Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry (2004)

(Downloaded, October 2004) There is little doubt that this is a hagiography of John Kerry, carefully structured to bolster his image both as a soldier in Vietnam and then an opponent of the war after his tour of duty. And it delivers in spade. An “invisible documentary” with little overt intervention by a narrator, George Butler’s Going Upriver does wonder with archival footage and talking heads, describing Kerry’s formative experiences with skillful effect. In doing so, however, it manages something more; it holds its own as the capsule description of a time and a place from Vietnam to Washington. John Kerry predictably emerges from the film looking like a hero, but the context surrounding him is even more impressive. As someone born the same year Saigon fell, the description of anti-war protests is an eye-opener, going well beyond the usual encyclopedia articles about the subject. Kerry’s leadership qualities are manifest, but so is the dedication of the movement he’s spear-heading. It’s unusually moving, especially given the natural tendency to associate this war, so long away, with another still unfolding as I write this. In this mash-up between Kerry the soldier and Kerry the activist, it’s the activist who emerges as the clearest hero. Powerful stuff: the archival footage is excellent (including large portions of Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony) and some of the pictures are nothing less than breath-taking. (Among the film’s surprises is seeing John O’Neill pop up, thirty years ago, as a White House-selected Kerry opponent. And they say history history repeats itself…) It all ends with a clever montage of photos from later in Kerry’s career, showing his ascension to positions of power. How can this man not be elected president?

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