Operation Last Patrol (documentary)

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(From a review of the 2006 DVD release.)

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.

D+ (56 min.; Not Rated, probably R for profanity and some nudity.)

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