Salvage Lot

After a few days in Vietnam, the American daughter is desperate to change the channel and go home—shocked and overwhelmed by this brand-new family blatantly trying to milk her for financial support. Daughter From Danang is like the unhappy outtake from last year's PBS documentary on Babylift reunions, Precious Cargo. Whatever heartwarming scene the impressively discreet filmmakers may have expected to record with their mini DV, they show a remarkable ability to document both sides of this emotional car-wreck. It's a sad story that grows sadder.

Heidi herself is a product of American altruism and ethnocentrism. (Dolgin and Franco incorporate amazing vintage footage of a U.S. social worker browbeating Vietnamese mothers to send their children to America—it's a pity they don't provide information on what became of those racially mixed kids who remained.) Operation Babylift itself was an attempt to provide some semblance of an American happy ending to the Vietnam debacle. But as Daughter From Danang demonstrates, the war's scars may take another generation to heal.

Present tense: Hurley and Lucas in The Weight of Water
photo by John Sherlock
Present tense: Hurley and Lucas in The Weight of Water


The Weight of Water
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Alice Arlen and Christopher Kyle, from the novel by Anita Shreve
Lions Gate Opens November 1

Daughter From Danang
Directed by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco
Opens November 1, at the Quad

From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War on Film
November 1 through 30, at BAMcinmatek

Nearly a found allegory of American-Vietnamese relations, Daughter From Danang is among the 35 films included in BAM's month-long "From Hanoi to Hollywood." Never more timely, the series includes blockbusters and guerrilla newsreels, period documentaries and premieres, as well as a few features from the scene of the crime, Vietnam.

The opening attraction is Samuel Fuller's rarely screened China Gate—which, released in 1957, was something of a scoop as the first Hollywood movie about Vietnam (opening six months before the original version of The Quiet American). Despite Fuller's later characterization of China Gate as a critique of French imperialism, the movie is stridently anti-Communist and easily used to justify American involvement. That said, it's enormously entertaining pulp, delivered with Fullerian formalist brio, and totally, productively crazy. Fuller's rugged individualism and tabloid integrity explode the black-and-white moral schemata, while peppering the action sequences with brutal jokes on the insanity of infantry life.

China Gate is set during the final months of French rule, but the cast of characters effectively prophesy the war's next stage. One of the Americans fighting with the French Foreign Legion (Gene Barry) is a white supremacist; the other (Nat "King" Cole) is a black man under the delusion that if he can only rid the world of commies, America will become a safe place for him to live. The resident Communist ideologue (Lee Van Cleef) is a former school teacher more "innocent monster" than bloodthirsty bandit, and our heroine, a Eurasian prostitute known as Lucky Legs (Angie Dickinson), wants nothing more than to get her little son to the U.S.A. It's as though America's war began and ended with Operation Babylift.

The contradictions are explosive. One need only bracket China Gate with John Wayne's 1968 The Green Berets for the latter (also included in the series) to blow up in its own face. In addition to rounding up the usual suspects, the BAM series has a few surprises, including Frederic Wiseman's Viet-era documentary Basic Training (1971), Ivan Passer's mordant Cutter's Way (1981)—still the best of the Viet-vet movies—and Dang Nhat Minh's When the Tenth Month Comes (1984), an understated and poignant account of what the Vietnamese call the American War.

Related Story:
"Mother Countries: A Talk With the Makers of Daughter From Danang" by Anthony Kaufman

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