Tuesday, November 23, 2010

War is messy, even in sepia tone.

D. Army Corps of engineers

Produced during the thick of the Vietnam conflict this infamous training video for Army medical staff is one of the most infamous of all "industrial" videos floating around. Made that way by an article in the book "Shock" penned by Jack Stevenson in which he speaks of showing a night of war propaganda films including this, the famous "Red Nightmare" "Our Job In Japan" (By Frank Capra no less" and several others. The idea being to show how war time propaganda works as well as having a bit of a laugh. But ARMY MEDICINE IN VIETNAM was always the one film that shook audiences to their core, pummeling them into silence, rendering them numb with shock and reminding them of the true horrifying nature of what war does to people. This is basically a government sanctioned FACES OF DEATH but far more savage and brutal, with narration that seems to not notice the Dante's Inferno nature of the imagery on screen.

Like any other underground film collector who read that article I too become fascinated with the content described within and found myself slowly being obsessed with the need to see this movie. I only ever found one bootleg source that had it but they wanted a full price and with it was only a half hour long I never could justify pulling the trigger on it. I found that the actual Army had a website that carried it, but once again it was a full $25 (including shipping) and I couldn't bring myself to drop that coin on a half hour program. Especially one that might very well make me sick. I eventually found a trade for it trough my good friend Screamerclaus.

The movie is indeed a shocker. But I found that I could stomach it because I have this fascination with the human body. I can watch things like surgery footage all day long because I love to know how the human body works or how it can be repaired. Now watching these soldiers in pain is horrible, but much of the footage on display in this movie is actually footage of them being treated for their wounds, so it is, for me, stomach-able.

The movie begins showing some of the Vietnam battle fields and then the "high tech" hospitals as the narrator explains to us that a medical unit is never more than 35 minutes away for a wounded soldier thanks to the modern miracle of the helicopter. Something that the other wars had not had the comfort of. Then the movie gets right into the meat of the matter showing several wounded soldiers being worked on. One has a bullet hole in his thigh that has opened an artery. We see how the doctors cut his leg wide open, and removed a vein from his other leg and stitch it in place to repair the damage. Another soldier has a hole blasted clear though his chest as the doctors pull bone fragments from the open wound, they eventually stop the pumping blood and sew him closed. Yet another young man has shrapnel embedded deep in his face. He is cut open and the metal dug out. He has a nine inch sutured scar running from his eye across his whole face. We are told by the narrator he will be back on the battlefield within two weeks!!!

Lots of time is spent explaining how modern the facilities in the battlefield are and how great the medical treatment is. But yet the visuals on screen are showing us soldiers having bullets dug out of their eyes, chests, and limbs. Their faces exploded by mines and extremities having to be amputated. In fact the most harrowing footage in the film is a poor soldier having to have his right leg sawed off just under his kneed from an explosion. But you half expect the narrator to tell us he was back in action two weeks later.  Another guy literally has his face reduced to hamburger, mulched to the point he is nothing but raw meat and teeth, but the doctors manage to use wire and a lot of patience to make him look like a person again.

We also see the effects of disease, skin rash, leprosy and all the other problems of disentry and poor living conditions of Vietnam.What you are left with is that War is ugly, violent and messy, but if there is a Narrator he will tell you otherwise. which is usually what the Army recruiter is doing.

The print I saw was faded to the point of being sepia toned, which is probably a blessing because if this had retained its rich full color all that horrific blood and guts would have been all but unwatchable. I can't even imagine having been there to shoot this stuff. The actual narration during the surgery scenes is a blow by blow account of the incident reports including the actual periods and commas in the report so it becomes mind bendingly surreal.

Probably worth a watch for those with strong constitutions. You know who you are. For those I have embedded it below! Enjoy.

Review © Andrew Copp


  1. Excellent review Andy. There's a whole subgenre of Industrial films like this that are still just getting discovered. Fascinating stuff.

  2. This is the most infamous of those Army Industrial films. It took me years to track it down. I'm shocked it has been allowed to remain on You tube.