Saturday, 25 June 2016


" could also hear the other, some young soldier speaking in all bloody innocence, saying, 'All that's just a load, man. We're here to kill gooks. Period.' Which wasn't at all true of me. I was there to watch.”
Currently reading the Vietnam War memoir Dispatches to mark the passing of its author Michael Herr who died on June 23rd. The book is filled with extraordinary accounts of life during wartime and I was particularly taken with the passages depicting superstitious combatants. Such was the omnipresent contact with death and injury, soldiers experienced bad vibes everywhere. Air Cav gunners felt the presence of dead soldiers in their choppers, long after the bodies had been airlifted out of combat zones. Even the toughest fighting hombres were easily spooked. One marine nicknamed Day Tripper so disliked the nighttime he would volunteer for the most dangerous day patrols to stay in after dark. Marines carried talismans into battle and stuck close to members of their platoons considered indestructible, soldiers who emerged completely unscathed from the fiercest fighting seem to offer a supernatural protection - one marine was awarded this status after he vowed to survive the war and return to Tennessee to kill his unfaithful wife. When Herr penned the narration for Apocalypse Now, he included this line about Colonel Kilgore: "He was one of those guys that had that weird light around him. You just knew he wasn't gonna get so much as a scratch here."

Throughout Michael Herr’s memoir there are scenes and dialogue that would later re-appear in Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. One interesting passage had me thinking not of Vietnam films but of Joe Dante's 1978 film Piranha
"Once I met a colonel," writes Herr, "who had a plan to shorten the war by dropping piranha into the paddies of the North. He was talking fish but his dreamy eyes were full of mega-death." 
I had to wonder if this eccentric notion had found its way into Richard Robinson's original story or John Sayles successive drafts ? Dispatches was first published in 1977 so the timing is perhaps too tight. I don't own a copy of Piranha on DVD, but does anyone know if the story's Vietnam angle is mentioned on the DVD supplements ? Incidentally, in 1965 US Marines and South Vietnamese forces launched Operation Piranha, which had nothing to do with killer fish but worth noting for the sake of full disclosure...

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