayer Radio until Wednesday 13th May 2015.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

No comments:

Post a Comment