Heart in the Darkness – Vietnam

U.S. Army helicopters, Vietnam, 1965. Image by German photo-journalist Horst Faas (1933-2012).

U.S. Army helicopters, Vietnam, 1965. Image by German photo-journalist Horst Faas.

“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.”
Joseph Conrad, 1899

In 1978 I read Heart of Darkness. In 1979 I watched Apocalypse Now.

I went to the cinema on my own that early evening and still, to this day, recall the opening. Rotating sound across a black screen, jungle, the hint of smoke, silence, more rotation, the passing closeness of a helicopter, haze, music from the Doors…napalm at 1:07 – lyric at 1:08.

The film was the first instance of my educated interest in the art of story-telling and led me on the journey of re-evaluating many earlier productions. Apocalypse Now made me interested in the more.

I learned much in my first year University English class. Starting with Dickens’, Great Expectations, our professor told us we would read the book beginning to end over the weekend, a review to start on Monday. At the time, and judging from the book’s thickness, I wondered how this read could be possible. Nevertheless, my eyes and mind accepted the quest and on Monday we started on the more.

Symbolism, imagery, ideas. Our prof was student and academic – passionate of these works. He read the same words as you and I, but saw things that I did not see, but wanted to see. Soon we were on to Faulkner’s Light in August and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

There was more to these words than mere writing. The minds that produced these stories fed their words with the challenges of other meanings, almost slight of hand and misdirection, providing clues for recognition, some subtle, some subliminal, some direct and some very abstract…there was so much more to this more.

Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, 1890. (Wiki image)

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) was based on his experiences in the Congo. The book inspired Francis Ford Coppola’s vision for Apocalypse Now (1979) set in Vietnam. (Wiki image)

It was the more in Apocalypse that intrigued me – Coppola’s vision, creating this Vietnam journey, was mirrored after Conrad’s darkness. I was entranced.  This war, this Vietnam War, had played out in my living room since our return to Canada in 1967. A new console colour television delivered our host Walter Cronkite night after night. Reports came from Southeast Asia with clips from journalists Dan Rather, Morley Safer, Eric Sevareid – photographs by Eddie Adams, Nick Ut, Sal Veder, Malcolm Browne, John Filo, Horst Faas and many others. Time Magazine and National Geographic delivered a steady diet of the war to our front door depicting a nation torn. Vietnam was also my Father’s interest. He was a soldier, a skilled photographer, a man who wanted to be a combat photographer. It has never left me.

The years passed and so too the reports and images of jungle and flame on our flat screens. However, very soon (September 17, 2017) American Herald, Ken Burns, will deliver The Vietnam War to public television. More than 40 years has passed since America’s Vietnam…though the memories live with those who were there…this more is reachable.  Several years prior to this upcoming film event, Ken Burns presented The Civil War, a moving image document that explored the story of a divided nation (1861-1865) and which captivated its viewers when debuted in 1990. The film – its story – its inter-twining – its more – connected Americans to America.

The film’s powerful call to national unity in the face of profound division seemed ideally suited to the bitter post-Vietnam cultural climate.

(James M. LundbergHistory Professor on Ken Burns’ The Civil War)

Ken Burns has returned again to a complex story of a war that divided a nation. It is with considerable appreciation, understanding and heartfelt respect for all, that we must know that The Vietnam War will re-spark sleeping memory – that hopefully in its retelling the better angels of our nature may yet be reborn.  Who will speak during and who will speak afterwards?

Though the four horsemen of the Apocalypse represent conquest, war, famine and death (the less) it is in the more – the understanding – the appreciation – the imagery – the voice – the soundtrack (and not in the less) that we resonate within our true selves and find heart in the darkness.


About The Author

pferguson
In April 2007 Paul met Casey and Ian Williams of the Paradigm Motion Picture Company in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul has worked with Paradigm since 2009 as Producer and Historian. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was amazed by films such as David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.

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