I Feel Far Away: Class (and) War in The Deer Hunter

I Feel Far Away: Class (and) War in The Deer Hunter

Hollywood has made a lot of films about the Vietnam War. There’s the stuff set directly in the war, like Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket or Good Morning, Vietnam, and there’s stuff in which the Vietnam War is a persistent background detail that somehow defines life back in America, whether that be in Travis Buckles’ fucked-up psyche in Taxi Driver, the gut-punch epilogue to American Graffiti, or the senseless slaughter of youths in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Films that aren’t about the Vietnam War at all still seem to be, because it is always there. Vanity Fair says that in Midnight Cowboy, “the Vietnam War lurks at the edges of the frame, all the more insistent for being virtually absent.” You can even read the Vietnam War into Grease, if you wanted to: maybe the reason it lapses into complete fantasy at the very end, as Danny and Sandy fly off in a flying car, is because an ending grounded in the real world would be the one where Danny goes halfway around the world to die. Basically every movie from the 1970s is about the Vietnam War to some degree, and plenty more since.

They are, in aggregate, terrible. I don’t mean that they are bad films – all the ones I’ve mentioned would comfortably make it onto my list of my favourite films ever, except for Good Morning, Vietnam, which sucks – but, taken as a whole, the Hollywood-Vietnam-War-movie genre distorts our understanding of the war itself. “The United States lost 58,000 soldiers in the war, while multiple millions of Vietnamese lives were lost, possibly nearly 4 million. This is 20 to 60 times as many deaths, almost half of whom may have been civilians,” Nathan Robinson writes for Current Affairs, “Yet… the story of the Vietnam War is almost always told from the perspective of American soldiers. The Vietnamese are nameless fungible extras.”

Films aren’t history lessons, nor do I think they should be, but when we’re shown something the same way and from the same perspective over and over, it helps to mould how we understand that thing in real life. The Vietnam War has been depicted so often on screen that it’s easy to feel like we know all about it, when in reality, there has still been very little reckoning all these decades later with the sheer devastation the war caused. More than three times as many tons of bombs were dropped in south-east Asia during the Vietnam War as in all of World War II, and yet almost all films about the conflict – including strident anti-war polemics – place American experiences, and particularly American suffering, front and centre.

The Deer Hunter is the patron saint of this critique.

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2018 in Film(s That Didn’t Come Out This Year)

2018 in Film(s That Didn’t Come Out This Year)

Check out The Sundae’s 2017 in films that didn’t come out in 2017 here


There’s a huge pressure on anyone who wants to talk or write seriously about film to pretend as if they’ve already seen every great film ever made, whether in the form of a self-imposed anxiety or others dismissing your opinions because you haven’t seen X or Y. This is silly, obviously, because no-one has seen every great film ever made: the last time anyone could conceivably watch every film ever was in the early 1930s, and here in the present, it would take someone years to work through the established canon of great American cinema – let alone the cinema of every other country, experimental and avant-garde filmmaking, and all the great films (and okay films) that have gone unnoticed or unrecognised.

But that’s no reason not to try. Sometimes when people reject the pressure to pretend to have already seen every great film, they throw the baby out with the bathwater and reject a desire to try to catch up all the great films they haven’t seen, as if boldly declaring that you will never watch Casablanca is anything but a tragedy. It’s looking at the whole thing backwards.

The joy of accepting that you’ll never see every great film ever made is realising that there will always be more great films that you’ll get to see for the first time.

In February, we’ll go through our favourite new releases of the year when we post the third annual Sundae Film Awards. But looking back on the year in film shouldn’t just mean looking back at what came out this year. 2018 is the year Ciara got into westerns and Michael Moore documentaries, the year Dean watched A New Leaf again and was like, oh no, wait, this is great. So here are some of the best films we saw in 2018 that didn’t come out in 2018.

It’s no big deal if you haven’t seen them, but we definitely recommend checking them out.
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