Meet Murder: Revisiting Michael Herr's “Dispatches”
To my younger eyes, the film “Apocalypse Now” was somewhat pretentious. It had eventually came out not long after I finished reading Michael Herr's book “Dispatches”... but a while before I finally got round to Conrad's “Heart of Darkness”. I supposed there was some subtlety in Francis Ford Coppola's film that I was missing, since he had reportedly based his script on a fusion of those two books.
I next viewed the film a couple of decades later, by which time I had done my Conrad reading, and realised it was Marlon Brando's pretentious portrayal of Kurtz that had spoilt the show... and not the film's ambitious blending of fact and fiction. Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper and even FF Coppola himself were vindicated. Marlon had become a fat slob, a bloated angel unworthy even of the messianic Kurtz role.
Every bit as chilling as Capote's “In Cold Blood”, “Dispatches” brought the corpse of America's Vietnam war back to life to my generation. We had all too quickly moved on. Just when we were beginning to forget the horror, Herr came and jolted us out of our safe European punk rock fantasy world. One of the many telling images he gives is of a grunt he ran into a small jungle clearing. He had just gone to take and leak, but the young soldier seemed uptight to have him there,
“He told me that they guys were all sick of sitting around waiting and that he'd come out to see if he could draw a little fire. What a look we gave each other. I backed out of there fast, I didn't want to bother him while he was working.”
Read this book if you think “Full Metal Jacket” is pure entertainment, if you're not afraid to face the truth behind the statement, “Hell Sucks”.