When the Vietnam Veteran Against the War (VVAW) marched on the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1972, an amateur filmmaker named Frank Cavestani tagged along and created the documentary "Operation Last Patrol." The 56-minute film, never theatrically released, is now seeing the light of day on DVD.
I wish I could say it's a fascinating document of a turbulent time in American history, and a well-made movie to boot, but I'd be lying on both counts. In fact, it's an unfocused yawner, following a convoy of protesters as they drive from California to Miami, march through the city, and try to disrupt the convention -- all of which was probably extremely exciting for those involved, but none of that comes through in the film.
What we get instead are miles of footage of soldiers-turned-hippies driving cars, talking about their experiences in Vietnam, taking breaks to skinny-dip in rivers and lakes, sleeping outside, and complaining about the "pigs" who are always harassing them. Where most documentaries use captions to tell us people's names, this one has none. So we don't even know who anyone is, and no "main characters" emerge.
Cinema Libre Studio, which is releasing the DVD, would have you believe otherwise. The name Ron Kovic is plastered all over it; you may recall he was the paraplegic veteran played by Tom Cruise in "Born on the Fourth of July." Kovic is indeed featured in "Operation Last Patrol," but in no way is he the central figure. (He wasn't famous yet then, so Cavestani didn't know to focus on him.) Kovic is one of many veterans who tell their stories and march on Miami. For an interesting biography of him, you should check out "Born on the Fourth of July."
It is compelling to note the parallels between the events documented here and the current situation in Iraq. I smiled to see people who opposed the Vietnam War being dubbed "unpatriotic" just as those with correspondent sentiments are treated today. It makes you realize all over again that when we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it.
This is a no-frills release. There are no subtitles or alternate language tracks.
VIDEO: It's full-frame (the way it was shot), and it's in bad shape. The transfer print was dirty, scratched, and marked by weak, muted colors. In fairness, the footage -- shot by amateurs with equipment that wasn't exactly state-of-the-art -- probably didn't look very good even when it was new. But the intervening years have not been kind, either.
On the new interviews shot on video and found among the extras, the picture is of a much more appropriate quality.
AUDIO: See previous note on the video quality. The sound is mono and wasn't recorded well to begin with. Still, you can hear the dialogue well enough.
EXTRAS: No commentaries or deleted scenes are included. There are two featurettes, though.
"30 Years Later with Ron Kovic" (18:34) is a 2005 interview with Kovic that is mere fluff. He recounts how he was injured -- information already found in the film -- and makes a case for the current Iraq situation being similar to Vietnam. This interview also features a lot of clips from the film, which is redundant indeed.
The other feature is a new interview with director Frank Cavestani (12:15), who, true to the DVD's agenda, talks about Ron Kovic as though he (Kovic) were the central figure in the documentary, which of course he is not. Cavestani talks about cobbling together the equipment and money he needed to make the film; it's nothing out of the ordinary for an indie director.
The DVD menu has an option for "Photo Gallery," but I've tried the disc on three DVD players, and none of them does anything when I click that option. Whether this is a flaw in all copies or just mine, I don't know.
For those who were not alive in 1972, it may be interesting to see material shot on the streets at that time, a snapshot of American history. But as a film, "Operation Last Patrol" is shallow and dull, offering a fly-on-the-wall view of the protest, but no real substance.