Photographer Eddie Adams (1933-2004) took pictures of hundreds of celebrities and politicians — everyone from Fidel Castro to Mother Teresa to Arnold Schwarzenegger (whom he posed in a bathtub with a little yellow rubber duck--for the cover of Parade magazine) — but some of his best-known images come from his work during the Vietnam War.
One photo is so iconic that it is the picture most people think of when they think of Vietnam: a Vietnamese general in Saigon executing a Viet Cong suspect. But the Pulitzer Prize Adams won for this photograph left him pained and conflicted for the rest of his life.
No war was ever photographed the way Vietnam was, and no war will ever be photographed again that way again. There was no censorship. All a photographer had to do was to convince a helicopter pilot to let him get on board a chopper going out to a battle zone.
Filmmaker Susan Morgan Cooper has made a film about Eddie's life, An Unlikely Weapon (narrated by Kiefer Sutherland). Cooper interviewed Adams, as well as his friends and colleagues--Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Gordon Parks, Rod Steiger, Eric Baldwin, Mark Anthony and lots of others. The film is at the Starz FilmCenter (Auraria Parkway & Speer Boulevard in Denver) through July 9th. Showings are at 4:45PM and 7:15 PM. For more information, www.denverfilm.org or 303.595.3456x250.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning photo above by the late shooter Eddie Adams helped further turn public sentiment in America against the Vietnam War. For that, some would applaud him. But Adams later said he regretted what the picture wrought, and he wished he was better known for photos that eventually helped lead to the creation of Orange County's Little Saigon.
This will all make more sense to those who attend Regency South Coast Village Theatre's 7:30 p.m. Thursday screening of the documentary An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story. Director Susan Morgan Cooper will be there to take part in an audience Q&A, as will one of Adams' colleagues and fellow Pulitzer Prize winners, photographer Nick Ut. (The film was previously reviewed in the Village Voice by Nick Pinkerton.)
Adams, who passed on in 2004 after having covered 13 wars, was on assignment for the Associated Press on Feb. 1, 1968, when he and his camera caught police chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing Viet Cong prisoner Nguyen Van Lem on a Saigon street.
Adams would win the 1969 Pulitzer for spot photography and a World Press Photo award as well, but he later expressed shame at the picture's notoriety.
This synopsis tells it all . . .
Adams would write in Time: "The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. . . . What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?"
He later apologized in person to General Nguyen and his family, and when Nguyen died Adams praised him as a "hero" of a "just cause." He also said later he wished he was better known for his award-winning series of photographs of 48 Vietnamese refugees who managed to sail to Thailand in a 30-foot boat, only to be towed back to the open seas by Thai marines. Those gripping images are said to have helped persuade then President Jimmy Carter to grant the nearly 200,000 Vietnamese boat people asylum. Many wound up in Little Saigon. Adams said of his photo essay, "It did some good and nobody got hurt."
Catch so much as a glimpse of an Eddie Adams photograph and you’ll never forget it.
The late photographer snapped some of the most indelible celebrity images of the last twenty-plus years, from a portrait of perennial clown Jerry Lewis, half his face covered in grease paint, to a shot of Clint Eastwood taken from the back that became the poster art for his Oscar-winning movie Uforgiven.
But the image no one could ever shake, not even Adams himself, was the photo of a Saigon police chief shooting a Vietcong guerilla point-blank. The horrible moment would become a symbol that solidified the image of an unpopular war with the American public.
The new documentary An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story recalls the impact that photograph had on both the Vietnam War and Adams himself.
The film — which opened July 3 at the Starz Film Center in Denver and hits Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities later this summer — recalls Adams’ body of work and the fascinating man behind the camera.
The photographer worked his way up during the 1960s from one small newspaper to the next, but his talent ultimately earned him a gig with the Associated Press. He became one of many wire photographers assigned to cover the escalating war in Vietnam, a job which proved deadly for some of his peers.
Adams earned the soldiers’ trust by sharing the risks they endured, but it was his ability to sense — and capture — a critical moment which epitomized his gifts. Those images could shatter the heart, from wounded warriors on the battlefield to the innocents caught in the crossfire.
While some of the talking heads assembled here, including former broadcast news anchors Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw, spoke openly about how Adams’ work impacted the anti-war effort, he simply wanted to take the best pictures possible.
It’s fascinating to watch the gaggle of old guard reporters recall Adams and his work. It’s a who’s who of questionable journalistic ethics, including Peter Arnett, whose work inspired a number of controversies, from sloppy coverage of Operation Tailhook to his pro-Iraq comments at the dawn of the Iraq War.
60 Minutes mainstay Morley Safer also salutes Adams here, in between drawing glib parallels between the Iraq war and Vietnam.
And it’s hard to watch CBS’s Bob Schieffer break down Adams’ photographs without recalling how he recently said media bias didn’t matter since there are so many news outlets available today.
Adams, who died in 2004 after a battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, proved a better journalist than some of his peers. He brought no specific agenda to his work. He hoped his images would help humanity, and the only book he ever contributed to was one aimed at celebrating those who fought for civil rights without guns or violence.
The film follows Adams through 13 wars, but even when he switched gears from war photographer to celebrity shutterbug for hire, the fire for his craft burned just as brightly.
Adams was a giant in his field, but his personality proved less than agreeable. He was cranky, particular, and stubborn, but he inspired fierce devotion in friends and colleagues alike.
Footage of Adams himself describing his work and his approach pepper the documentary, and his casual profanity punctures any mythology which might swirl around him.
Weapon strives to show how that Vietnam photograph haunted Adams for the rest of his life. It certainly became his professional calling card, the one photograph nearly everyone remembered and the one he couldn’t escape.
The reality is Adams’ art haunted him more than any single image. He was never satisfied any time he pointed his camera. He always thought he could improve his craft and felt he didn’t deserve credit for whatever positive impact his photos might have. At one point the photographer helped carry a wounded U.S. soldier off the battlefield, but he later brushed off attempts to award him for the act.
A potentially powerful segment from the film finds Adams revisiting the general who shot the Vietcong guerrilla in his famous photograph. The reunion came years later after the general had moved to the United States and opened up a Virginia-based pizza shop. But the payoff is incomplete. Adams wasn’t the type of person to build up such a reunion, and the film stands on more solid ground when letting his peers describe his work ethic.
An Unlikely Weapon meanders at times, particularly as Adams transitioned from the battleground to Hollywood. But what emerges under director Susan Morgan Cooper’s unsparing eye is a portrait of an artist that’s nearly as rich as the moments Adams captured on film.
AN UNLIKELY WEAPON: The Eddie Adams Story (2009). This exceptional documentary about the life of an award-winning photographer premieres this week in Denver at the Starz FilmCenter, July 3-9. Go to http://www.anunlikelyweapon.com for times and directions. Opening nationwide throughout the summer.
Legendary photographer Eddie Adams, famously seen lurking in war zones, at celebrity shoots, and on the streets of New York, photographed 13 wars, six US presidents and every major film star in the last 50 years. His career and reputation exploded into world renown when, in Vietnam in 1968, Eddie shot what is considered by many to be the definitive war photograph: General Loan, the Saigon police chief shooting a Vietcong prisoner point-blank in the head. “Saigon Execution” won Eddie a Pulitzer Prize and was credited with changing public opinion to help end the Vietnam War.
Eddie was a guy who lived hard and played harder. Enormously ambitious and driven, rough talking, notoriously dissatisfied with his achievements, he documented the plight of refugees around the world, jumped aboard a boat load of Vietnamese headed out to sea with only some rice and a few hundred dollars worth of gasoline, and faced off Fidel Castro until the two went on an unlikely duck hunting trip together, among other risky ventures. In this documentary, journalists such as Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Morley Safer speak about Eddie with a measure of awe and respect. As Safer says, “Eddie was not your typical sedate, thoughtful photographer . . . He looked for trouble both on and off the job.”
Later in life Eddie turned to photographing celebrities, resulting in stunning and unique shots, signatures of his skill and experienced eye for the money shot. There were many sides to this talented man: war photographer, human rights activist, teacher, competitive and aggressive artist; most of all, he was deeply human and fully engaged in life.
SUSAN MORGAN COOPER is the brilliant filmmaker who produced this exceptional documentary. The road to its completion was long and not always smooth—but she had promised Eddie, and she kept that promise, in spades. This is a DO NOT MISS film!
-- Rosemary Carstens
NEW DOCUMENTARY “AN UNLIKELY WEAPON” NARRATED BY KEIFER SUTHERLAND TO OPEN July 2nd, 2009 | Author: Suzanne Philips
An Unlikely Weapon – an inspirational film narrated by Kiefer Sutherland which includes interviews with notables such as Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Morley Safer, Gordon Parks, Bill Eppridge and President Bill Clinton (to name a few) – is the chilling story behind a photograph that some say ended the Vietnam War.
Produced and directed by Susan Morgan Cooper, An Unlikely Weapon will have a platform release in select cities throughout the U.S. and will be opening in Los Angeles on July 10th at the Laemmle Theatre. The film will be opening in the following cities thereafter: Santa Ana, Chicago, Palm Springs, Boston, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Santa Fe, San Francisco, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Sedona, Indianapolis, Scottsdale, Washington, D.C., Miami, San Diego, New Orleans and others.
In 1968, while covering the war for the Associated Press, Eddie Adams photographed a Saigon police chief, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, shooting a Vietcong guerilla point blank. Ironically, it was Adams’ shot that was heard around the world, taken at 1/500th of a second!
The photo brought Adams’ fame and a Pulitzer, but the man he had vilified haunted him. Adams would later say, “Two lives were destroyed that day – the victim’s and the general.” Yet others would say, three lives were destroyed.
Eddie Adams, like most artists, was tortured by his need for perfection. Nothing he did ever satisfied him. He carved out many careers, shooting covers for Life, Time, and even Penthouse. Yet, somehow, Adams was always pulled back into documenting wars – 13 all together. Finally he hit the wall and couldn’t take it anymore. He began shooting celebrities because “it doesn’t take anything from you.” Adams was comfortable with kings and coal miners. During his time with Parade Magazine, he photographed Clint Eastwood, Louis Armstrong, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul.
Still haunted by General Loan (the perpetrator in his photo), Adams visited him 30 years later in a pizza shop in Virginia. Scribbled on the wall of a bathroom stall are the words “we know who you are, you f&%ker!”
Adams’ camera was his most powerful weapon, but it failed to protect him from himself.
Shot over four decades, An Unlikely Weapon provides a rare, behind-the-scenes look at a war and a nation in turmoil. Adams’ personal life seems to parallel the hell he witnesses on the front line through his camera lens, and ironically, leaves a blood stain on his own soul that he can never seem to wash away.
Adams died before the film was started, but Cooper was determined to tell Adams’ story. While many people are familiar with his photograph, few people know much about the man who captured it. Filmmaker Susan Morgan Cooper weaves history, art and masterful storytelling to create a cinematic tapestry that is both disturbing and inspiring.
Best known for Saigon Execution, his Pulitzer prize-winning 1968 photograph of Saigon police chief General Loan shooting a Vietcong prisoner point-blank in the head, Eddie Adams never set out to be a hero. He was tenacious, ambitious, highly opinionated and immensely talented at capturing human emotion and complexity, but he was not a good guy, he admits in Susan Morgan Cooper’s documentary An Unlikely Weapon.
And though the history-altering photo is credited with helping to end the Vietnam War, Adams was not impressed with it.
“It’s not a great work of art,” he explains in the film. The light wasn’t right, he continues, terrible composition.
Dave Navarro has the picture on his wall to remind him of human suffering. Woody Allen sits in front of it in Stardust Memories. That photo, that 1/500th of a second, would haunt Adams forever.
He deeply regrets that two people’s lives were destroyed that day, referring to that of the prisoner and the general.
In 1977, after the war, Adams went to Thailand to document the thousands of refugees fleeing Vietnam. He jumped on a 30-foot fishing boat with 50 people who had been out to sea for five days. His series of photos, The Boat Of No Smiles, swayed President Carter and Congress to allow 250,000 Vietnamese refugees into the United States.
“It’s the only thing I did in my life that was good,” Adams states.
The brilliant photo historian covered 13 wars and snapped six American Presidents and countless celebrities and important historical figures. Though every newsman (Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings) and editor (Walter Anderson, Parade) was completely in awe of his work, he was his own worst critic.
After documenting the enormous cost of war in lives, Adams also made a name for himself shooting people in the public eye. He took the photo of Clint Eastwood that would become the poster for Unforgiven. He shot the Beatles, Adrien Brody, Morgan Freeman, Marc Anthony and numerous layouts for Penthouse. He opened a studio in Manhattan called the Bathhouse that became notorious equally for its parties as its precious art.
As Walter Anderson of Parade comments, he was an “editor’s dream and nightmare; one of the biggest pains in the ass of journalism.”
Though he was known for his abrasive 'tude and biting tongue, Adams was also a caring friend and humanitarian, loving husband and one of the greatest photojournalists of his time (1933-2004).
An Unlikely Weapon releases in select theaters July 10.
An Unlikely Weapon By Michael Roberts
Published on June 30, 2009 at 1:24pm
Eddie Adams, the late photographer at the center of An Unlikely Weapon, which opens July 2, was a romantic of an especially cantankerous sort. He's most famous for a Vietnam-era photo of a prisoner being executed in the middle of a street — but rather than reveling in the accolades that came his way over the image, he bitched about how the composition was lousy and the lighting was all wrong. At times the film veers close to hagiography, with narrator Kiefer Sutherland and interview subjects like Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings regularly piling on the superlatives. But the tale retains an edge thanks to Adams's orneriness, not to mention the contradictions that marked his career. For instance, he spent many of his post-Vietnam years shooting soft-focus centerfolds for Penthouse or comparatively vapid celebrity covers for Parade — but he kept being drawn back to combat zones, where his indelible images of refugees and other victims of war proved that top-dollar commissions hadn't caused his heart to wither.
Director Susan Morgan Cooper introduces An Unlikely Weapon during a 7 p.m. appearance at Starz FilmCenter in the Tivoli. Tickets are $6 to $9.50 for this event, as well as for regular screenings that begin July 3. Get details at 303-595-3456 or www.denverfilm.org.
Picture Soup Blog Documentary Film Review: An Unlikely Weapon Acclaimed film chronicles the life and career of photojournalist Eddie Adams
by Diane Berkenfeld
For those who are enamored of everything photography, check out the acclaimed documentary film—An Unlikely Weapon—The Eddie Adams Story. The documentary film is directed and produced by Susan Morgan Cooper, with cinematography and editing by Isaac Hagy. Cindy Lou Adkins, Eddie Adams’ sister-in-law co-produced the documentary. The film documents Eddie Adams’ life and how one photograph—some say the one photograph that ended the Vietnam war—changed his life forever.
You may have been too young to remember the news footage of the Vietnam war, but you’ve likely seen Adams’ photo, taken in 1968 of Saigon Police Chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a Vietcong Guerilla at point blank range. Along with fame, and a Pulitzer Prize, that image haunted Eddie Adams for the rest of his life. “Two lives were destroyed that day, the victim’s and the General,” Adams often said. Others would say three lives were destroyed.
Adams’ career spanned 13 wars, as well as forays into commercial and beauty photography because he’d gotten to the point in his life where he felt he had to find a different photographic avenue to pursue. Adams found photographing celebrities was much easier on his psyche. His images graced the covers of Time, Life, Parade Magazine, and even Penthouse. He is also known for having captured the images of six presidents and every major film star of the last 50 years. An Unlikely Weapon tells the story, not only of Adams’ famous image, but of the photographer—how he worked, why he did what he did—as raw and crass as the man himself was. Adams was a perfectionist, and throughout the documentary, he explains in his own words why he felt he never attained it. But don’t let his manner of speaking fool you—Adams was a great photographer, well admired and respected for what he did during his lifetime, more so than he probably ever thought of himself. The film gives the viewer a unique view into the life and career of a fascinating photographer. An Unlikely Weapon is a wonderful film that should not be missed.
The viewer is brought back to the Vietnam war by Adams’ reminiscing as well as storytelling by journalists including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Morely Safer, and fellow photographers: Douglas Kirkland, Nick Ut, Jay Maisel, Bill Eppridge, Gordon Parks, and Former President Bill Clinton, actor Alec Baldwin, General Nygoc Loan, and others. The film is narrated by Kiefer Sutherland.
The documentary has won numerous accolades and awards from film festivals around the world.
In addition to the many images he created, Eddie Adams also left the photographic world Barnstorm, the Eddie Adams Workshop, (www.eddieadamsworkshop.com) a tuition-free photography experience that spans four days. Barnstorm gathers top photography professionals and 100 carefully selected students each fall for an amazing learning experience.
The film is being screened in select theatres around the country. Check out the website at www.anunlikelyweapon.com for locations/dates or more information.
THIS SUMMER, AN UNLIKELY WEAPON WILL BE SCREENED IN DENVER, LOS ANGELES, CHICAGO, AND PALM SPRINGS. CHECK www.anunlikelyweapon.com FOR DATES AND TIMES.
It makes elegant sense: At the end of "An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story," it is the photos that continue to exert tremendous power.
As chock-full of insights — from Peter Jennings, Peter Arnett, Gordon Parks among others — it is the famed war photojournalist's works that still create space to be startled, to be rewired.
The late Susan Sontag wrote in her extended essay on war photography "Regarding the Pain of Others," that "when it comes to memory, the photograph has the deeper bite."
When one watches "An Unlikely Weapon," directed by Susan Morgan Cooper, it is easy to concur.
Adams' photos, often in black-and-white, have a stronger hold on us than other modes of representation that are truer to how we physically perceive the world.
Time and again, Adams' shots trump video images of the same situations. A pan of the faces of Vietnamese "boat people" doesn't stir the woeful information of Adams' photos of children and parents hunkered down in boats refused entry into Thailand.
Adams called that series "The Boat of No Smiles." And it compelled Congress to grant entry to 250,000 Vietnamese refugees. "It was the only good thing I did in my life, but I'm not a good guy," Adams said.
His declaration is remarkable in part because nine years before he jumped onto that drifting boat, he shot one of the most famous photographs of all time.
In 1968, in Saigon, Gen. Nguyen Nygoc Loan marched a Viet Cong prisoner into the street, put his pistol to the man's head and pulled the trigger. Adams took one frame, 1/500th of a second, to record that man's death.
The photo won the Pulitzer Prize. It appears in the documentary in disparate quarters.
It's used in agit-prop cartoons. A movie clip shows it looming over Woody Allen in "Stardust Memories," a symbol of the character's dark moods.
Bad boy rocker Dave Navarro shows off a mural of it in his apartment. Adams' son August is terrifically thoughtful on just how strange a choice this is.
Indeed, the documentary makes a smart argument about the burden of that shot on the executioner and on Adams.
The photograph was credited with changing hearts and minds back home. It is as indelible an image of warfare as Robert Capa's photo of a militiaman during the Spanish Civil War. Or closer to home: Adams' Associated Press colleague Nick Út's 1972 photo of 9-year-old Kim Phuc running naked after a napalm attack.
Now a human rights activist, Kim Phuc talks in the film about that photo's power in helping her "work for peace."
Yet, says Adams of his own acclaimed photo, "When I see the picture, I wasn't impressed. And I'm still not impressed."
Wearing a black fedora, walking the streets of New York City, Adams is a short-on-bull interviewee.
"An Unlikely Weapon" also covers well Adams' powerful, later work with performers (Louis Armstrong and Clint Eastwood) and other luminaries (Bill and Hillary Clinton).
In 2004, Adams died from complications from ALS.
Fortunately for us, Morgan got some quality time with Adams, and we get a provocative dose of the photographer's deep drive and perhaps deeper ambivalence about his craft.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of folk to attest to Adams' gifts.
And there is another lasting legacy, the Eddie Adams Workshop. The annual four-day gathering of the aspiring and the accomplished surely makes for another great thing the not-so "good guy" did.
Tonight, the director will be on hand for screening and Q&A, hosted by the Denver Press Club, at the Starz FilmCenter on the Auraria campus. The doc opens Friday for a full run.
Not rated 1 hour, 25 minutes. Directed by Susan Morgan Cooper; written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; photography by Isaac Hagy; narrated by Kiefer Sutherland; featuring Eddie Adams, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Gordon Parks, Bill Eppridge, President Bill Clinton, David Hume Kennerly, Rod Steiger, Kim Phuc, Morley Safer, Nick Ut, Bob Schieffer, Peter Arnett, Clay Patrick McBride and Kerry Kennedy, among others. Opens today at the Starz FilmCenter.
Eddie Adams' photograph of a Viet Cong prisoner being executed by Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan on a Saigon street, above, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 and has been credited with changing American hearts and minds about the Vietnam war. It was a lethal shot captured by an indelible shot.
But, as Susan Morgan Cooper's documentary "An Unlikely Weapon" makes compellingly clear, Adams had work he was more proud of. For instance: his images of Vietnamese refugees crowded onto boats and refused asylum, which led to changes in U.S. immigration policy. Adams bore witness to wars. Later, luminaries struck revealing poses for the driven photographer. He died in 2004.
For a week, starting Thursday, a selection of his photographs will be on display at the Denver Press Club. That same night, there will be a special screening of the documentary at the Starz FilmCenter on the Auraria Campus. The director will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A with Denver Post reporter Mike McPhee. The timing couldn't be richer, given the images coming out of Iran. Adams' work attests to the power and burden of witness. Lisa Kennedy
Flix Blog: "An Unlikely Weapon" Posted 6/25/2009 11:19 AM CDT
Eddie Adams’ shocking 1968 photograph of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong suspect in the streets of Saigon is widely credited with turning public opinion against American involvement in Vietnam. A new documentary, An Unlikely Weapon – The Eddie Adams Story, directed by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by 24’s Kiefer Sutherland, tells the story of this famous image and the Associated Press photographer who captured it. Its tagline is: “1/500th of a second to get the shot... a lifetime to forget it.”
What sets An Unlikely Weapon apart from many war documentaries is that it remains focused on the compelling story of Adams’ life and doesn’t needlessly stray into clichéd anti-war sentiment.
Cooper accomplishes a mission with this film. She accurately captured Adams’ brazen, yet endearing, personality, how the famous picture deeply troubled Adams after he took it, and how Adams thrived in his career after the war.
An Unlikely Weapon will appeal to history buffs, journalists and artists alike. It’s well-filmed and edited to a perfect duration. It shows how tight a group those Vietnam-era photographers were, how much they cared about reporting the war, and how much they cared about each other.
I never got to meet Eddie. He died a few years before I attended his legendary workshop in upstate New York. But work in this industry just a short while and you'll hear the stories about Eddie and you'll feel his spirit. An Unlikely Weapon captures all of that lore.
While I understand that it's difficult to get widespread distribution of documentaries these days, a limited theatrical release of this film is unfortunate. Currently, the anticipated showings nearest to Green Bay will be in Minneapolis and Chicago. The Chicago showings will be at the Siskel Film Center on July 17, 19, 21, and 23. The dates for Minneapolis haven't been yet been announced.
This film isn't out on DVD yet. When it is released, I hope Netflix picks it up.
Trailer and information: http://www.anunlikelyweapon.com
An Unlikely Weapon - The Eddie Adams Story
MPAA Rating: Not yet rated (this would likely be rated R due to graphic images of war and language, and some nudity)
My (would-be) Netflix rating: ****4.5 stars****
LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A new documentary follows the life and accomplishments of Eddie Adams.
The most powerful weapon in the world has been and can be a photograph, a simple message given in "An Unlikely Weapon, The Eddie Adams Story."
Kiefer Sutherland narrates the story, telling the tale of a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer. Eddie Adams took the famous Vietnam photograph of a police chief executing a Vietcong prisoner on a Saigon street during the opening stages of the Tet Offensive.
Adams took some of the most amazing shots of the war-- instead of bullets, his ammunition was his camera. Problem was this photograph forever changed the way the world looked at the was and it also changed his life.
Adams felt his work had so much more to offer than his chilling shot. He photographed kings, presidents, celebrities -- and the film also follows his illustrious career.
On February 1, 1968, Eddie Adams, an Associated Press photographer who had been covering the war in Vietnam for years, clicked the shutter on his 35-millimeter camera during the chaos of the Tet Offensive on the streets of Saigon. In one-five-hundredths of a second Adams, a 35-year-old former Marine, made history.
His photograph of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the chief of the South Vietnamese national police, summarily executing a Viet Cong suspect with a bullet to the head became one of a handful of photographs of the 20th century that, many believe, changed history.
“When I saw the picture, I was not impressed, and I’m still not impressed,” Adams, who died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease at age 71 in 2004, says in the excellent new documentary An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story. “It was just a news picture. I still don’t understand why it was so important.”
The film is opening at the Starz Theatre in Denver on July 3, followed the next week by a run at the Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills and the Regency South Coast Village in Santa Ana, Calif. The film will also be in theaters in July in Chicago and Palm Springs, and goes nationwide later this summer. For a list of openings, go to the doc’s web site
Adams, an iconoclast who never failed to speak his mind, goes on in the documentary to say how the light was all wrong in the photo and how the composition was not up to his standards. While that may have been true, that image could not have been more impressive if you measure its impact on the future of the American war in Vietnam.
The startling photo, which won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 1969, “brought home the brutality of the war” to the American people in a new and disturbing way, as former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw puts it in the movie. The reaction to the photo also was an important factor in the Johnson administration’s decision to put the brakes on the war effort and begin disengaging the United States from the war that Johnson had greatly escalated four years earlier.
As The New York Times noted in Adams’ obituary: “Although there was little doubt that the captive [in Adam’s photo] was indeed a Vietcong infiltrator, his seemingly impromptu execution shocked millions around the world when the photograph was first published and it galvanized a growing antiwar sentiment in the United States.” The photo, The Times added, “reinforced a widespread belief that the South Vietnamese and American military were doing more harm than good in trying to win the war against an indigenous insurgency and the North Vietnamese army that sponsored it.”
That’s not how Adams saw it, however. “Two people’s lives were destroyed that day,” he tells cinematographer Isaac Hagy’s camera in the documentary—the VC suspect, that is, along with General Loan because he was all but branded a war criminal by the court of public opinion for the rest of his days.
Eddie Adams “was never proud of the picture,” his son August says in the documentary. “It haunted him for the rest of his life.”
Not that Eddie Adams stayed home and brooded about the picture. He regretted the firestorm of vitriol that came down on Gen. Loan, who, Adams said, told him afterward that he killed the man because the VC “killed many of my men and your people.” Eddie Adams, who was a Marine combat photographer in the Korean War, went on to become one of the world’s top photojournalists. He specialized in two very different things: portraits of the rich and famous and on-the-spot combat photographs.
During his 45-year career, as the film (produced and directed by Susan Morgan Cooper, co-produced by Cindy Lou Adkins and edited by Hagy) shows, Adams covered thirteen wars and won hundreds of photojournalism awards while working for AP, Time, and Parade. Adams also set up a state-of-the art photography studio in New York City where he did his celebrity portraits. He shot covers for Life, Time, Penthouse and Parade, including brilliant images of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul, Bette Davis, Anwar Sadat, and Louis Armstrong.
In 1977, Adams was so moved by the plight of the thousands of Vietnamese who were fleeing their country by boat that he managed to get on board an overcrowded, thirty-foot vessel, bringing with him bags of rice and a large supply of gasoline. He stayed on board, taking a series of evocative photos, many of them of children. Those images were instrumental in Congress passing legislation allowing those “boat people” into the United States. “It was the only good thing I did in my life,” Adams says in his singularly blunt way, “but I’m not a good guy.”
The filmmakers made effective use of extensive interviews with Adams, many of his images, footage from the Vietnam War, and comments from his colleagues, many of who were Vietnam War photographers or correspondents. That list includes big network broadcasters Tom Brokaw, Morley Safer, the late Peter Jennings, and Bob Schieffer; photojournalists David Hume Kennerly, Nick Ut, and Gordon Parks; former Vietnam War newspaper correspondents Peter Arnett, George Esper, and Bill Eppridge; as well as Walter Anderson, the Vietnam veteran and former editor of Parade magazine.
Nick Ut offers his thoughts on Adams’ work, as well as on the Vietnam War picture that Ut took that also became an iconic image of the war: the June 8, 1972, photograph of a young, naked Vietnamese girl fleeing her napalmed village. The girl in the picture, Kim Phuc, also offers her thoughts on the impact of the famed photos of the war.
Posted on June 26th 2009 in Documentaries, Photography.
An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story Jason Apr 10th, 2009 at 10:13 am
Over the years I have worked many photographic events and met many people from both sides of the lens, meeting Eddie Adams always tops my list. As stated by the commentary in the trailer for the documentary on his life and work above, you felt you already had met Eddie before meeting him. I wouldn’t say I had expectations per say, but I had an idea of what kind of photographer as well as what kind of man he would be. This is one of the rare cases, you can believe the hype.
Some might not know the name Eddie Adams, but his images document turbulent decades that shaped the world of photography and journalism as we know it. I met Eddie at a trade show, shortly before his death where he was making the rounds to see his friends in the industry, my boss at Unique Photo was one of them. I was asked to take part in a impromptu meeting regarding the upcoming Barnstorm workshops, which was a photo-journalistic workshop (tuition-free might I add) put on by Eddie and Nikon. Like the man, these workshops were a no-nonsense event, no sales pitches no extreme PR this was about photo-journalism and nothing else.
I was introduced to Eddie, shook his hand and hung on every word he had to say about what Barnstormer’s was in his mind when he created it in 1988, what my boss had helped him make it become, and what he wanted it to always be in the future. This meeting happened in a wide open 20 x 20 trade show booth, and in time his appearance had created a gathering of people also watching and hanging on his words. At one point another photographer tried introducing themselves to Eddie and interrupted the flow of the impromptu meeting, Eddie without missing a beat turned to the photographer and said, "Who the F*#k are you?" The photographer then began to introduce himself again of which Eddie quipped, "I don’t actually care who the hell you are, can’t you see (using a hand gesture to show those in the meeting) WE are having a conversation here?"
In my mind, I don’t think Eddie knew who he had just spoken with, and even if he did I don’t think his attitude would have changed. But it was a photographer who had combat photo journalism experience just as he did, a man who worshiped the guy for nearly 2 decades. As the meeting progressed Eddie looked at me and said, "Do you think I was to harsh to that man?" I responded, "He was rude, but I assure you he means well." Eddie then put his hand on my shoulder and smiled and said, "… your alright kid, (my boss) was right about you, if your around in this business Barnstorm is going to be fine long after I am gone."
Sadly shortly thereafter, Eddie was gone. The ideas discussed in the meeting on that trade show floor would never become a reality, but hopefully Eddie knew that it wasn’t individuals like my boss, his sponsors, or next generation of people in the industry like me that would keep Barnstorm going, it was his life and legacy that would endure time. The release of this documentary in my opinion has been long overdue, but considering the times we live in today I could not imagine a time when it would have been needed more.
Jason Etzel is a working photographer and regular contributor to Photo Insider magazine
Saving humanity on 24 hasn’t kept Kiefer Sutherland completely tied up this spring. He’s the bullhorn-voiced general in the hit animated film "Monsters vs. Aliens," and now he’s narrating a documentary—"An Unlikely Weapon," opening in select theaters this month—about Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams. TV Guide Magazine tortured Sutherland until he came clean on his extracurriculars.
Does 24 not keep you busy enough?
Jack Bauer is definitely a handful, in a good way, but it’s an enormous relief to do work that’s a bit easier on the nerves and the schedule. My schedule on 24 is very intense.
What connected you to the work of Eddie Adams?
The photograph he took of a Saigon police chief shooting a pistol point-blank at the head of a Vietcong guerrilla is as iconic as any war image out there. Not only was it emotionally staggering, it was politically significant. Attitudes about the war shifted after that image
appeared. But I wasn’t as familiar with the entire life of the man behind the photograph. What a character Eddie was. Unbelievably tough. Uncompromising. Unflinching.
Speaking of tough and uncompromising, how’s it going to end this season for Jack Bauer?
You know me better than to think I would give anything up. It’s been an amazing season is all I will say. I was sweating it out right up to the premiere this season, but it’s turned into one of our best, if not our best yet.
What can you say about Jack’s daughter Kim’s upcoming return to the show?
Go see my documentary.