‘Coming Home’ sheds light on post-war trauma

“Coming Home” is a historical document. It is the first time Hollywood dealt with the Vietnam War. Many say the 1978 Best-Picture winner “The Deer Hunter” was. However “Coming Home” was the first time Hollywood acknowledged the effects of Vietnam on the soldier. This film did so without drawing attention to its stars (“Deer Hunter” was a star vehicle for DeNiro, Walken and John Cazal, or to general audiences, Fredo Corleone from the “Godfather” films).

Thiss film is a harrowing, painstakingly accurate portrayal of humans dealing with something no human should have dealt with.

 I rewatched this film the other day because I’m reading a book that discusses the film’s director, Hal Ashby  (“Harold and Maude”). He is virtually unknown to general audiences and is sometimes forgotten because he died young. To true filmmakers (Sean Penn’s biggest influence, in Penn’s directorial outings), Ashby is the great genius of ‘60s and ‘70s film. He worked as an assitant editor for Oscar-Winning directors William Wyler (”Ben-Hur”) and George Stevens (“Giant”). He edited the Steve McQueen classics “Cinncinati Kid” and created split-screen editing for “The Thomas Crown Affair” (yes, every single commercial and music video you now see — the split screen image came from Hal Ashby). Ashby even knabbed an Oscar for editing “In the Heat of the Night,” a must-see film.

 Ashby came into “Coming Home” after a string of  successes, from “Harold and Maude,” “The Last Detail,” “Shampoo” and the Woody Guthrie bio-pic “Bound for Glory.” Ashby is the only director of the ‘70s to survive the decade with nothing but success (he followed “Coming Home” with “Being There”).

All of his contemporaries lost their career or fell into drugs or self-indulgence, and most had their heyday in the ‘70s (except Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola).

 This film also has one of the best soundtracks a viewer will ever see. Hal Ashby uses the Rolling Stones’ music better than Scorsese does in “Goodfellas” or “Casino.” This movie is an incredible marriage of music, editing, camera, acting and life. It’s got it all. It makes you cry, it gives you hope and it opens your mind. Tune in next week. I’m going to continue this review. The film is so great it requires two parts. Next week I will venture into the plot, the actors, and what makes this film notable. Be ready, this movie is what art is.

Year: 1978

Director: Hal Ashby

Starring: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight

Oscars: Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Screenplay (5 othernominations)

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