Monday, August 11, 2014
CANON OF FILM: "GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM"
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenplay: Mitch Markowitz
Well obviously this wasn’t my planned “Canon of Film” post for today, but obviously recent events…. I was listening to Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” album, at the time the news starting hitting the wire about Robin Williams apparent suicide, right on “Madame George” strangely enough, so that “So Goodbye to Madame George…” chorus kept getting repeated as I read the reports. “Dry your eyes for Madame George, Wonder why for Madame George,…”. Anyway, that’s my story, that and when I wrote my first TV Viewing 101 blogpost last week, while I peppered the articled with a few TV references, I actually ended it with “Nanu-nanu” (And I had already prepared a little piece aside on Williams for the next one of those blogs) This Canon of Film blogpost on “Good Morning, Vietnam”, like most of these was written years ago, so there’s a few older references in it, but I also partially wrote it to explain that the success of the film is in part a metaphor for the ways a comedian’s mind works, particularly Williams. It’s not a new approach to the film, but I think it’s ultimately the correct one, but I look at it today, and most of what I wrote feels eerie today, and that’s unfortunate. I wasn’t aiming for it to be prophetic in any way, and while today is tough, in the future, let's hope his tragic end is overshadowed by his incredible talent and in particular, the numerous laughs he left us with. Everything after this paragraph was written years earlier.
There’s a throwaway line in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” that I never really noticed in previous viewings, where after Cronauer (Robin Williams) says something on the radio that he shouldn’t, one the sergeant fears that he might disclose troop movements. I immediately thought of Geraldo Riviera a few years ago and that now infamous Fox News Report that got him temporarily suspended. It puts a little more light into what exactly would be going through the military’s mind at this time.
I never bothered to look up the accuracy of the film to the actual Adrian Cronauer, but I figured if he was one-tenth as funny as Robin Williams is, I would’ve heard of him outside of the film, but that doesn’t really matter, as the film is really about Robin Williams getting allowed to do his stand-up act on the radio during Vietnam. That’s an oversimplification, but that’s what most people remember about it first. Even the war is almost pushed aside. Williams earned his first Oscar nomination for the role and it’s because it’s about a guy who is forced to look past his humor, and actually make a choice based on emotions. Humor, as all stand-ups will tell you, is a way of concealing emotions, because stand-ups are essentially insecure and need laughter to know that they’re accepted. Williams’s stand-up is particularly guarded because his work lacks the autobiographical undertones of a Richard Pryor, Geroge Carlin, Chris Rock, or a Roseanne Barr, so we don’t get much insight into him personally. (Or into Cronauer in the film, notice the almost complete lack of backstory into him) We know him from what he does and he can walk into any situation and start turning one-liners. At one point in the film, he starts to pull one-liners on the trees in the jungle that surrounds him, in an effort to show that the war is just material. This movie, forces him to confront the realities of the world that surrounds him, and that’s a comic’s worst fear, because it brings down the wall that separates them from the audience. By the film’s end, he can still spew off a series of one-liners, be he doesn't do it all the time, and we can somewhat glimpse at the man behind the facade. Similar to Bill Murray’s character in “Lost in Translation,” who can be funny, be doesn't want to be at that moment, Williams confronts the 4th wall head-on, and eventually becomes the guy who can and wants to be funny, but realizes that maybe he can’t be all the time.