The war fought in America’s living rooms makes a vivid return on History’s “Vietnam in HD.”
A follow-up to the channel’s fine 2009 “WWII in HD,” the new six-hour, three-night program uses combat footage (restored and transferred to high definition) and eyewitness accounts to chronicle the conflict.
The two episodes available for review move with surefire drive, battle by battle.
“Vietnam” can’t quite match the earlier series’ shock value of a black-and-white war revealed in color. Still, the images that would become Vietnam’s iconography -- low-flying choppers, hut villages reduced to ash, GIs wading through muck and elephant grass -- startle with hi-def immediacy.
Directed by Sammy Jackson and narrated by Michael C. Hall, “Vietnam” traces the war years through the experiences of 13 Americans.
Included in the early episodes: Barry Romo, a gung-ho former altar boy who will exit the war with a Bronze Star and considerable disillusionment; Anne Purcell, the wife of a soldier missing in action; and Joe Galloway, a UPI reporter who recalls on camera every detail of a particularly disturbing casualty.
“That boy,” Galloway says through tears, “is my nightmare.”
In Ken Burns style, Jackson has actors (Edward Burns, Kevin Connolly and Jennifer Love Hewitt, among others) voice the reminiscences, even when the actual veterans appear elsewhere in the film. Marquee value seems the only reason Adrian Grenier’s voice segues into Romo’s own first-person narrative.
Two technical notes, both reflecting standard practice for the genre: Sound effects -- explosions, gunfire -- were added to the amateur footage and the action onscreen doesn’t always match up with events being described.
Neither caveat would be necessary if the film wasn’t so craftily assembled. “Vietnam in HD” makes a war with murky beginnings and muddy execution understandable, if still not entirely comprehensible.
“Vietnam in HD” airs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on History at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
‘A Good Man’
Grace, says choreographer Bill T. Jones in a captivating “American Masters” profile, “is for the saints -- and I am not a saint.”
Clearly, this legendary figure of modern dance is not talking about grace in movement. The mercurial Jones is describing an artistic process that occasionally leaves collaborators looking like scolded children.
“Bill T. Jones: A Good Man,” directed by Bob Hercules and Gordon Quinn, recounts the creation of Jones’s 2009 dance piece “Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray.” The work was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival near Chicago to mark the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.
Born in 1952 to a family of Southern “potato pickers,” Jones recalls his childhood reverence for the Great Emancipator with characteristic quotability. Lincoln, he says, “was the only white man I was allowed to love unconditionally.”
But hero worship gives way to more complicated emotions as Jones explores Lincoln’s white supremacist “leanings.” The choreographer’s conflicted feelings -- what is a good man, and was Lincoln one? -- are reflected in the difficult making of “Fondly Do We Hope.”
Though the documentary focuses on rehearsals, glimpses of the opening night are shown throughout the film. Some in the Ravinia audience seem less than enamored of the work. Perhaps they would respond differently had they been able to eavesdrop on its creation.
“Bill T. Jones: A Good Man” airs Friday on PBS at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
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(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)