The young British artists are all installing their works. …
On the very high wide walls of the Kunsthalle, completely covering it, is a collage of posters by Fiona Banner, advertising her book THE NAM, which is about the war in Vietnam. The posters are torn up to change the words THE NAM to read lots of different things, including THE MENTAL, THE WOMAN, THE LIE, THE OMEN, THE MATTER, THE WHAT, THE HEY. She explains her book is about the idea that the four Vietnam films described in it are very influential in giving people a picture of what the Vietnam war was like. But it’s not clear what the poster collage is supposed to be doing.
…I wander back to the Fiona Banner space and pick up a book. It’s a big inches-thick slab-like paperback with the titles in eyerocketing complementary colours. THE NAM. Inside there is an incredibly detailed transcription in heavy bold lettering over bout a thousand pages of what Fiona Banner was seeing on the screen when she played the videos of four Vietnam films – The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now and Platoon - back to back. She doesn’t comment on the films but just describes them in a tough gritty macho kind of way.
I start to feel a big antagonistic towards THE NAM because it’s so gritty and macho and I can’t understand what it means. I try to make sense of it. It’s a slab and it’s a kind of list so that’s like Minimalism and Conceptualism And they were both American and so was the war in Vietnam.
Actually it would be quite interesting to describe all those films but in your own normal language instead of a macho method acting language. But Fiona Banner talks a bit macho in real life. So that’s another reason why it all makes a wonky kind of sense. She did actually go to Vietnam recently and today she’s wearing a jacket she bought there.
Anyway, what about those films? Platoon is the most seamless, but only because it’s the least intelligent. It doesn’t try anything hard. It’s Oliver Stone’s worst film. Everyone in it is too film-starry, and the ideas are lumbering and obvious and you hear them coming a mile off.
Full Metal Jacket is good in the first half when the marines are all in their training camp. The swearing is very impressive. But then it collapses into clichés and rubbish in the second half. There is an incredibly tedious drawn-out scene with a Viet Cong sniper, who picks off all the heroes one by one. Eventually the sniper is sighted and killed and it turns out she’s a woman. It’s an allegory but you don’t care by now.
The Deerhunter is very good on the sheer visceral shock of the change from the heroes being in their small town in America, to them being in Vietnam in a ghastly hell. They have to stand in bamboo cage in a rat-infested rice field, with water up to their noses, only just able to breathe, and wait to be dragged into a hut and made to shoot themselves in the head for the amusement of the evil Viet Cong guards. Obviously that was a bit racist of Michael Cimino, the director, to make the guards so evil, and we all had to pull a long face about that at the time the film came out. But actually it was a really exciting and well done scene. But it’s boring at the end when they all sing patriotic songs. And on the deer hunting expedition there’s a lot of incoherent pseudo-Existential macho method-acting discussion about what life is about and whether bullets are real.
This hunting scene was parodied in an episode of Not the Nine-o-Clock News once, with the actors saying ‘You fuck! Fuck you! Fuck! Fuck! You fuck-fuck!’ And that pretty much hit the nail on the head.
Apocalypse Now is of course the greatest. A visual orgy on a level with Fellini’s Satyricon. If there was a film about my life I’d like it to be like that. All the writing is absurd and all the actors are absurd too but the spectacle is so great it makes absurdity seem fine, he natural mode.
OK, I feel better now – THE NAM – costs £30 and is worth buying. You get a certificate with it that shows the number of the edition you’ve bought. Also on the certificate there is a text that introduces the book. It’s very exciting and breathless and says things like” ‘You might say that this book is the ultimate unedited text, a world in which nothing is prioritised, but everything’. The last sentence reads” ‘As you begin to know, you only see what you see’. You can’t tell if its rubbish or serious, and that’s always good in art.