GOOD MORNING VIETNAM...AND FRANKIE & ANNETTE, TOO @ 26 January 2012 06:16 PM
It has been some time since I watched 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, so while a lot of it was so memorable I recognized it immediately, some things were a bit of a revelation, especially as a metaphor for today's American military presence in the Middle East.
Sure, you can make the obvious case for this to be a Hollywood anti-war movie, pure and simple, and it is at first glance. Surely making its points with individuals rather than troops is a powerful way to illustrate the effect of war on people rather than faceless masses. But Good Morning Vietnam is also a story about a relentless clash between front line creative powderkegs and front office administrators. It's also about how creative work reaches out to a lot of people that you may never meet, but to whom your work makes a difference, however big or small.
More than anything, the movie is a perfect vehicle for Robin Williams, whose now-iconic stream-of-consciousness comedy is given full throttle as he goes on the air in a highly fictionalized portrayal of radio personality Adrian Cronauer. Taken out of the context of the late 20th century, when Williams was still breaking into movies and out of his "Mork" image, this performance takes on a greater depth than ever. He may appear to basically be playing himself, or at least his persona, but there's a whole lot more to it than just riffing when the cameras roll. As a matter of fact, if you watch the "monologues" presented in the bonus features (which are the same on this new Blu-ray as they were on the 2006 DVD edition, alas, with no commentary), you can see that he honed those routines over and over until they were as perfect as possible.
It's no secret that this film does not tell the true story of Cronauer beyond his position of disc jockey in Vietnam and part time English teacher. What's also clear, especially watching it today, is that it also presents a view of 1965 through the prism of 1987 tastes and sensabilities.
When William's character and an audience of Vitemanese viilagers sits in a dumpy, fan-cooled movie theater to watch Beach Blanket Bingo, the complete irony is crystal clear as Frankie and Annette cavort in what is perhaps the penultimate beach movie. The movie seems out of place in that theater, but also in the pop culture context of 1987 and today. Actually, Beach Blanket Bingo was a new movie in 1965 and such goofy but popular films were huge hits, not the anamoly that it seems as presented in this context.
Musically, it's the same way. The Beatles were a sensation, but they had only just become such over one year. Mainstream popular radio was playing Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as well as The Supremes and the Beach Boys. In the accompanying documentary featurette, it is pointed out the Louis Armstrong's classic, "Wonderful World" (which became even more of a legendary song since the film's debut) was released after Good Morning Vietnam took place, but of course it served the story so well, it doesn't matter.
And I'm not nit-picking for anachronisms. My point is that, in 1987 as in today, some are not aware that AM radio was so diverse. The film is peppered with putdowns of Percy Faith and Mantovani, but I'll bet the real Cronauer played Faith's "Theme from A Summer Place." The sensabilities and realities of what made popular music of the mid-sixties was filtered through what became "classic rock" programming by the late eighties -- and what would sell on a soundtrack album.
Robin Williams is superb and is given fantastic support by a truly great team of actors, particularly Forrest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby and Robert Wuhl. Even the small roles are memorable -- and the faces of the local people and the soldiers are especially indelible.
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