On January 31, 1971, more than 125 Vietnam veterans presented testimony in a Detroit Howard Johnson conference room about war atrocities they had witnessed or participated in during their tours of duty. A small collective of documentary filmmakers, including Barbara Kopple, Robert Fiore and Lucy Massie Phenix, were on hand to record the event, which came to be known as the Winter Soldier Investigation. The resulting documentary was never widely distributed, so if any of this rings a bell it’s probably because John Kerry’s participation in the meeting as an organizer, and his presentation of the soldiers’ testimony to Congress in April 1971, became an issue in the 2004 presidential election as part of the Swift Boat Veterans smear campaign. Kerry shows up in Winter Soldier, released on DVD by Milliarium Zero and New Yorker Films this Tuesday, for all of about 10 seconds. He’s seen onscreen taking initial testimony from soldiers in a pre-conference organizing meeting. The rest of the 95-minute film is full of men you’ve never heard of with faces you will never forget. Their stories are damning and devastating. From the dehumanizing process of basic training, to the impossible yet all too real situation on the battlefield in which high body counts were the order of the day from a command structure that refused to distinguish between enemies and civilians (“If they were dead, they were VC,” says one soldier), these veterans recount in agonizing detail how the walls came down and the unthinkable became part of daily life. The filmmakers never intrude on the personal drama of the scene. They simply record what is said as the men excise their demons. As one soldier puts it, “These things go on, they really happen ..?. and somebody’s got to do something.”
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Other recommended new releases: Harlan County USA (DVD); Late Spring(DVD); The Longest Day: Two-Disc Special Edition (DVD); Patton: Two-Disc Special Edition (DVD); Samurai Jack: Season 3 (DVD). Also released this week: VHS-DVD: Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Transamerica. DVD: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Chipmunk Adventure; Angel Blade; The Boondock Saints Unrated Special Edition; Boston Legal: Season One; Deadwood: The Complete Second Season; The Devil’s Miner; The Dirty Dozen; The Goebbels Experiment; Hamsun; High School Musical; Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut; M.A.S.H.: Season Ten; The New Medicine; Tora! Tora! Tora!: Two-Disc Special Edition; Viridiana; Who Gets to Call It Art; Wings: The Complete First and Second Seasons.