Vietnamese Voices Against a Whir of War

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

In slumberous mid-August thousands of visitors fidget and drift through the Museum of Modern Art, finding almost everything worth photographing and almost nothing worth more than a point-and-shoot glance. But in one gallery — basically a wide glorified corridor — people tend to stop, focus, even settle down in front of a three-channel video by the Vietnamese-American artist Dinh Q. Le projected across a long wall.

Titled “The Farmers and the Helicopters,” the video is partly and spectacularly about the Vietnam War. We first see a panning shot of forests and rice paddies in aerial view. Then helicopters arrive, swarming, landing, lifting off, buzzing and shuddering through the sky, spewing men and rockets, crashing explosively, then rising to buzz some more. Classic shock and awe.

Interspersed with these noisy scenes are recent interviews with Vietnamese people. A former Vietcong soldier recalls how, more than 40 years ago, he shot at an American chopper to make it go away, and it did. A woman describes her first sight of an American helicopter around the same time. She was so disconcerted as it hovered over her that she could only look up at the pilot and smile.

A younger man, a self-taught mechanic named Tran Quoc Hai, speaks of his lifelong infatuation with such flying machines. He says that after studying old examples in Vietnam war museums and doing some Internet research he teamed up with a farmer friend and built a helicopter from scratch, for commercial use, but also to serve as a positive symbol of his country in the contemporary world....

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