Bert Schneider, one of Hollywood’s biggest producers in the Vietnam War era who made several iconic films including Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970), and The Last Picture Show (1971), died December 12 in Los Angeles at age 78.
Schneider (who also co-created “The Monkees” TV show) also co-produced, with Peter Davis, the scathingly antiwar Vietnam War documentary Hearts and Minds (1974), which received the Academy Award for best documentary the following year.
This Vietnam veteran did not bother to see Hearts and Minds when it came out in 1974. My goal then was to avoid all reminders of the war. I did see the film when it came out on video—and it did not exactly bowl me over.
There’s some great stuff in Hearts and Minds, but I couldn’t get over (or forgive) its distorted portrayal of Vietnam veterans. The film’s main point is that the United States had no business being in Vietnam and that everyone who took part in the war has blood on his or her hands.
In putting forth this oversimplified—at best—message, the filmmakers willfully ignored anything showing Americans or South Vietnamese in a positive light. Plus, the movie portrays the NVA and VC as one-dimensional, heroic freedom fighters. In this version of the war, American GIs raped and pillaged innocent villagers, while an unseen enemy went about heroically defending its homeland against the imperialist aggressor.
The film’s hero among American veterans is a deserter who tells his tale to a congressional committee. Its villains are a series of military men who were up to no good on the ground in Vietnam and back home.
Some veterans in the film, such as VVA founder Bobby Muller, don’t fit in either category. But the veterans that Hearts and Minds highlights make it appear as if we were all either racist killers or apologizing wimps. Everyone with an ounce of brains knows that that’s not true and that the truth is much, much more complex.