In 1979, the United States was just coming to grips with the legacy of the Vietnam War, which had ended five years before with the fall of Saigon. At the 51st annual Academy Awards in April of ’79, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home — two movies with decidedly different takes on the war’s costs — vied for Hollywood glory, racking up seventeen Oscar nominations between them. That year’s National Book Award for fiction went to Tim O’Brien’s anti-war novel Going After Cacciato, and Glenn Silber and Barry Alexander Brown released The War at Home, their independent documentary chronicling the University of Wisconsin’s anti-war movement from 1963 to 1973. It would be nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards in 1980. This month, almost four decades since it first premiered, a restored print of the film made its debut at the New York Film Festival.
“The year is 1967. The setting is the University of Wisconsin, one of the leading flashpoints of anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam era.” So begins Tom Allen’s review, in the March 24, 1980, issue of the Voice, which describes a politically polarized society with striking parallels to today, as young, liberal activists face off against law enforcement, with both sides blaming the other for the inevitable violence. In one scene, Allen describes how “a phalanx of state troopers charges down a crowded hall with billyclubs and shoves, beats, and pursues panicked students onto the campus.”
“The last word is given to a marvelous establishment heavy representing the troopers,” writes Allen, later in the same paragraph. “He describes the students just seen in close-up during their quiet, wearying vigil in the hallway as vicious, outside agitators and the brutal troopers as peaceable lawmakers fighting for their lives.”
Apparently, blaming “angry left-wing mobs” for the violence inflicted by those in power is nothing new, and in the age of Trump, The War at Home feels as timely as ever. Catch it this week at Metrograph.