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Jane Fonda Cultivates the Saplings of Sedition

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Jane Fonda in FTA (Kino Lorber) FTA, her anti-war documentary, reveals the roots of modern political gaffes.

In step with Kamala Harris’ Memorial Day gaffe — urging Americans  to “enjoy the long weekend” — Jane Fonda’s film FTA (from 1972, but newly released on Blu-Ray by KINO) continues the anti-military sentiment. The film’s title acronym indicates other meanings than “Free the Army.” It takes sophomoric aim at America’s organized self-defense, no different from today’s more serious executive-branch gaffes.

In 1970, right after filming the movie Klute, the recently politicized Fonda put together a musical-comedy anti-war sketch show to tour U.S. military bases and encourage soldiers, many en route to fight in Vietnam, to rebel against their country and dissent from their mission.

Ostensibly, Fonda’s purpose was to protest the war. But what makes FTA joltingly contemporary is that its stark irreverence toward the military so closely resembles current anti-police opinion. The FTA skits, written by such Sixties notables as Jules Feiffer and Herb Gardner, exceed rebellious “free speech”; they sound unmistakably subversive. (Donald Sutherland contributes a terrorist threat written by Hollywood’s reliably snide Communist sympathizer Dalton Trumbo.)

Here are the saplings of sedition we see blooming today (although Millennial comedians seem as stunted as biased journalists). The FTA tour is what emboldened Fonda in 1972 to make her infamous trek to North Vietnam, where fraternization with the enemy (she posed on an anti-aircraft gun) won her the traitor’s nickname “Hanoi Jane.” Those sorrowful events make FTA aggravating and difficult to watch.

Directed by the late Francine Parker, who routinely mixed stage and audience shots with documentary interviews, the movie doesn’t showcase light-hearted commedia della guerra (although Fonda is radiant, fully into the bad-mannered jibes). What comes through now is the vehemence and sulky confusion of a generation’s anti-American snit.

The problem is that Fonda and her cohorts (Klute co-star Sutherland, singers Len Chandler and Rita Martinson, comedian Paul Mooney, and others) are making superficial political arguments rather than the moral argument of pacifists. They flout the benefits of American government — the Bill of Rights —

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