Fascinating story for all you fellow military history book worms like me.
When it comes to pop-culture allure and romanticized brutality, Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” is arguably the most influential of all Vietnam War movies. R. Lee Ermey’s iconic portrayal of the sadistic Gunnery Sgt. Hartman has served as a de facto recruiting mechanism for the Marines since the film’s release in 1987. I remember watching the same VHS copy of “Full Metal Jacket” about a hundred times before I enlisted as a Marine combat correspondent, choosing the same military specialty as Private Joker. During the 10 years I served in the Corps, it was a rare occasion to find a Marine who didn’t love the film.
Despite FMJ’s widespread popularity, there is a crap-ton of behind-the-scenes drama and literary awesomeness from the original novel that gets missed if you’ve never looked into the film’s backstory. Consider this list the enthralling special-features bonus DVD you never saw.
1. The book is better. Okay, yes, this is an opinion, but hear me out. FMJ is based on the novel “The Short Timers” by the late Gustav Hasford, aka, the real Joker. Hasford drew from his experience in Vietnam as a Marine correspondent with the 1st Marine Division to develop the novel. After the book’s release in 1978, Newsweek’s Walter Clemons called it “the best work of fiction about the Vietnam War.” The film is brilliant, yes, but Kubrick — beholden to studio execs at Warner Bros. — had to cater to mainstream sensibilities, which is why the brutally macabre third and final section of the novel never made it to the screen.
2. Civilian correspondent Michael Herr shared a screenwriter credit with Hasford and Kubrick. “Dispatches” is Herr’s memoir about his time as a civilian correspondent for Esquire from 1967 to 1969. Herr’s book is a masterpiece of literary nonfiction. While the vast majority of the dialogue in FMJ is taken straight from Hasford’s book, the psycho door gunner’s darkly comic dialogue is pulled from “Dispatches,” which you may or may not find disturbing in light of the fact that Herr’s book is nonfiction.
3. There is a psycho-door-gunner scene in both “Dispatches”and “The Short Timers.” Noticing this, I briefly wondered if Hasford might have “borrowed” from Herr’s book or if there were just a lot of psycho door gunners on Marine helicopters in Vietnam. I lean toward the latter possibility since the scenes’ similarities are negligible and the differences distinct. Hasford’s gunner, for example, wears a Hawaiian sport shirt and smokes weed while eagerly wasting Vietnamese farmers in the hamlet below.
4. Hasford wrote a sequel to “The Short Timers” called “The Phantom Blooper.”In “The Phantom Blooper,” Joker spends a year as a POW in a Vietcong village and eventually comes to sympathize with his Vietnamese captors. After he is rescued, he turns against the war and his government. Blooper was supposed to be book two of a trilogy, but Hasford died a few years after publishing it.
5. The peace symbol/born to kill scene is derived from a short story Hasford wrote in community college after the war. The short is called “Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?”
Read the Remainder at Task and Purpose