Thursday, February 18, 2010

F.T.A. DVD (Docurama)

After reading about this in Paul Mooney's memoir I was excited to find out it had been recently released on DVD after being pulled from distribution (for political reasons, one is led to believe) shortly into its 1972 release. This is documentary about Jane Fonda's musical/improv comedy group that was doing miltary-themed routines that were pro-soldier/anti-Army (mostly pandering by making fun of high ranking officers or doing dumb drug jokes). The show is far from radical (they actually pussyfoot around saying "Fuck the Army" out loud, as if using "fuck" is the grandest statement/punchline in 1972) and not that great (Jane Fonda, who is neither a singer or a comic does a lot of singing and comedy). Along those lines, they don't really seem to know what they had. Mooney, eventually an iconic black comic, is never featured, and Holly Near, soon to be a leading womyn's music icon, rarely sings. Donald Sutherland was a member, and his overserious reading of Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Got His Gun" is hard to call a highlight. And though the troupe on the tour is half black, the only black member who prominently performs is folksinger Len Chandler, a pleasant, earnest, nerdy, far from revolutionary artist (he's best known for writing the novelty tune "Beans in my Ears"). There is one beautiful performance by Rita Martinson and a powerful spoken word piece by Pamela Donegan, but remove those two numbers and it's hard to see how this was speaking to the many black Viet Nam soldiers they were performing in front of. And they also never put themselves in harm's way; their trips to Hawaii and Japan to entertain troops were pretty safe. And at one point when they get heckled by right wing soldiers they totally freak out and crumble. So as far as entertainment or politics, this is pretty unimpressive. But there are a lot of riveting interviews with actual soldiers, some fully radicalized, and there's something to be said for witnessing the failures of this thing, so even though cries of F.F.T.A. would not be unwarranted, I would recommend a rental.

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