Course syllabus
Vietnam and the artist

by William Alexander

from Jump Cut, no. 31, March 1986, p. 62
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1986, 2006


Lecture — one hour per week. Discussion — two hours per week. Teacherless (student-led) small discussion group — 2 hours per week. Film showing separate, with optional second showing.


Week 1: Opening meeting.

Week 2: Reading: Hugh Higgins, Vietnam, 2nd edn. Film: HEARTS AND MINDS (Peter Davis, 1974).

Week 3: Reading: Denise Levertov, "The Freeing of the Dust," part four, plus "Prayer for Revolutionary Love," "Modes of Being," and "The Wealth of the Destitute." Films: Vietnamese films: A DAY OF PLANE HUNTING (1969, Vietnamese sound track); WOMEN OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS STATION #6 (made by North Vietnamese, 1969); YOUNG PUPPETEERS OF VIETNAM (NLF film, 1968); STRUGGLE FOR LIFE (NLF film, 1969).

Week 4: Reading: Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War. Film: COMING HOME (Hal Ashby, 1978).

Week 5: Reading: Jonathan Kozol, The Night is Dark and I am Far from Home.

Film: BREAKER MORANT (Bruce Beresford, 1979). Daytime videotape and film: BODY COUNT (Frey, Thomas, Viviano, and Wellman, 1976); INTERVIEW WITH MY LAI VETERANS (Strick, 1970). Both shown alternately throughout the day.

Week 6 Reading: From course pack of articles: Denise Levertov, "The Long Way Round." Film: ASHES AND EMBERS (Haile Gerima 1982).

Week 7 Reading from course pack of articles: Freedman, "Strategic Weapons"; Power, "Basic Principles of Deterrence"; Pipes, "Soviet Global Strategy"; Suny, "Soviet Foreign Policy Aims and the Threat of Nuclear War"; Falk, Salisbury, Kistiakowsky, and Frank, "How a Nuclear War Can Start"; Thaxton, "Nuclear War by Computer Chip"; O'Banion, "What It Really Means to Push the Arms Race"; Gray and Payne, "Victory Is Possible"; Vander, "The Delusion of Civil Defense"; Degrasse Jr. and Murphy, "The High Costs of Rearmament"; Thompson, "A Letter to America"; Nuclear Times, "Direct Action Has Its Day."

Films: COUNTDOWN FOR AMERICA (Videotape, American Security Council, 1983) and DARK CIRCLE (Ruth Landy, Chris Beaver, Judy Irving, 1982).

Week 8: Film: THE PASSION OF ANNA (Ingmar Bergman, 1970).

Week 9: Reading: Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will, pp. 86-113 (you may wish to start reading on p. 31).

Films: SOLDIER GIRLS (Broomfield and Churchill, 1981) and WARRIORS' WOMEN (Dorothy Todd, 1981). On the weekend: A special showing of EL SALVADOR, ANOTHER VIETNAM (Glen Silber and Tête Vasconcellos, 1981)

Week 10: Film: THE DEERHUNTER (Michael Cimino, 1978).

Week 11: Film: APOCALYPSE NOW (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979).

Week 12: Film: WAR GAMES (Gadhiam, 1983).

Week 13: Reading: Albert Camus, The Plague.

Film: THE WAR AT HOME (Barry Alexander Brown and Glen Silber, 1979).


1) You will write journal entries every week except two (but the gaps cannot be two weeks in a row). You must include in your entries substantial comment on at least four of the books assigned (Course pack material counts as one book), including Vietnam (or one of the alternative history titles: Herring, America's Longest War; or Podhoretz, Why We Were In Vietnam) and the comment should occur the week the book is assigned. Journals are to be handed to readers every Thursday in class; they will be returned every Tuesday. You must inform your reader which two weeks you choose as exceptions — this need not be done in advance, but should be done at the time the entry is not written.

2) By the 4th week, turn in a short (one or two paragraphs) piece of writing, describing a nuclear holocaust nightmare you have had (if you can recall no nightmare, substitute a nuclear holocaust fantasy). These writings will be made into a course pack the following week (all writings there will be anonymous).

3) A ten to fifteen page paper or equivalent project. Films, videotapes, poems, stories, plays, drawings, dances, other performances created during the term, or other projects are encouraged. They must be concerned with Vietnam or with related issues that come up in class. Each individual involved in a project must also turn in a short informal paper (approximately four pages), analyzing the experience (initial plans, problems, mistakes, lessons, assessment of completed project, etc.). All film and video projects will be screened for the class, and other students who wish to present their projects to the class will be encouraged to do so where there is a time. If you choose to do an interview for your project, the result must be more than a long, unedited, mechanical project. You must consult your reader about paper or project.


Expert film knowledge, professional literary criticism, "correct ideas," and so forth are not required. What will be important is evidence of an effort to come to grips with a work, to think and feel it out, to single out what is notable and/or significant in it. You are encouraged, too, to reflect on the larger questions and problems suggested by the specific work and by other works in the course. Impressions, judgments, reactions, comparisons, tentative ideas all are relevant if clearly directed at the individual work, at a group of works, at specific related ideas or experiences.

Journal entries are not essays, need not be perfectly polished, although a clear hand will be much appreciated. Journals will be evaluated (graded), but grades will not be written in the journals (students may, if they wish, request their grades to be included in the journal). Readers will write comments, respond to specific questions, and so forth. Emphasis is placed on dialogue between you and your reader, both through the journal entries as you respond to one another's questions, ideas, and so forth, and through personal contact.

Journals are a way of capturing and shaping a film in one's mind before the images fade. It is a good idea to write them as soon as possible after the film. Journals can help shape and define your understanding of a film and book, your experience of the discussion in small group or class, and can be drawn upon to stimulate discussion in the group. Although they must be written before group meetings, it is legitimate to add to them in response to group discussion as well. An average entry will run four pages on a piece of paper this size with normal handwriting. Please keep your entries in a notebook, so that they can come in all together each time.


These are based on the belief that a small group of people sharing a common interest and willing to talk together honestly and sympathetically about that interest over a period of 13 weeks can come to know one another quite well and can do a great deal of learning together. They are intended to give each student an opportunity to have his or her say, to verbalize his or her experience of the works, and to exchange ideas and feelings with others. In each group there will be varieties of knowledge of film and literature and degrees of experience with each. The differences can be fruitful rather than problematic — a little reflection will make it obvious that all kinds of response lead to learning about the nature, effect, and value of a work of art.

Each group should establish its own methods of building discussion. One possibility is a rotating leadership, one person each week being responsible for initiating and directing discussion. Each group must set up a rotating or permanent secretary, to take attendance and to report on the discussion. The report should be a good paragraph or two, giving an idea of turns the discussion took, of general points of agreement, of significant disagreement, of problems with the material, the group, the class.

The groups are non-graded discussions, hours when people talk together without being evaluated. However, attendance is required, and good or bad attendance can effect one's grade: a borderline grade will be swayed up or down according to attendance, and very poor attendance will lower the grade one full letter. The decision to require attendance is based upon the experience that these groups are a highly important part of the learning in this course and upon a desire that commitment be made to the groups. Your group will have assigned to it a person (undergraduate) who as had experience with a similar course. Since each group is student-led, this person will more or less simply be a participating member. S/he will in no sense be evaluating group performance of other members.

It is possible to form special-interest groups, either in place of the regular group (if you start at the beginning of the term) or at some point in the term for a few weeks as an addition to the regular group. We are eager to bring together people in the course who wish to discuss implications of the material or related issues. Such people are also encouraged to bring their ideas back to the class, taking over parts of full class sessions.