Judge Victor Valdivia says: Short DVD. Short review. Short blurb.
A touchstone for healing the wounds of war.
The unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1982 was almost as bitterly controversial as the war itself. When Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs, who spearheaded the project and raised the funds and Maya Lin, the Yale undergraduate whose design idea was chosen for it finally unveiled their idea, they were met with a firestorm of criticism. Lin's design, a simple black granite wall in the shape of a chevron with all of the names of U.S. personnel killed or missing during the war inscribed on the side, was considered too simplistic and gloomy. Many veterans had hoped for a more heroic or inspirational memorial and their condemnation of Lin's design nearly sank the project.
Over twenty-five years later, the Wall, as it's commonly known, is the most visited monument in Washington, D.C., even more than the memorials dedicated to other wars or presidents. Every year, thousands of visitors come to see the list of nearly sixty thousand names of casualties. Some rub a name onto a piece of paper with charcoal or graphite. Others leave offerings, including letters, photos, presents, or even, in one case, a fully customized Harley Davidson motorcycle. And there are those still who simply come to see the names, to try to make sense of why some survived and others did not, and to try to use the simple black granite wall, so elegant and yet evocative, as a focal point for their grief.
Remembering Vietnam: The Wall at 25, which originally aired on the HD Smithsonian channel, is a worthy show on how the wall was built and what it has come to mean to both Vietnam survivors and families of soldiers. The show does give a brief thumbnail sketch of the war's notable points, but it does so merely to provide some historical context. There are far more detailed examinations of the war elsewhere and besides, this show is not so much about the war as it is about the aftermath. Instead, it concentrates mostly on the wall: how it was built, how it was financed, and how it became such a symbol for the war. The show explains some stories behind a few of the names. It also explains the manner in which the names are arranged and annotated, with different notations for those confirmed killed and those who are only missing. There are even as many as forty names of soldiers who are still alive who were added by accident. There are also eight names of women, mostly nurses.
The interviews provide most of the content. Surviving veterans and families of casualties tell some harrowing stories of some of the names. Scruggs describes the grueling and sometimes hopeless story of how he conceived of the idea for the memorial and raised all of the funds for its construction without ever approaching the government. Park rangers and custodians relate how they have recovered many of the offerings left by visitors and arranged them into a sizable collection that is available for viewing. The only significant absence is Lin herself, who is only barely visible in archival footage. It would have been immensely valuable to hear her thoughts on how she came up with her design and how she feels about it now that it has become such a landmark. It would also have been useful to hear from some of the veterans who were so offended by her original idea when it was announced. Though many references are made to the controversy over Lin's design, none of the specific criticisms are ever actually heard.
The show aired on the Smithsonian Channel, an HD channel available on
certain satellite and cable systems. Consequently, it looks and sounds very
good, though some of the archival footage is a bit rough, and the Dolby 5.1
surround mix is superfluous, as the surrounds aren't really used. There are no
extras, unfortunately, apart from promos for other Smithsonian channel shows.
The show is fairly comprehensive, but there's still plenty of room for some text
information, or perhaps some interview outtakes. In fact, though the show covers
all of the important points, at only 53 minutes, it feels like it could use a
bit more time to add some more detail in a few parts. Nonetheless, anyone who
feels any emotional connection with the Wall (for whatever reason) will find
this DVD greatly fascinating, though viewers who wish to know about the war
itself should start elsewhere first. Remembering Vietnam: The Wall at 25
is not guilty, and those who care about the war should give it a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Smithsonian Channel
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