While I am not ideologically opposed to protesting wars, I do think that certain forms of protest work better than others. Humor can have its place, but too often, humor serves as a curative. There is that old adage after all about laughter being the best medicine. We might need that medicine after we stopped the fighting, when we are healing. However, before the fighting stops what we need is something else.
F.T.A. documents Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and others as the tour from army base to army base performing songs and comedy skits meant to encourage American troops to speak out against the war in Viet Nam. Many service men are seen expressing their feelings towards the war and towards the military. These moments feel honest and worthy. When the performers are on-screen it is hard to understand the appeal or entertainment value of their humor or music.
Perhaps, my take on the skits and songs is jaded by 80’s and 90’s pessimism and irony. Even modern political humor, as that seen on the Daily Show, where humor expresses both a recognition of the world’s problems and the sentiment that nothing can be done to fix them, so let us simply laugh and feel we’ve done are part. To some extent, this modern view may be right. There is little that the common man can do against huge corporations or political parties. Still, it also feels defeatist, even lazy. That’s why Fonda and friends’ approach feels so different. Beneath the bad and dated jokes there is a genuine air of positive energy; an optimism that they can change the world.
There is a sense of self-importance, the kind often found in protesters, that over shadows the films productions values. The camera work is simply functionary. What it captures is nothing life changing or extraordinary, but merely a record of a performance, deeply dated. I don’t see how this film would convince those not opposed to the war to switch side. As much as the producers and performers wish otherwise F.T.A. probably didn’t stop the war, it was pulled from theaters within days of is release. Today, it serves only as a document of a specific moment in time, but it really is not that entertaining.