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I Was a Soldier (1970)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of I Was a Soldier (1970)
Granada Television for ITV, tx. 28/4/1970
40 minutes, colour
DirectorMichael Grigsby
ProducerMichael Grigsby
PhotographyDavid Wood
EditorJudy Seymour

The story of three young men from a small sheepfarming town in Texas, and their experiences after returning home from the war in Vietnam.

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Michael Grigsby's haunting Granada television documentary is perhaps the first sustained treatment on film of the phenomenon of the 'Vietnam veteran', later a familiar cultural archetype, and in particular a recurring character type in Hollywood feature films. The vivid quality of some of the fictional Viet-vets is in no way prefigured by the three real war veterans recently returned to small-town Texas who are the subjects of Grigsby's film. The camera observes them in awkward silence as well as in speech, for to varying degrees they struggle to articulate their feelings about how the war has affected them. Among other things this makes it immediately obvious that these men are not used to being asked to recount, let alone reflect upon, their recent experiences. The film includes no war footage, and is instead filled with gentle pastoral images of rural and small-town Texas, leaving the viewer to imagine what searing memories may remain stuck in the subjects' heads.

The quiet and sympathetic approach is in keeping with almost all Grigsby's films, dedicated to giving a 'voice to the voiceless'. As distinct from some of his more outspoken films, however, a political agenda is not to the fore and the film is a more straightforward exercise in humanism.

A number of Grigsby's other television films enjoyed a later life on non-theatrical film circuits, but I Was a Soldier has remained generally unseen since its first screening. Seeing the film today, viewers are likely to be just as moved by it as those who tuned in in 1970. They are also likely to wonder how life has treated its likeable but haunted, inarticulate subjects in the years that have followed.

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
1. Back home (5:09)
2. Fear (2:49)
3. Bad dreams (2:56)
Benefit of the Doubt (1967)
Grigsby, Michael (1936-)