Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This review, by Penelope Andrew, was posted to CriticalWomen.net, Februuary 10, 2009
Thirty-six years ago and about a minute before she was smeared and dubbed “Hanoi Jane,” Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and six of their “trouble-making” friends were the subject of a documentary film called FTA. They formed a touring company of activist actors, comedians, singers, and writers who performed in coffeehouses and other venues as close as possible to U.S. military bases in the states and later across the Pacific Rim. They were the thinking troops’ troupe, an anti-USO show, and an alternative to Bob Hope who had previously cornered the market on entertaining the military.
Recently, the IFC Center—the art house Villagers love so well--held two special screenings of this little known documentary by the late director (and incidentally, the first female member of the Directors Guild of America) Francine Parker. It’s hardly been seen since its original release in 1972. FTA is a multi-purpose acronym and variously defined as “Free the Army,” “Free Theater Associates,” or, the soldiers’ favorite term, “F*ck the Army.”
Upon learning of the event, a community organizer from the 1960s, former SDS member, long-time friend of Tom Hayden and busy social worker to this very day cut to the heart of the matter in a phone message, “I am going to go. I’ll be late, so save me a seat. You’ve probably figured out by now that FTA is about Jane and Donald Sutherland’s anti-war tour back in the old 70s when we only had ONE war.”
It’s very interesting that FTA’s re-release follows, by about a month, the theatrical debut of its contemporary first-cousin, Theater of War (2008)—at The Film Forum--which documents the making of the Public Theater’s 2006 production of Mother Courage and Her Children with a cast led by Meryl Streep.
These celluloid monuments drive home the genius of two of the most potent, anti-war writers who ever lived: Dalton Trumbo and Berthold Brecht. Both appeared before the HUAC. Trumbo was jailed for 11 months on contempt charges for failing to name names, while Brecht literally waltzed his way through with a performance of very broken English with a snappy German accent. In Theater of War, one is treated to a large dose of Mother Courage by way of a new translation by Tony Kushner and a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the artistry of Streep finding her character in a fascinating rehearsal process.
By contrast, FTA is raw. It underscores how infectious was the movement of the 60s and 70s captured through a lens that focuses on: a naïve, fresh-faced Holly Near acting (albeit poorly, but with a lovely enthusiasm) the part of a privileged officer’s wife; the effectiveness of songs (“We Will Not Bow Down to Genocide”) sung simply by folk musician Len Chandler and ballads (“Dear Soldier, We Love You”) performed and written by the talented Rita Martinson; and poetry and skits by the rest of a dedicated cast who worked at fever pitch unencumbered by a need for perfection. The gifted comedian, social satirist and writer Paul Mooney was also part of the company. He participated in a panel with Fonda that introduced the earlier screening of FTA.
The “a spit and a prayer production” as Fonda lovingly calls it traveled a long way to reach American troops who were questioning their roles and actions as military men and women. FTA offered much needed support for those who joined the perilous ranks of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (for one of its most famous members, Senator John Kerry, it may well have cost him the presidency).
The troupe organized communities at home and abroad (just like our current president did in Chicago, it’s obviously an effective and infectious way of getting important things done) and managed to form bonds both small and large regardless of where it landed. There are scenes with Fonda and cast sitting down with individual soldiers: Black-Americans reporting racism and abuse by their white (aptly named) master sergeants; heartbreaking commentary by wounded, shell-shocked, white soldiers who wander the streets of Japan; and young women soldiers retelling stories of being cajoled into getting on “the Pill” for the implied purpose of servicing their male counterparts. The footage of concerts and large-scale demonstrations involving the local talent of organizers, labor unions and artist/activists in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan is impressive.
In one of the most powerful scenes in the film, Donald Sutherland recites from Trumbo’s 1939, anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun about a WWI soldier, Joe Bonham—not the average Joe that Sarah Palin nauseated the American public with but an extraordinary Joe--who has been maimed and disfigured beyond human recognition. One could hear a pin drop in the audience as the atmosphere filled with the fear all nightmares bring coupled with the majesty that occurs when a true artistic moment emerges. Sutherland—unlike the earthier James Cagney who performed the part of Joe in a radio adaptation of the book—speaks the part of the narrator trapped inside what is left of his own body on the scale of a preacher (perhaps reprising his role in Jules Fieffer’s Little Murders as the cynical 1972 review of FTA in The New York Times suggested), and one who is also well schooled in Shakespeare. Sutherland’s riveting oratory while clutching his beaten up copy of Johnny Got His Gun with its still-visible, iconic cover drew cheers from the audience and shouts of “Go Donald!”
Parker, Brecht and Trumbo may have passed on, but anti-war, anti-genocide and anti-poverty spirit continue in the genre of the documentary as practiced by the soothsayer Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11), in the poetry of the images of Heddy Honigmann (Crazy), through the artistry of Errol Morris (Fog of War) and in the passion of Spike Lee (When the Levees Broke). Parker’s FTA has been restored from an archival print and is out on DVD with a bonus feature, a 20-minute interview with Jane Fonda revealing a ton of fascinating back story. Fonda—finding time between rehearsals for a new play 33 Variations—showed up to introduce both screenings of FTA and continues to set the record straight. “Go Jane!”
FTA (1972) directed by Francine Parker with Michael Alaimo, Len Chandler, Pamela Donegan, Steve Jaffe , Rita Martinson, Paul Mooney, Holly Near, Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda. DVD 97 min. with bonus feature: interview with Jane Fonda.
Theater of War (2008) directed by John W. Walter with George C. Wolfe, Kevin Kline, Tony Kushner, Austin Pendleton, Jay Cantor, Meryl Streep and others.
This review, by David Kehr, was published by the New York Times, Februuary 22, 2009
FTA was the slogan adapted by a group of self-styled political vaudevillians — including Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Holly Near and Len Chandler — who toured United States bases in the Pacific in 1970, presenting antiwar songs and sketches to servicemen. This documentary record of the tour, directed by Francine Parker, played briefly in theaters in 1972 (released by American-International, youth-exploitation specialists) and then disappeared. Seen today, it is a fascinating period piece: the counterculture answer to Bob Hope’s U.S.O. tours, filmed at a moment when peace signs were giving way to power salutes. There is a self-congratulatory air to some of the proceedings, but Ms. Fonda’s antiwar speech before the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo may be one of the most powerful performances of her distinguished career. (Docurama Films, $26.95, not rated)
This article, by Dennis Lin, was published by the Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2009
A time capsule of the anti-Vietnam War movement, "FTA" is also a vivid flashback to a world-famous movie star's stint as a political radical. At the peak of her celebrity, which coincided with the dawning of her political consciousness, Jane Fonda abdicated her Hollywood throne and remade herself as the face of the anti-establishment.
With government agents and the news media watching her every move, she led a vaudeville troupe on a tour of U.S. military bases in 1971 -- a trip chronicled in this fascinating documentary, largely unseen since its brief, abortive release and finally available on DVD this week.
In the disc's only extra, a 20-minute interview, Fonda recounts how the project came about. She and Donald Sutherland, her costar in 1971's "Klute" (which won her an Oscar), were approached by Howard Levy, a doctor who had become an antiwar cause célèbre for refusing to train Green Beret medics. He proposed that they put on a corrective to Bob Hope's gung-ho USO shows, giving voice not just to the growing peace movement but to antiwar sentiment within the ranks of the military.
The FTA troupe staged its first shows in the U.S., with Fonda and Sutherland (who had just played the irreverent Hawkeye in Robert Altman's "MASH") headlining a company that included Peter Boyle and Howard Hesseman. (The all-purpose acronym is short for "Free the Army" and a more profane variation.)
When it came time to embark on the two-week Pacific Rim tour, Fonda assembled a more politically correct lineup that stressed racial and gender parity -- equal numbers of black and white, and male and female, performers, including singer Holly Near and comedian Paul Mooney.
Fonda, Sutherland and company stopped off in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan (where they were initially refused entry). Denied permission to perform on U.S. bases, they set up shop in nearby coffeehouses and other venues, although military officials apparently tried to minimize attendance by publicizing incorrect show times.
All told, the troupe played 21 shows, which were attended by some 64,000 servicemen and women. Many of the male GIs, as Fonda ruefully concedes in the interview, must have been anticipating the Space Age sex kitten from "Barbarella" and not the righteous radical who took the stage in jeans, no makeup and a raised fist.
The show mixes protest songs with broad and bawdy skits, taking potshots at military chauvinism and top-brass privilege. But what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for with a raucous energy. Directed by Francine Parker (who died in 2007), the documentary alternates between the song-and-dance routines and behind-the-scenes footage of soldiers talking candidly to the troupe members about their frustration and anger at the ongoing war and the American presence in the region.
As fate would have it, "FTA" opened the same week in July 1972 that news broke of Fonda's trip to Hanoi, where she made radio broadcasts for the North Vietnamese regime and was photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun. Within a week, the distributor (youth-flick specialist American-International Pictures) had pulled the movie from theaters.
Fonda's career went into partial eclipse, and she remains to this day a favorite target of the right, but she recovered to win a second Oscar for the 1978 war-veteran drama "Coming Home." For years she quietly has distanced herself from her radical past, which might explain why "FTA," which she co-produced, has been out of circulation for more than three decades.
Its recent reemergence points to a change of heart and owes much to the efforts of filmmaker David Zeiger, who used footage from "FTA" in "Sir! No Sir!," a 2005 documentary about antiwar resistance within the military.
This week's DVD release was preceded by screenings at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles and the IFC Center in New York, where Fonda appeared as part of a fundraiser for Iraq Veterans Against the War.
The film also screens on the Sundance Channel this week.
Two other artifacts of Fonda's radical period have been issued on DVD in recent years.
"Steelyard Blues" (1973), a slapstick counterculture comedy that also costarred Sutherland, was released by Warner Home Video. And Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's scathing "Tout Va Bien" (1972), with Fonda as an American journalist caught up in a wildcat strike at a sausage factory in France, is available from the Criterion Collection.
This review, by Roger Greenspun, was originally published in the New York Times , July 22, 1972
By now most people must know something about the political vaudeville troupe formed by Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and others to offer soldiers an alternate entertainment to say, Bob Hope, or whatever shows are provided by the U.S.O. The troupe called itself F.T.A., which stands for Free Theater Associates, or for other things such as, Free the Army.
Last year, against considerable official opposition, it toured United States military bases in the Pacific. Francine Parker's "F.T.A.," which opened yesterday at the Baronet and Victoria theaters, is a documentary about aspects of that tour.
The film divides its attention pretty evenly between the performers and their audience, and a lot of time is given to interviews with dissident, or merely disillusioned, servicemen. Some hate the war in Vietnam. Some just voice dismay at certain truths about the military like "They don't want you to be an individual") that have been perpetually rediscovered by raw recruits at least since the Battle of Thermopylae.
So much time is given to the audience, whose insights, though real, are neither original nor profound, that the actual performance comes across in scattered bits and pieces.
A lot of the show must have been very funny, with a kind of humor genuinely in touch with the desperation borne of simply being in the service. (Army doctor prescribing to obviously pregnant wife of enlisted man: "Go home and take two A.P.C. tablets and come back when your swelling goes down.")
But as presented in the movie, most of the show doesn't seem very funny, except inadvertently—as when Donald Sutherland seriously recites the prose of Dalton Trumbo with a straight-from-the-shoulder solemnity that happens to be perfectly in keeping with his phony-preacher characterization in Jules Feiffer's "Little Murders."
Occasionally the F.T.A. troupe becomes involved with the local population, so that we may hear the Just Grievances Against American Imperialism of the people of Okinawa or Japan or wherever Miss Fonda and her colleagues happen to be listening. I found most of this a predictable bore, but it did allow for the film's only really striking sequence: an anti-American guerrilla theater pageant in the Philippines that momentarily turns revolutionary passion into a romantic gesture of extraordinary beauty.
Otherwise there are a few good things. There is the lovely ballad singing of Rita Martinson (most of the singing, by Len Chandler, isn't so lovely), some hints at lively routines, an occasional glimpse of deep happiness in eyes of Miss Fonda or of Holly Near. But the spirit of F.T.A. must lie elsewhere, in other times and special places. For all its agility and pressing close-ups, the film doesn't capture that spirit—or even adequately show the kind of experience that might have let it grow.
F.T.A., directed by Francine Parker; written by Robin Menken, Michael Alaimo, Rita Martinson, Holly Near, Len Chandler, Pamala Donegan, Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Dalton Trumbo; editors, Joel Morwood and Michael Beaudry; camera, Juliana Wang, Eric Saarinen and Joan Weidman; music by Aminadav Aloni; produced by Miss Parker, Miss Fonda and Mr. Sutherland. At the Baronet Theater, 59th Street at Third Avenue and the Victoria Theater, Broadway and 46th Street, Running time: 94 minutes. This film is rated R. Released by American International Pictures.
With: Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Len Chandler, Pamala Donegan, Michael Alalmo, Rita Martinson, Holly Near, Paul Mooney and Yale Zimmerman.
The following photographs and flyers were taken during the FTA Tour of the United States and the Far East.
They include reproductions of the cast on stage, and at play, as well as active duty audience members responding to the show.
FINALLY, AFTER 35-YEARS IN EXILE FTA IS BACK!
AVAILABLE FEBRUARY 24 EXCLUSIVELY ON DVD FROM DISPLACED FILMS AND NEW VIDEO/ DOCURAMA FTA
Starring Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Michael Alaimo, Len Chandler, Holly Near And a Cast of Thousands of antiwar soldiers. 1971–two years after Richard Nixon had promised to end the Vietnam War, American troops were still fighting and American warplanes were still bombing North Vietnam relentlessly.
A massive GI Movement to end the war was sweeping through the troops, wreaking havoc on the U.S. military. Into that mix came The FTA (F*** the Army) Show, a caustic, electrifying, sharply antiwar comedy review led by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. As they toured outside military bases from Guam to the Philippines, over 60,000 soldiers cheered and joined the show’s call to end the war. It was an explosive, historical moment never seen before or since.
FTA, Francine Parker’s powerful documentary of the tour, opened in U.S. theaters in 1972, as the Nixon administration was still escalating the war and fighting for its political life at home. After only one week, the film mysteriously disappeared–never to be seen again. Until now.