The 1972 anti-war traveling show and film not only ‘took a stand against war,’ it was genuinely hilarious. Never has open rebellion been so invigorating. Or remain so topical, on so many levels.

Photo: Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda in F.T.A. Photo: Kino Lorber

05 June 2022 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

Long before it became fashionable to ‘stand for war,’ Donald Sutherland, Jane Fonda (nee Hanoi Jane), organized a guerilla theater show that played for disgruntled military members.

A brilliant mix of song, anti-war anthems, politics, and comedy, it was sort of a ‘Hair on Wheels.’

A film of the show was released, played for a week or so, and then, true to form, much like JFK footage in Dallas, disappeared from theaters and the history books.

Oh, even today, Mainstream will tell you that it was not censored or the extant copies were not destroyed or…

In 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland toured an anti-war comedy show across Southeast Asia. Despite being highly controversial, it was a huge success among stationed soldiers. New 4K restoration by IndieCollect.

Well, never mind. The film has been remastered and, true to form is now showing up on Netflix with little or no fanfare.

It is a joy to watch. Sutherland and Fonda are the ‘stars’ but the entire ensemble cast is brilliant. Using little more than props from the kitchen, members are shown rushing from one set-piece to the next. Never has open rebellion been so invigorating.

The film itself is a marvel to behold. Director Francine Parker has created a self-assured mix of humor from the show and candid insights into the people and culture, and eventual anger, of the ‘host countries.’

So many of the ‘issues’ covered remain serious and compelling problems even today.

It is no wonder that the film vanished and remains largely unknown. It had and still has, the power to shed light on a remarkable number of anti-war and anti-occupation beliefs that the Pentagon would like to pretend no longer exists. They are wrong, as usual.

Be warned: these anti-war, comedic antics may offend some viewers, none more than the ‘free speech’ enthusiasts who will remember, or perhaps see for the first time, how those who are currently waging war(s), have succeeded so well in controlling both the medium and the message.

But the bottom line – not only did the show ‘take a stand against war,’ it was genuinely hilarious. And more importantly, still so topical, on so many levels.

Those who are blindly ‘standing for war’ could learn a lot from the ‘stars,’ the militant soldiers, and the citizens of countries who were plunged into war and those forced into housing US military bases.

James Porteous | Clipper Media News

Ticket from FTA performance in Monterey, California 1971
Ticket from FTA performance in Monterey, California 1971

Rita Martenson, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland
Rita Martenson, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland

The FTA Show (or FTA Tour or Free The Army tour), a play on the common troop expression “Fuck The Army” (which in turn was a play on the army slogan “Fun, Travel and Adventure”), was a 1971 anti-Vietnam War road show for GIs designed as a response to Bob Hope’s patriotic and pro-war USO tour.

The idea was first conceived by Howard Levy, an ex-US Army doctor who had just been released from 26 months in Fort Leavenworth military prison for refusing orders to train Green Beret medics on their way to the Vietnam War.

Levy convinced actress Jane Fonda who recruited a number of actors, entertainers, musicians and others, including the actors Donald Sutherland, Peter Boyle, Garry Goodrow and Michael Alaimo, comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory and soul and R&B singer Swamp Dogg (Jerry Williams Jr). Alan Myerson, of San Francisco improv comedy group The Committee, agreed to direct, while cartoonist and author Jules Feiffer and playwrights Barbara Garson and Herb Gardner wrote songs and skits for the show. (Wikipedia)


Donald Sutherland Jane Fonda
Poster for film FTA

Film Review: “F.T.A.” — An Anti-War Gem, Rediscovered

06 March 2021 | Peg Aloi | The Arts Fuse

This new 4K restoration from IndieCollect gives contemporary audiences a long-awaited opportunity to see footage of a traveling anti-war show performed at military bases in 1971 during the height of the Vietnam conflict.

Exuding a guerilla theater, agitprop vibe (with touches here and there of vaudeville and live sketch comedy), F.T.A. is a thrilling expression of pacifism and accountability directed at the military.

Directed by Francine Parker, this documentary was released in 1972, soon after Jane Fonda’s controversial visit to Hanoi, which earned her the derogatory moniker “Hanoi Jane.”

"FTA" was a common troupe expression, as shown in this button from the GI group Movement for a Democratic Military.
“FTA” was a common troupe expression, as shown in this button from the GI group Movement for a Democratic Military.

It made her a target of establishment types who accused the actress of exploiting the war for the sake of fame.

The ruckus swirling around Fonda no doubt undercut the film’s release, and it may explain why Parker’s incendiary but uplifting chronicle, filmed soon after journalistic revelations about the 1968 Mai-Lai Massacre, has been little seen since.

Until now, thanks to Kino Lorber and IndieCollect for making this counterculture gem available through virtual cinemas on KinoMarquee.com.

This lively documentary, full of original protest songs and poetry written at the time, is made up of live footage of performances at military bases in Hawaii, Okinawa, Japan, and the Philippines and filmed conversations with GIs and activists.

The film and its featured performers are very clear about the message to be delivered: to expose the growing resistance to the war effort among the ranks of its soldiers and to expose the racism and sexism within various parts of the American military.

The performers include Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Len Chandler, Pamela Donegan, Peter Boyle, Holly Near, Rita Martinson, and other assorted actors and musicians. (Fonda and Sutherland starred in Klute that same year. Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film won Fonda an Oscar for Best Actress.)

Fonda introduces the new restoration with some helpful historical context. Internal military resistance to the war was something very few knew about at the time. Meanwhile, news networks and publications had begun to show imagery of the atrocities suffered by civilians and the destruction of poor villages.

Thousands of the young men who were drafted could not afford college deferments: this included many young men of color. Soldiers who returned home, often wounded in body and mind, were spat upon and shunned.

Cover from the Dalton Trumbo book, Johnny Got His Gun

Another anti-war documentary was released in 1972: Winter Soldier focused on hearings held in Detroit in which over one hundred soldiers (including future Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry) testified to the war crimes they had witnessed or participated in.

This film, like F.T.A., has also been little seen in recent years, outside of film forums or venues like the Harvard Film Archive. Mainstream awareness of this dark chapter in American history has all but faded from the popular consciousness.

F.T.A. is full of music, including many songs by folk musician and activist Chandler. The title refers to a song featured in every performance by the traveling troupe, an acronym that stands for various permutations of “Free/F*ck the Army.”

There are comedy sketches, song and dance routines with a vaudevillian flair, including parodies of Richard and Pat Nixon, play-by-plays of military bombings relayed like live sports commentary, satirical voiceovers of war footage (done brilliantly by Sutherland), and a musical number performed by Fonda, Near, Donegan, and Martinson that calls out sexist behavior and asserts women’s bodily autonomy.

Martinson performs a powerful feminist poem that explores emotional themes around relationships; she also sings a gorgeous ballad entitled “Soldier, We Love You.” Linking the women’s movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement were a crucial part of the show’s strategy: the goal was to expose the various forms of oppression encouraged by the U.S. government, and the importance of resistance movements of the ’60s and ’70s dedicated to protesting the mistreatment of women, the poor, and people of color.

Interviews with young members of the Black Power movement, many of whom had been drafted, include candid statements insisting that fighting racism at home was more important than fighting communism in a foreign country.

This criticism takes on sobering relevance given the looming specter of institutional and cultural racism today, emboldened during the Trump administration.

Original cast. From left: Gary GoodrowJane FondaDonald SutherlandPeter BoyleDick Gregory, and Barbara Dane at the Haymarket GI Coffeehouse near Fort Bragg.

There is a good deal of footage of the young GIs in attendance at these shows, clapping and nodding along with songs that reflect their skepticism.

They share their opinions about why the war effort is misguided as well as their horror stories about atrocities they were forced to participate in. We also hear, as the war dragged on and the protests increased, quiet admissions about soldiers refusing to follow orders they found immoral.

At one point, pro-war hecklers disrupt the proceedings; the troublemakers are shouted down by the performers and audience, but not before some scary physical confrontations take place. 

F.T.A. ends with a close up of Sutherland reciting a powerful passage from Dalton Trumbo’s 1938 novel Johnny Got His Gun.

Impassioned, showing signs of exhaustion, Sutherland gives an artful reading of the text, brilliantly controlled but also colored by this actor-activist’s barely-restrained emotion. It provides a gutting, thought-provoking finale to a nearly 50 year old documentary that is still deeply, frighteningly relevant.

‘F.T.A.’: When Jane Fonda Rocked the U.S. Army

A newly exhumed documentary delves into the actress’s anti-Vietnam vaudeville tour of American military bases in 1972.

04 March 2021 | J. Hoberman | New York Times

“F.T.A.,” an agitprop rockumentary that ran for a week in July 1972, reappears as an exhumed relic, recording the joyfully scurrilous anti-Vietnam War vaudeville led by Jane Fonda that toured the towns outside American military bases in Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan.

The movie, directed by Francine Parker, who produced it along with Fonda and Donald Sutherland, opened the same day that Fonda’s trip to North Vietnam made news. The film, greeted with outrage and consigned to oblivion, has been restored by IndieCollect, and is enjoying a belated second (virtual) run.

The F.T.A. show was conceived as an alternative to Bob Hope’s gung-ho, blithely sexist U.S.O. tours; its initials stood for something ruder than “Free the Army.” The skits, evocative of the guerrilla street theater, ridiculed generals, mocked male chauvinism and celebrated insubordination.

The show was hardly subtle, but, as documented in the movie, opinions expressed by various servicemen were no less blunt.

In interviews, Black marines characterized Vietnam as “a racist and genocidal war of aggression” and even white soldiers criticized the “imperialistic American government.”

Half a century after it appeared, “F.T.A.” is a reminder of how deeply unpopular the Vietnam War was and how important disillusioned GIs were to the antiwar movement. “I was ‘silent majority’ until tonight,” one tells the camera after a performance.

Fonda may be the designated spokeswoman, but the show was largely devoid of star-ism. A shaggy-looking Sutherland, who had recently appeared with her in “Klute,” gets at least as much screen time. Two relative unknowns, the singer Rita Martinson and the poet (and proto-rapper) Pamela Donegan, have memorable solos performing their own material.

The hardest working individual was the Greenwich Village folk singer and civil rights activist Len Chandler, who assumed the Pete Seeger role of prompting the audience to sing along with compositions like “My Ass is Mine” and “I Will Not Bow Down to Genocide.” A younger folkie, Holly Near, was also on hand, hamming along with Fonda in a parody of “Carolina Morning” that began, “Nothing could be finer than to be in Indochina …”

Context is crucial. Vivian Gornick, who covered the tour for the Village Voice, reported that “the F.T.A. was surrounded, wherever it went, by agents of the C.I.D., the O.S.I., the C.I.A., the local police.”

After military authorities became frightened, “‘riot conditions’ were declared.” Indeed, “F.T.A.” documents antiwar demonstrations staged by civilians in Okinawa and at Subic Bay in the Philippines. The latter was singled out in the New York Times critic Roger Greenspun’s review as the movie’s high point.

Greenspun thought “F.T.A.” failed to capture the spirit of the stage shows. Perhaps, but however chaotic and self-righteous, the movie is a genuine, powerful and even stirring expression of the antipathy engendered by a war that — as the author Thomas Powers recently wrote — “refused to be won, or lost, or understood” and scarred the psyches of those who lived through it.