Great Books and Film Documentaries

On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek


Great Books and Film Documentaries

They say that if a book is worth reading, it is worth reading again.  Good books attract numerous readers, as measured by readership survey data.  Great books are measured not so much as the number of weeks it was on the New York Times Best Seller List, for example; as by the number of years it remains in general readership and with the critical acclaim by those who know best what good literature is. The sometime reader in the person of the Footloose Forester is too unqualified, too shallow and too superficial as a critic of books, in general; to offer any advice or tips as they pertain to great books.  He wishes only to make the point that a great book stands the test of time and critical acclaim by those who know great writing when they read it.

On the other hand, some voracious readers tend to consult literary reviews when looking for the next book to absorb, in whole or in part.  Of course, we all have our favorites and within our preferred genres of reading, thus the book reviews help by steering us in the right direction. And so, he takes his cues from them.

Quite unlike book reviews leading us forward to great books, the field of film documentaries is an unstructured and serendipitous cauldron of pot-luck potpourri of intellectual stimulation. They seem to come in dribs and drabs, and unannounced.  Nevertheless, the Footloose Forester is an avid viewer of documentaries, those non-fiction and pictorial presentations that offer the viewer visual confirmation of historical events, real-world physical phenomena and cultural tapestries that are seldom or fully appreciated in books. After more than a century of increasingly sophisticated cinematography, there is more to choose from than ever.

Of course, many documentaries are adorned with narrated interpretations that may not tell the whole story; or tell a version that fortifies a biased political, cultural or social agenda. Nonetheless, documentaries with film of real-time historical events carry unspoken messages that are part of the overall narrative; whether they are intended to be, or not.  The viewer interprets the film on his/her own terms, whether or not it corresponds to the interpretation of the film makers and the narrators. Such is the case with the recently released documentaries about the Viet Nam War in early 2013.  Although the Footloose Forester was only an observer in Viet Nam, his nearly three years there created a distinctive misty veneeer of interest that does not wash off.   

An F-100 Supersabre dropping napalm near Bien Hoa, Viet Nam

The Footloose Forester is not a historian and would never claim to have more than a personal viewpoint about the Viet Nam War; its cast of characters; and its significent historical events.  Yet, he is almost always viscerally affected when he sees documentaries about that sad war and its lasting impact on the American psyche, the people of Viet Nam, and the Vietnamese landscape. His melancholia emerges quickly, and lasts too long.  

Fleeing a napalm drop...a scene few older adults can forget


There is no doubt that if 100 people witnessed the same scenes in any given documentary, there might be several different and personal interpretations about what was being filmed.  Each of us gets to keep our own viewpoints, despite what the narrator might have said. The films themselves are neutral; however graphic or shocking. Knowing some of the people, places, and events as a first-hand observer, however; makes it possible to append an idea or two, relate a short story or two; and most certainly add to the interpretations of the documentaries, themselves.   


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