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Sad Song of Yellow Skin

(Le jaune en péril)

Year: 1970
Language: English
Runtime: 58 min
Director: Michael Rubbo
Producer: Tom Daly
Writer: Michael Rubbo
Cinematographer: Pierre Letarte, Martin Duckworth
Editor: Michael Rubbo, Torben Schioler
Sound: George Croll, Michel Descombes, Pierre Letarte
Narration: Michael Rubbo
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada

“I just knew that any film that tended to show any sense of order or control about the situation would be false.” – Michael Rubbo

Shot in direct-cinema style but finely structured in form, this seminal documentary by Mike Rubbo explores the impact of the war in Vietnam on the people of Saigon via the experiences of three American journalists. Rather than focusing explicitly on the war and the various issues surrounding its legitimacy or effectiveness, instead the film offers a portrait of people – in the open-air markets, the refugee camps, the shrines and alleyways – living on the fringe of battle. The stories of the American journalists and the scenes of Vietnamese life are interwoven so skilfully that the film becomes a powerful anti-war statement and a moving document on human survival.

Originally sent to Vietnam to make a documentary about war orphans, Rubbo began observing and recording the world around him and crafted a journalistic diary – a subjective reaction to an unfamiliar situation. A self-reflexive documentary – personal and intimate in approach, self-conscious in manner and clearly the product of a probing and analytical mind – Sad Song of Yellow Skin attempts to deal with some of the serious formal problems of the documentary form. Rather than providing a detached, third-person account, Rubbo often comments on his own actions within the film, which allows him to voice his doubts, fears and concerns. He makes the viewer continually aware that they are watching a film, a construct, and not some veiled attempt at representing Truth or Reality.

As important a film about Vietnam as Beryl Fox’s The Mills of the Gods, Sad Song of Yellow Skin won several awards – including a special Canadian Film Award and the BAFTA Flaherty Documentary Award – and announced the emergence of Rubbo as an important new voice in documentary filmmaking.

By: Piers Handling, Peter Morris, Andrew McIntosh

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