War is a game for boys of all ages. So if that’s your violent gender youÂ might especially enjoy this montage of vintage film in which helicopter gunships rain deafening misery on the Vietnamese.
Dinh Q LÃªâ€™s film begins gently with innocuous footage of dragonflies and some peasant wisdom about determining the weatherÂ from their flight patterns. So far, so bucolic.
But then come the invasion force, in footage we have seen all too often, along with the reports fromÂ the ground, from the Vietnamese from whom we have heard all too rarely.
As said by one of the farmers in the film, youngÂ at the time, youÂ could watch these helicopters for hours. To some degree he found their ominous presence a pleasantÂ spectacle.Â Strange indeed.
Or is it? JG Ballard can be relied upon to explainÂ a paradox like this. His landmark book The Atrocity Exhibition, which first appeared toward the end ofÂ the Vietnam war, is full of helicopters
â€œThe Vietnam war,â€ he writes, â€œhas offered a focus for a wide range of polymorphic sexual impulsesâ€. In other words, the first televised war arrived in our living rooms bearing an erotic charge.
It was, he adds, â€œalso a means by which the United States has re-established a positive psychosexual relationship with the rest of the world.â€ That has a ring of mad truth, doesn’t it?
Certainly anything that defies gravity carries, if a male partner is involved, some sexual promise. And asymmetric warfare can in this wayÂ be seen as a sado-masochistic hook up between whole nations.
Sadly, at its climax, this film offers a terribleÂ thrill as, midway through, we undergo a fusillade of bombs, rockets and bullets on all three channels. Itâ€™s a troubling, visceral pleasure.
You would think that Vietnam had seen enough of these mechanical dragonflies to last a lifetime. But in a coda to this film, we discover that the rural helicopter fan is now an amateur engineer.
His grown up passion is for building the very vehicles which waged war on his people is something an analyst could probably explain.Â They pale, of course, compared withÂ industrial US models.
AndÂ we never see them fly. They may as well be sculpture. The may as well be pieces of kineticÂ art about making or keeping peace, no matter how anti-climaticÂ that grown-up impulseÂ might be.
This film can be found in The Sensory War 1914-2014 at Manchester Art Galery until 22 Februrary 2015. The Ballard quote can be found in Chapter 11: Love and Napalm: Export USA.