Release Date(s)1972 (May 4, 2021)
Studio(s)American International Pictures/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
F.T.A. is a fascinating chronicle of the 1971 traveling anti-war show performed for members of the military during the height of the Vietnam War. Featuring Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Michael Alaimo, Len Chandler, Pamela Donegan, and others, it was a collection of skits inspired by real-life experiences which reflected the growing opposition to the war among active-duty service members. The group of actors, writers, and musicians had become aware of this opposition, which was known as the G.I. Movement, and were disturbed by the way that Bob Hope’s explicitly pro-war USO tours were no longer connecting with the reality of what men and women were experiencing during the war. They decided to create an anti-war alternative with the following mission statement:
“The G.I. movement exists on nearly every United States military installation around the world. It is made up of American servicemen and women who have come to realize that if there is to be an end to the U.S. military involvement in South East Asia—an end to the war—it is they who must end it. In response to the invitation of servicemen and women within the G.I. movement we have formed the F.T.A. Show in order to support their fight to end discrimination against people because of race, sex, class, religion and personal or political belief.”
They performed at military bases in the United States, Japan, and Indonesia, though it would be more accurate to say that they performed near the bases. Needless to say, the military did not approve, and it did what it could to stop service members from attending the shows. The very title of the tour was an insult to military authority; it appropriated the abbreviation for the Army slogan “Fun, travel, and adventure” but in the way that many service members had come to use it: “**** the Army.” That message rang loud and clear for the thousands of soldiers and crew members who attended the shows.
F.T.A. was directed by Francine Parker, who followed the tour with her camera crew and filmed what happened. She conducted interviews with members of the cast, various service members, and local civilians, and also showed when a group of military hecklers disrupted a show in Japan. The final film crosscuts effectively between those interviews and skits from the show. F.T.A. received a theatrical release in July of 1972, but it was pulled after one week by its distributor American International Pictures, and they also destroyed the prints. Parker claimed that this happened because Sam Arkoff was pressured by the White House, which may or may not be true, but either way the film was removed from circulation for decades and has been rarely seen until recently.
F.T.A. was shot on 16 mm film by cinematographers Eric Saarinen, Juliana Wang, and John Weidman. It was then blown up to 35 mm for its theatrical release, which was likely framed at 1.85:1, but records are scarce. This restoration was performed by IndieCollect under a grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The film elements had been stored at the Academy Film Archive, but since four of the ten original 16 mm negative reels had disappeared, the decision was made to work from a 35mm master positive instead. That was scanned at 5K resolution, and then color corrected for the new 4K master framed at 1.66:1. While there are unavoidable limitations working from a blowup, the results are pretty solid. The image isn't as detailed as it could have been using the 16 mm negative, but despite some unavoidable softness, it still looks as sharp as it possibly could given the elements used. The grain structure can vary a bit, but it’s never too obtrusive. There are scratches scattered throughout, but none of it is too distracting. The restoration crew did a fine job of balancing the grading from shot to shot despite the widely varied lighting conditions, though it can still look a little uneven at times, which is the nature of the way that the film was made.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English SDH subtitles. The audio was derived from the optical soundtrack on the 35 mm master positive. Everything sounds clean with minimal distortion, and the music sounds good—a beautifully touching song performed by Pamela Donegan really stands out.
Extras include an introduction with Jane Fonda which plays before the film, a 16-page booklet with essays and detailed restoration notes, as well as the following features, all in HD:
- Introduction by Jane Fonda (5:37)
- Archival Interview with Jane Fonda (19:38)
- Sir! No Sir! (83:37)
- Re-Release Trailer (2:01)
- Sir! No Sir! Trailer (2:19)
The introduction was created for the theatrical release of this restoration of F.T.A. to help put the film into its historical context. Interestingly, Fonda acknowledges at one point that it was actually anti-war G.I.s who had first convinced her to oppose the war. David Zeiger’s 2005 feature documentary Sir! No Sir! gives the full history of the G.I. Movement, including a brief section discussing the F.T.A. tour. It covers early resistance efforts like the Fort Hood Three through major protests like the Presidio 27, and then shows how later events like the Firebase Pace “mutiny” helped to speed up the withdrawal of ground troops during the war—which in turn led to the unfortunate expansion of the bombing campaign. It includes interviews with various former active-duty members of the military who had either protested or refused orders that they found to be immoral, and the consequences that they paid for their resistance, including court martials. (One of them notes that he faced a potential death penalty for singing We Shall Overcome.) It closes with a discussion of the legacy of the G.I. Movement, including the way that it has been disregarded by most of the Hollywood films about Vietnam, and the countervailing influence of myths about protesters spitting on returning veterans. The Archival Interview is an extended version of the interview that Zeiger conducted with Fonda for Sir! No Sir! She goes into greater length describing the origins of the F.T.A. show, the difficulty that they had dealing with a military apparatus which was opposed to what they were doing, why the cast of the show changed partway through the tour, and the impact that the experience had on her.
With the inclusion of Sir! No Sir! among the extras, Kino Lorber's release of F.T.A. feels more like a two-film set—one of which is a historical document, and the other which documents the history surrounding that main feature. Both provide an interesting glimpse into a forgotten subset of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era.
- Stephen Bjork
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