YouTube
YouTube

12 Intense Facts About Platoon

YouTube
YouTube

Before it won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1986, Platoon made waves simply by doing something new: showing the Vietnam War from the perspective of someone who fought in it. Oliver Stone was an infantryman for 14 months in 1967 and 1968, and he was determined to portray the experience accurately in what would be the first Vietnam film made by a Vietnam veteran. Coming 11 years after the official end of the war, Platoon opened a conversation between veterans and civilians that had previously been too painful to have. It’s also a fine piece of filmmaking. Here are a dozen facts to shed some light on it.

1. OLIVER STONE WAS SO TIRED ON THE SET THAT HE STARTED MAKING CRAZY ACCUSATIONS.

Stone has been described as difficult to work with even under the best of circumstances, and the grueling Platoon shoot—10 weeks in the miserable Philippine jungle—was in another category. He later recalled getting so sleep-deprived and paranoid that when he couldn’t find the footage from a particular scene, he accused his film editor, Claire Simpson, of hiding it. Simpson gently reassured him that no, she wasn’t deceiving him, and the reason he couldn’t find the footage was that he hadn’t shot it yet.

2. THEY USED IMPORTED DIRT.

Platoon was shot in the Philippines, which had the advantage of looking a lot like Vietnam without actually being in Vietnam. There was just one discrepancy: the Philippines lacked the red soil that Stone remembered from his days in ‘Nam. So dirt of the proper hue was trucked in for authenticity’s sake.

3. THAT SCENE WHERE EVERYBODY’S REALLY HIGH? EVERYBODY WAS REALLY HIGH.

Willem Dafoe said that to get into character for the sequence where the soldiers are lounging around the tent, smoking and drinking whatever they can get their hands on, he and the other actors got stoned ahead of time. They didn’t think their plan through very carefully, though. By the time they actually shot the scene, a few hours had passed, and everyone had come down. “They were just tired and useless,” Dafoe said.

4. THE SHOOT ALMOST GOT CANCELLED ON ACCOUNT OF REVOLUTION.

Sure, they thought. It’ll be easier to make a movie in the Philippines than in Vietnam, they thought. They would have been right if it weren’t for the fact that when they arrived, kleptocratic President Ferdinand Marcos was in the process of being tossed out of office. The country’s political instability threatened the production, but ended up only delaying it a week. Filming began two days after Marcos and his family vacated the premises. Stone said, “When the change came, we had to make new deals with the new military. You had to get a lot of permissions and bribe a new set of people.” 

5. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME JOHNNY DEPP HAD EVER BEEN OUT OF THE COUNTRY.

He’s a world traveler who lives in France a lot of the time now, but in early 1986, the 22-year-old Depp had never left the U.S.

6. IT TOOK MORE THAN A DECADE TO GET THE FILM PRODUCED.

Stone wrote a screenplay based on his experiences in Vietnam as soon as he got back from the war, in 1969. (He sent a copy of it to Jim Morrison, hoping the Doors frontman would star in it.) By 1976, that draft morphed into what he was then calling The Platoon. Stone couldn’t find anyone willing to make the movie, though. The war was still too fresh in people’s minds; it would be another few years before films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter addressed it. And after that, studios had another excuse not to make Platoon: why bother, when Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter had already covered it?

7. SIDNEY LUMET ALMOST MADE THE MOVIE WITH AL PACINO.

Back in 1976, when Stone was trying to get his screenplay produced, he almost found a taker in Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Network), who was going to cast Al Pacino in the Charlie Sheen role. 

8. IT CHANGED THE WAY HOLLYWOOD LOOKED AT WAR.

A much-decorated retired Marine named Dale Dye, who loved war movies but was disappointed by their failure to convey the mental and emotional realities of combat, offered Stone his services as an advisor. Dye had been turned down by other filmmakers, who felt the way Hollywood had been doing it—you hire a consultant to make sure the medals, guns, and uniforms are accurate, and you don’t worry about the less tangible details—seemed to be working just fine. (Dye said: “They had been making zillions of dollars making war films for decades, and here was some clown coming in to tell them they had a better mousetrap? Go away.”) But Dye’s vision matched Stone’s, and the psychological authenticity they created together was a major factor in Platoon’s success. For the first time, Vietnam veterans were seeing their experiences portrayed realistically. Dye has since become the foremost military consultant in Hollywood, advising (and occasionally acting in) everything from Saving Private Ryan to the Medal of Honor video games. 

9. THE CAST SPENT TWO WEEKS IN A SIMULATED BOOT CAMP.

One of Dye’s ideas was to put the actors through the closest thing to a real boot camp that he could without killing them. They spent two weeks as soldiers in the Philippine jungle, digging holes to live in, eating from ration cans, carrying real weight, and staying in character. There were no showers or toilets, and everyone had to rotate on night watch. “It’s usually around day two or day three [the actors] realize playtime is over and that this guy is serious,” he recalled

10. STONE WAS SO SURPRISED BY THE FILM’S SUCCESS THAT HE DROVE PAST THEATERS WHERE IT WAS PLAYING TO SEE FOR HIMSELF.

Though he’d been lauded as a screenwriter for Midnight Express and Scarface, Stone’s previous directorial efforts—The Hand (1981) and Salvador (1986, 10 months before Platoon)—had been flops. That Platoon, which he’d been trying to make for a decade and which seemed cursed, should be a hit caught him totally off-guard. Elizabeth Cox, his wife at the time, told an interviewer that when they’d drive around L.A., Stone would go out of his way to see it with his own eyes. “He’ll stand outside the theater, listen to remarks,” she said. “He’s amazed that people like it. He’s cute.” 

11. CHARLIE SHEEN ALMOST LOST THE LEAD ROLE TO HIS OWN BROTHER.

Sheen auditioned during one of Stone’s earlier, unsuccessful attempts to get the movie made, and didn’t impress him. The guy Stone really liked was Sheen’s older brother, Emilio Estevez. But financing fell through and the film was shelved. By the time Sheen auditioned again a few years later, he had grown into the role. “This time I knew in 10 minutes he was right,” said Stone. 

12. IT WAS BANNED IN VIETNAM (BUT PEOPLE SAW IT ANYWAY).

Unsurprisingly, the government didn’t care for the film’s unflattering portrayal of the Viet Cong, and wouldn’t let it play there. But in March 1988, the Vietnam News Agency reported that “tens of thousands” of people were watching it on video in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), without noting how the film had been obtained. It was the first American film about the Vietnam War to play in that city.

Additional Sources:
DVD features and commentary

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
iStock
iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios