The literary device of presenting a story via ‘found’ media such as diaries and such like has a long history, notably Stoker’s Dracula. The filmic equivalent is the ‘found footage’ film, ostensibly the film is made up of a diegetic recording of the events. Again, this is common in the horror genre Starting with 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust* and arguably reaching its zenith with 1999’s Blair Witch Project. The trope isn’t that common in other genres so when I chanced upon a Vietnam film using this device I quickly tracked down a copy to watch.
Charlie 84 MoPic, refering to the Military Operational Specialism of a camera man, follows an Airborne Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) going behind enemy lines to gain intelligence on the working of the Viet Cong/ National Liberation Front. The conceit is that the 6-man patrol is being followed by the cameraman, and an accompanying Lieutenant, to produce a filmic record of best practice as a training aid for future LRRP teams. The LRRP teams were a divisional asset, introduced to provide information for high command with their long-range penetration capabilities. Often wearing the iconic ‘tiger stripe’ camouflaged uniforms, they probed deep in to enemy areas for days or weeks at a time. The men that made up such units were the elite of their formations, highly skilled and self-disciplined, able to take the mental pressure of such work.
Filmed on a tiny, for Hollywood at least, budget in California, this 1989 film stands apart from bigger better-known Vietnam films. It offers a raw portrayal of a small group of men bonded by combat. Using pathos and intimacy rather than spectacle to tell its story.
Still some of the ‘Nam film stereotypes creep in (they may well be stereotypes for a reason of course) in the cast of characters, the joker who is due to leave theatre imminently, the redneck, the strong silent type, the cold, efficient Sgt, the career minded Officer- in this film he may be inexperienced and a little naive about the realities of combat but he is open about his ambition and portrayed as having some competencies.
The film shows the men going about their mission with the drag of having two FNGs** with them, the cameraman, of whom very little is seen all film, and the Lt. get some of the men to open up about their past. The levelling factor of combat and the bond it engenders is really brought to the fore here, crossing racial and social divides the men are committed to each other knowing that they have faith in each other and their trust. The Lt. and cameraman are clearly outsiders and interlocuters in this who will never gain acceptance in to this elite club.
As for the Viet Cong they hardly appear in the film only really being seen from a distance or when deceased, whilst this marginalisation of them could be seen as problematic today the film is really just about men in combat and their relationships. Obviously, the patrol runs into trouble; even though the film is 30 years old, I won’t got into details and spoil it for you as if you haven’t seen the film I urge you to do so. It is up in its entirety on You Tube. I’d put it up there as one of the better Vietnam war films.
*Whilst it is easy to dismiss Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust as a violent, reprehensible video nasty (which is certainly is/ was) it also serves the purpose of social commentary. Deodato’s story of ignorant filmmakers being killed by the indigenous people they are there to film was a kind of which fulfilment of his based on the action of the truly reprehensible Italian mondo film makers Jacopetti and Properi’s Africa Addio. For more on the horrific but fascinating world of mondo films I can recommend this book.
**Fucking New Guy