The Anderson Platoon

Medic has located a restored copy of The Anderson Platoon, one of the great documentaries of the Vietnam war. Released in 1966 in Europe as La Section Anderson, and a year later in the US, the film takes its name from the platoon leader-Lieutenant Joseph B. Anderson.

Day and night, for six weeks, in 1966, the French film maker/journalist and Dien Bien Phu veteran Pierre Schoendoerffer recorded the Anderson platoon’s daily patrols, occasional firefights, ambushes, evacuation of  dead and wounded, the captured enemy, periods of boredom and tension. Day by day, the qualities of each man are cryptically revealed, as is their love and respect for Lt. Anderson. Periodically, a black soldier sings haunting blues. An R&R offers bitter sweet respite.

Unlike American releases of The Anderson Platoon, this version retains the original structure, and Schoendoerffer’s spare and stoic narrative voice.

The film allows few if any special effects. Except for one song, reprised by Stanley Kubrick twenty years later in Full Metal Jacket, the sound track consists of the men’s voices, ambient jungle noise, the whir of overhead choppers, the sudden eruption of battle.

The Anderson Platoon won an Oscar and an Emmy for best foreign documentary. Filmed  under harsh conditions, the black and white visual quality varies, though it is mostly good. At times, Schoendorffer’s French accent is hard to understand. That said, The Anderson Platoon captures the unwinnable nature of the Vietnam war, and the grim lives of thirty three grunts who were tasked to win it.

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Pierre Schoendorffer

2015 West Point interview with Joseph Anderson