By Ed Rampell, AlterNet
Posted on June 4, 2005
Jane Fonda, whose trips to north Vietnam during that war propeled her onto the world stage, has returned to public life with her autobiography, My Life So Far, and the release of Monster-in-Law, her first feature film in 15 years. At a special Hollywood double feature of two suppressed documentaries, the feisty two-time Academy Award winner also showed herself to be as antiwar as ever.
The rare screening at the Directors Guild of America's theaters last month was only the third projection of the restored print of FTA (Fuck The Army). Fonda told the overflowing crowd: "I haven't seen FTA on the big screen in thirty-some years."
The 90-minute documentary, made in 1972, chronicles the tour of antiwar entertainers to venues near U.S. bases around the Pacific Rim, where they agitated against the Vietnam War and military policies. The FTA troupe included Fonda, actor Donald Sutherland, singer Holly Near, comic Paul Mooney, Peter Boyle of TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond" and singer/songwriter Country Joe McDonald.
David O. Russell, director of Three Kings (1999) and Soldiers Pay, the other doc on the double bill, declared: "I was shocked by the intensity of FTA, and the fact that all these soldiers were going to this, and by the boldness. It's about a very spirited pinnacle of the counterculture."
Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone, director of the '80s films Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, called FTA "The highest form of free expression we've seen in America in a long, long time."
FTA grew largely out of the G.I. resistance movement to the Vietnam war, as well as the classism, racism and sexism perpetrated by the military brass against soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen and women. The shows consisted of songs and skits, often with a comic panache, always with an anti-militaristic thrust and sometimes with a feminist consciousness. A counterpoint to Bob Hope's pro-war USO tours, the FTA pro-peace troupers performed in Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan, but were refused entry to south Vietnam. The overseas audiences for what Fonda called FTA's "political vaudeville" was composed mainly of 64,000 disaffected servicemen and women.
"There were great reviews of the film made from that tour," said Stone. "And it played exactly for a week in the United States." According to Stone, FTA's director, Francine Parker, said "calls were made from high up in Washington, possibly from the Nixon White House, and the film was just disappeared."
Following the screenings Stone moderated a panel discussion with Fonda, Parker and Russell. Commenting on FTA's removal from distribution, Fonda said, "I must say, looking at it now, it's no wonder. Think of all the propaganda that those of us who opposed the war were 'anti-troops.' When you see thousands of guys and women with their fists in the air who were active duty military personnel, it's a different slant. Now, in the context of Iraq, it's very -- what's the word? Subversive."
"By the way, it's happening today with the Iraq veterans," Fonda added. "For example at the second invasion of Iraq, at Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, there was the largest [antiwar] rally since 1970, which I was at. This time, all the speeches were made by returned American veterans of the Iraq war, and families and parents. It's an example of what's happening now within the military in Iraq. They're not getting the kind of help that they need."
Fonda denounced "the cutback of hundreds of millions of dollars to the VA administration the day after the troops were sent to Iraq to invade, just after the 'Support Our Troops' resolution. Reach out to military families because they're living it, and give support to them," she encouraged the audience.
Stone asked: "Is it possible for what you call the Iraq protest movement in the military to ever get recognized publicly?" Fonda replied to applause from the audience: "Well, we have to make sure that it is. Yes, I think so. The movement is definitely growing."
In today's military, Fonda said, "Classism is the biggie right now, because there's no draft, and that's not fair. You're only getting the poor kids." Perhaps in jest, the actress urged Russell to tour the country with Soldiers Pay, and Russell said he'd do it if she'd come. Always game, Fonda responded, "I will!" and the audience applauded.
Stone asked Fonda how America had changed since 1971. "We never came to terms with the war," she replied. "Revisionism set in and Americans were made to believe that we could have won the war, if it hadn't been for the antiwar movement and so-called 'liberal media.' That was during the Reagan administration and it was very handy for the first Bush administration when we went into the Gulf War.
"Remember what happened? 'Oh, if you're against this war you're going to be a traitor like those people back in the sixties and seventies.' People got scared because they didn't know what the truth was. That's continuing today. Of course, this administration is just totally brilliant at playing on our fears. With the invasion of Iraq, it was raised to an art form. You know, 'you're either with us or against us.' If you speak out against the war you're [considered] a terrorist," Fonda said.
On a more upbeat note she mused, "Today, Nixon and Reagan are looking mighty good. I think this is the scariest time I've ever lived through. It's a dying beast, and they're always the scariest and most dangerous. Just below the crust of the surface there is a volcano ready to erupt. It's our job to create critical mass and ignite it.
"It's a really confusing time; it's more complicated than Vietnam," she continued. "There was no Saddam Hussein during Vietnam. Everybody agreed Saddam had to go. Did there need to be an invasion where 100,000 innocent civilians die in the process? I don't think so. People are waiting out there for leadership. I was asked: 'What's happened to the Left?' Progressivism is alive and well, but it's women who are going to have to rise up and lead it now."
"Jane is a great revolutionary," Stone said admiringly. "We need that type. 'Storm the barricades.'"
Since the rights to FTA are owned by Fonda, Sutherland and director Parker, Stone suggesting re-releasing the film. "You've got to get it out there, Jane. You can do a lot with digital now. Would you like to see it on the Internet?"
"We'd have to think very hard about who we would try to get the film distributed to," Fonda said. "I'm not sure that our main audience isn't the military. Technology has made it possible for us to get stuff out there in such an easier, democratic and inexpensive way.
"I just spent five weeks traveling around the country, and except for one incident where a vet spit at me, what I'm seeing is that people are ready and hungry for statements like this. They really are. I'm talking in the heartland, in those red states."
Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film critic and freelancer. His latest book, "Progressive Hollywood, A People's Film History of the United States," was published by DisInfo in May.