Hearts and Minds


1h 50m 1975
Hearts and Minds

Brief Synopsis

Filmmakers capture conflicting attitudes toward the Vietnam War.

Film Details

Also Known As
Hearts & Minds, I frihetens namn
MPAA Rating
Genre
Documentary
Political
Interview
Release Date
1975
Distribution Company
RAINBOW FILM COMPANY/WARNER BROS. PICTURES DISTRIBUTION (WBPD); Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution
Location
Ohio, USA; New Mexico, USA; New York City, New York, USA; Washington, DC, USA; Vietnam; New Jersey, USA; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Francisco, California, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m

Synopsis

An anti-Vietnam war documentary comprising of news footage of the war juxtaposed with interviews conducted with its observers and participants, interspersing vignettes of the fatuous comments made by the generals and politicians.

Film Details

Also Known As
Hearts & Minds, I frihetens namn
MPAA Rating
Genre
Documentary
Political
Interview
Release Date
1975
Distribution Company
RAINBOW FILM COMPANY/WARNER BROS. PICTURES DISTRIBUTION (WBPD); Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution
Location
Ohio, USA; New Mexico, USA; New York City, New York, USA; Washington, DC, USA; Vietnam; New Jersey, USA; Los Angeles, California, USA; San Francisco, California, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m

Articles

Hearts and Minds


Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Peter Davis's documentary on the American involvement in the war in Vietnam debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974, just a year after the American withdrawal and months before the resignation of President Richard Nixon. With the debate over the war still raging, Hearts and Minds became almost as controversial itself. Critics called it one-sided and anti-American, and indeed the film does not address the atrocities inflicted upon American soldiers by the Viet Cong. But then it was never Davis's intention to present an objective history of the war. The title was taken from a phrase used by President Lyndon Johnson to justify the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam: "the ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there." That phrase frames the film. Looking back on the film in 2001, Davis explained that he went into the film with three questions on his mind: "Why did we go to Vietnam, what did we do there and what did the doing in turn do to us? I didn't expect the film to answer those questions, I expected it to address those questions."

Peter Davis was a respected documentary director and producer at CBS News -- his 1971 The Selling of the Pentagon was one of the most acclaimed investigative TV documentaries of his day. At the time, he was feeling the constraints of network policy when director/producer Bob Rafelson first invited him to meet with his producing partner, Bert Schneider. Their independent production company, BBS, had produced (among other films) Easy Rider (1969), The Last Picture Show (1971) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Schneider was interested in a film about Daniel Ellsberg, who was about to go on trial for leaking the classified Pentagon Papers. While that proved impossible (the trial was underway and none of the participants would speak with Davis), Davis turned his focus and his budget of $1 million to the bigger picture of the American involvement in the Vietnam war, with the full support of Schneider.

Inspired by the cinema verité movement, Davis structured Hearts and Minds without a narrator, letting the images and interview subjects speak for themselves. Newsreel footage and film clips illustrate the atmosphere of cold war fear and patriotic proclamations that justified the American involvement in Vietnam after France pulled out. He secured interviews with members of the administration during the war, Pentagon officials and American soldiers (in Vietnam and back at home), some who still supported the war, some who returned disillusioned and critical of the mission. But Davis also took his camera to Vietnam to let the civilians tell the story of their ordeal and took pains to show the damage that the war inflicted on the country and the people. Davis' cameraman Richard Pearce (who later became the acclaimed director of such films as Heartland (1979) and Country, 1984) brings an intimacy to the discussions with the American and Vietnamese who experienced the conflict first hand, contrasting the human experience with officials talking policy and politics.

The film was both hailed as a masterpiece and criticized as one-sided and unpatriotic, but it certainly provoked reactions, and much of that is by design. In the film's most controversial scene, Davis cuts from the funeral of a North Vietnamese soldier with a grieving family and a mother hysterical with grief directly to an interview with General William Westmoreland, United States Army Chief of Staff from 1968 to 1972, where he bluntly claims that "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient." (According to Davis, they filmed that scene three times because of camera issues and Westmoreland made that statement each time). There is footage of the American soldiers burning down straw huts in a peasant village, a scene that Oliver Stone recreated a decade later in Platoon (1986).

Walt Rostow, an aide to both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and one of the most pro-war voices in the administration and in the film, secured a temporary restraining order against the film, claiming that his interview was used in a deceptive manner (it was quickly vacated by a judge). The controversial nature of Hearts and Minds intimidated Columbia Pictures, which held up releasing the film. Producer Bert Schneider finally raised the money to buy the film back and release it through Warner Bros. in 1975.

Hearts and Minds is unequivocally an anti-war document to be sure. Along with addressing the lies that the American government told its citizens in the name of war as well as the ideology that sent us to war in the first place, it was the first film to confront exactly what the United States did in Vietnam in the name of fighting communism and winning the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people. It also shows how those actions came back home in the form of disillusionment and distrust of the government. Revisiting the film in 2001, Peter Davis stated: "If Hearts and Minds has any application after the fact, it is to other conflicts that America might get into where we may see a national interest suddenly, without having done a sufficient amount of simple history homework. What are we getting into? I just would always like to see people ask that question when we're going to war."

Producers: Henry Lange, Bert Schneider
Director: Peter Davis
Cinematography: Richard Pearce
Film Editing: Lynzee Klingman, Susan Martin
Cast: Georges Bidault, Clark Clifford, George Coker, Kay Dvorshock, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Daniel Ellsberg, Randy Floyd, J. William Fulbright, Brian Holden, Robert Muller.
C-112m.

by Sean Axmaker
Hearts And Minds

Hearts and Minds

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Peter Davis's documentary on the American involvement in the war in Vietnam debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974, just a year after the American withdrawal and months before the resignation of President Richard Nixon. With the debate over the war still raging, Hearts and Minds became almost as controversial itself. Critics called it one-sided and anti-American, and indeed the film does not address the atrocities inflicted upon American soldiers by the Viet Cong. But then it was never Davis's intention to present an objective history of the war. The title was taken from a phrase used by President Lyndon Johnson to justify the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam: "the ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there." That phrase frames the film. Looking back on the film in 2001, Davis explained that he went into the film with three questions on his mind: "Why did we go to Vietnam, what did we do there and what did the doing in turn do to us? I didn't expect the film to answer those questions, I expected it to address those questions." Peter Davis was a respected documentary director and producer at CBS News -- his 1971 The Selling of the Pentagon was one of the most acclaimed investigative TV documentaries of his day. At the time, he was feeling the constraints of network policy when director/producer Bob Rafelson first invited him to meet with his producing partner, Bert Schneider. Their independent production company, BBS, had produced (among other films) Easy Rider (1969), The Last Picture Show (1971) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Schneider was interested in a film about Daniel Ellsberg, who was about to go on trial for leaking the classified Pentagon Papers. While that proved impossible (the trial was underway and none of the participants would speak with Davis), Davis turned his focus and his budget of $1 million to the bigger picture of the American involvement in the Vietnam war, with the full support of Schneider. Inspired by the cinema verité movement, Davis structured Hearts and Minds without a narrator, letting the images and interview subjects speak for themselves. Newsreel footage and film clips illustrate the atmosphere of cold war fear and patriotic proclamations that justified the American involvement in Vietnam after France pulled out. He secured interviews with members of the administration during the war, Pentagon officials and American soldiers (in Vietnam and back at home), some who still supported the war, some who returned disillusioned and critical of the mission. But Davis also took his camera to Vietnam to let the civilians tell the story of their ordeal and took pains to show the damage that the war inflicted on the country and the people. Davis' cameraman Richard Pearce (who later became the acclaimed director of such films as Heartland (1979) and Country, 1984) brings an intimacy to the discussions with the American and Vietnamese who experienced the conflict first hand, contrasting the human experience with officials talking policy and politics. The film was both hailed as a masterpiece and criticized as one-sided and unpatriotic, but it certainly provoked reactions, and much of that is by design. In the film's most controversial scene, Davis cuts from the funeral of a North Vietnamese soldier with a grieving family and a mother hysterical with grief directly to an interview with General William Westmoreland, United States Army Chief of Staff from 1968 to 1972, where he bluntly claims that "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient." (According to Davis, they filmed that scene three times because of camera issues and Westmoreland made that statement each time). There is footage of the American soldiers burning down straw huts in a peasant village, a scene that Oliver Stone recreated a decade later in Platoon (1986). Walt Rostow, an aide to both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and one of the most pro-war voices in the administration and in the film, secured a temporary restraining order against the film, claiming that his interview was used in a deceptive manner (it was quickly vacated by a judge). The controversial nature of Hearts and Minds intimidated Columbia Pictures, which held up releasing the film. Producer Bert Schneider finally raised the money to buy the film back and release it through Warner Bros. in 1975. Hearts and Minds is unequivocally an anti-war document to be sure. Along with addressing the lies that the American government told its citizens in the name of war as well as the ideology that sent us to war in the first place, it was the first film to confront exactly what the United States did in Vietnam in the name of fighting communism and winning the "hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people. It also shows how those actions came back home in the form of disillusionment and distrust of the government. Revisiting the film in 2001, Peter Davis stated: "If Hearts and Minds has any application after the fact, it is to other conflicts that America might get into where we may see a national interest suddenly, without having done a sufficient amount of simple history homework. What are we getting into? I just would always like to see people ask that question when we're going to war." Producers: Henry Lange, Bert Schneider Director: Peter Davis Cinematography: Richard Pearce Film Editing: Lynzee Klingman, Susan Martin Cast: Georges Bidault, Clark Clifford, George Coker, Kay Dvorshock, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Daniel Ellsberg, Randy Floyd, J. William Fulbright, Brian Holden, Robert Muller. C-112m. by Sean Axmaker

Hearts and Minds on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD


The Hollywood revolution of the late '60s led by Easy Rider and its ilk, also freed the town's liberal creatives to make political films. Blacklisted two decades earlier, writer Abraham Polonsky returned to direct his first movie in 19 years. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler directed the influential Medium Cool, which still impresses with its on-the-spot documentation of police/protester clashes in Chicago.

One of the producers of Easy Rider would later co-produce Hearts and Minds, an acclaimed and influential anti-war documentary. An unflinching look at the Vietnam conflict backed by revealing testimony from key figures in government and the military, the film was strong medicine in 1974. After 20 years of confusion and official prevarications, Peter Davis' documentary offered a comprehensive thesis about the meaning of the war. The image it reflected of America differed from the one we had learned in grade school. Davis plays no editorial tricks and uses no 'gotcha' methods. Not only is the evidence of unwarranted aggression overwhelming, the words of our own commanding general reek of callous, patronizing indifference to the barbaric slaughter inflicted on the Vietnamese people.

Hearts and Minds is not a protest film and not a 'radical chic' work of political outrage. It ignores the celebrity sideshow of Jane Fonda and does not for a moment champion the Communist cause. Yet we soon reach our tolerance limit for political hypocrisy and a war machine that mauls a tiny country without any coherent military goal or strategy. The show gives a simple, short explanation for the war. The French don't want to give up a valuable colony, and the U.S. underwrites their suppression of Vietnamese self-rule for a piece of the action. When the French quit we take over, betraying our own puppet governors until President Johnson decides to fake a provocation as an excuse to send in troops.

The interviews refute practically everything we were told about Vietnam, from President Eisenhower forward. Vietnamese monks and intellectuals say that the venal, corrupt puppet government in Saigon inflicts false imprisonment, torture and murder on citizens it accuses of dissent. Farmers weep as they mourn families slain and houses burned, for vague strategic principles. A French diplomat claims that in the early 1950s the U.S. State Department offered him two atomic bombs to use against the Vietnamese rebels. We also get testimony from Washington advisor Clifford Clark, who insists that the war is important and necessary. Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg tries to explain that the foreign policy behind Vietnam is based on nothing but lies, and that all of our presidents since WW2, Democrats and Republicans alike, routinely lied to the American people. An American soldier jokes about tossing a Viet Cong prisoner from a helicopter, to encourage another prisoner to talk. Another solider states unconvincingly that he's unaware of any such activity occurring.

The capper is a quiet conversation with General William. After an hour delineating the mechanized mass slaughter that leaves the rural civilian population wailing in agony over their dead, Peter Davis cuts to Westmoreland matter-of-factly informing us that "Orientals" don't place the same value on life that we do. Life in their part of the world is cheap, he assures us. We shouldn't feel bad, he seems to say, because it isn't as if real people are being killed.

Hearts and Minds isn't afraid to burst America's illusions about its noble warriors. A pair of soldiers is shown being entertained by Saigon prostitutes, tainting the image of idealistic young patriots fighting for Freedom. War movies have traditionally glamorized fraternization in sentimental terms, but here we see the crude give and take of sex for sale. The film also de-mystifies two of the most traumatic news images from the war. One is the famous shot of a South Vietnamese casually executing a prisoner on the street with a small pistol. The victim's blood gushes like a fountain, straight into the air. The second is the awful news film of a napalm strike on a village. Naked children run down the road in shock and terror, with shreds of burned skin hanging from their bodies. Soldiers with the camera crew pour water on them from their canteens. The original B&W news photos of these incidents were genuinely disturbing. Seeing them play out on film, in sharp color, is nightmarish.

Made near the end of the fighting, Hearts and Minds also concentrates on what the Vietnam War has done to America. We see a military parade with angry words shouted at protesters, some of which are veterans. A veteran of bombing missions describes himself as a technician, who dropped bombs on victims whose faces he never saw and whose screams he never heard. The flier is then revealed to be in a wheelchair, paralyzed. A former college athlete, he lost his girlfriend and his faith in his country. We also see a Navy flier and long-term Prisoner of War making tours of schools, parades, women's meetings and a homecoming celebration. His depressing 'morale' speeches are hollow platitudes about how good American values instilled by Mom and Dad helped him to get the job done, to crush the enemy. "Vietnam would be very nice, if it wasn't for the people."

Elsewhere we're reminded of President Johnson's famous quote about victory being dependent on winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. Hearts and Minds was considered a product of leftist Hollywood back in 1975. Producer Bert Schneider fought for a year to get Columbia to release it, and finally had to buy it back when they wouldn't. He and Peter Davis won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Several costly and frustrating wars later, the show no longer seems as radical as it once did.

The Criterion Collection's Dual-Format Blu-ray + DVD of Hearts and Minds gives us Peter Davis' long-form documentary in a fine presentation. Even the news film sourced for the show is in prime condition, and only a few older shots are in less-than perfect shape. The new interviews are also handsomely filmed.

The disc set includes many new extras. Peter Davis' commentary has been retained from the older (2002) Criterion DVD. While deciding what material to include, he would ask himself if a sequence addressed the questions, "Why did we go there, what did we do there, and what did the doing, in turn, do to us?" He also stands behind his interviews with General Westmoreland and the French diplomat who talked about the offer of nuclear weapons.

A large video gallery contains film outtakes and interviews not used, with presidential advisers Walt Rostow and George Ball, historians, political activists and General Westmoreland. Also included is a lengthy, fascinating interview with David Brinkley, in which the TV newsman gives his thoughts about the news coverage of the war and the responsibility of journalists not to editorialize events or hype them with added drama. Those guidelines have been completely lost in today's news, even on the national network level.

The insert booklet has essays and reprints from film critic Judith Crist and historians Robert K. Brigham, George C. Herring, and Ngo Vinh Long. All the extras are present on both the Blu-ray and DVD editions of the title. The arresting disc cover art is by Luba Lukova.

By Glenn Erickson

Hearts and Minds on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD

The Hollywood revolution of the late '60s led by Easy Rider and its ilk, also freed the town's liberal creatives to make political films. Blacklisted two decades earlier, writer Abraham Polonsky returned to direct his first movie in 19 years. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler directed the influential Medium Cool, which still impresses with its on-the-spot documentation of police/protester clashes in Chicago. One of the producers of Easy Rider would later co-produce Hearts and Minds, an acclaimed and influential anti-war documentary. An unflinching look at the Vietnam conflict backed by revealing testimony from key figures in government and the military, the film was strong medicine in 1974. After 20 years of confusion and official prevarications, Peter Davis' documentary offered a comprehensive thesis about the meaning of the war. The image it reflected of America differed from the one we had learned in grade school. Davis plays no editorial tricks and uses no 'gotcha' methods. Not only is the evidence of unwarranted aggression overwhelming, the words of our own commanding general reek of callous, patronizing indifference to the barbaric slaughter inflicted on the Vietnamese people. Hearts and Minds is not a protest film and not a 'radical chic' work of political outrage. It ignores the celebrity sideshow of Jane Fonda and does not for a moment champion the Communist cause. Yet we soon reach our tolerance limit for political hypocrisy and a war machine that mauls a tiny country without any coherent military goal or strategy. The show gives a simple, short explanation for the war. The French don't want to give up a valuable colony, and the U.S. underwrites their suppression of Vietnamese self-rule for a piece of the action. When the French quit we take over, betraying our own puppet governors until President Johnson decides to fake a provocation as an excuse to send in troops. The interviews refute practically everything we were told about Vietnam, from President Eisenhower forward. Vietnamese monks and intellectuals say that the venal, corrupt puppet government in Saigon inflicts false imprisonment, torture and murder on citizens it accuses of dissent. Farmers weep as they mourn families slain and houses burned, for vague strategic principles. A French diplomat claims that in the early 1950s the U.S. State Department offered him two atomic bombs to use against the Vietnamese rebels. We also get testimony from Washington advisor Clifford Clark, who insists that the war is important and necessary. Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg tries to explain that the foreign policy behind Vietnam is based on nothing but lies, and that all of our presidents since WW2, Democrats and Republicans alike, routinely lied to the American people. An American soldier jokes about tossing a Viet Cong prisoner from a helicopter, to encourage another prisoner to talk. Another solider states unconvincingly that he's unaware of any such activity occurring. The capper is a quiet conversation with General William. After an hour delineating the mechanized mass slaughter that leaves the rural civilian population wailing in agony over their dead, Peter Davis cuts to Westmoreland matter-of-factly informing us that "Orientals" don't place the same value on life that we do. Life in their part of the world is cheap, he assures us. We shouldn't feel bad, he seems to say, because it isn't as if real people are being killed. Hearts and Minds isn't afraid to burst America's illusions about its noble warriors. A pair of soldiers is shown being entertained by Saigon prostitutes, tainting the image of idealistic young patriots fighting for Freedom. War movies have traditionally glamorized fraternization in sentimental terms, but here we see the crude give and take of sex for sale. The film also de-mystifies two of the most traumatic news images from the war. One is the famous shot of a South Vietnamese casually executing a prisoner on the street with a small pistol. The victim's blood gushes like a fountain, straight into the air. The second is the awful news film of a napalm strike on a village. Naked children run down the road in shock and terror, with shreds of burned skin hanging from their bodies. Soldiers with the camera crew pour water on them from their canteens. The original B&W news photos of these incidents were genuinely disturbing. Seeing them play out on film, in sharp color, is nightmarish. Made near the end of the fighting, Hearts and Minds also concentrates on what the Vietnam War has done to America. We see a military parade with angry words shouted at protesters, some of which are veterans. A veteran of bombing missions describes himself as a technician, who dropped bombs on victims whose faces he never saw and whose screams he never heard. The flier is then revealed to be in a wheelchair, paralyzed. A former college athlete, he lost his girlfriend and his faith in his country. We also see a Navy flier and long-term Prisoner of War making tours of schools, parades, women's meetings and a homecoming celebration. His depressing 'morale' speeches are hollow platitudes about how good American values instilled by Mom and Dad helped him to get the job done, to crush the enemy. "Vietnam would be very nice, if it wasn't for the people." Elsewhere we're reminded of President Johnson's famous quote about victory being dependent on winning the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. Hearts and Minds was considered a product of leftist Hollywood back in 1975. Producer Bert Schneider fought for a year to get Columbia to release it, and finally had to buy it back when they wouldn't. He and Peter Davis won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Several costly and frustrating wars later, the show no longer seems as radical as it once did. The Criterion Collection's Dual-Format Blu-ray + DVD of Hearts and Minds gives us Peter Davis' long-form documentary in a fine presentation. Even the news film sourced for the show is in prime condition, and only a few older shots are in less-than perfect shape. The new interviews are also handsomely filmed. The disc set includes many new extras. Peter Davis' commentary has been retained from the older (2002) Criterion DVD. While deciding what material to include, he would ask himself if a sequence addressed the questions, "Why did we go there, what did we do there, and what did the doing, in turn, do to us?" He also stands behind his interviews with General Westmoreland and the French diplomat who talked about the offer of nuclear weapons. A large video gallery contains film outtakes and interviews not used, with presidential advisers Walt Rostow and George Ball, historians, political activists and General Westmoreland. Also included is a lengthy, fascinating interview with David Brinkley, in which the TV newsman gives his thoughts about the news coverage of the war and the responsibility of journalists not to editorialize events or hype them with added drama. Those guidelines have been completely lost in today's news, even on the national network level. The insert booklet has essays and reprints from film critic Judith Crist and historians Robert K. Brigham, George C. Herring, and Ngo Vinh Long. All the extras are present on both the Blu-ray and DVD editions of the title. The arresting disc cover art is by Luba Lukova. By Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1975

Re-released in United States November 28, 2008

Released in United States on Video April 30, 1991

Restored print scheduled to be released in New York City November 28, 2008.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1975

Re-released in United States November 28, 2008 (New York City)

Released in United States on Video April 30, 1991