Insomnia File No. 55: FTA (dir by Francine Parker)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable or Netflix? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having some trouble getting too sleep last night, you could have taken some sleeping pills and allowed them to knock you out for a day or two.  Or you could have logged into Netflix and watched the 1972 anti-war documentary, F.T.A.

The year was 1971 and the United States was bogged down in a deeply unpopular war in Vietnam.  While protests continued in North America, the soldiers who were actually serving in Asia started to become increasingly outspoken about their own doubts about whether there was any good reason for the U.S. to be in Vietnam.  Often at the risk of being court-martialed, these soldiers started to make their voice heard through underground newspapers and by hanging out at coffeehouses that anti-war protestors had started near military bases.  “F.T.A.” became a rallying cry for these anti-war soldiers.  A play on the army’s then-slogan of “Fun, Travel, and Adventure,” F.T.A. was also said to stand for, “Fuck the Army.”

F.T.A. also stood for Free Theater Associates, an anti-war vaudeville-style troupe that spent 1971 performing at G.I. Coffeehouses.  The show was specifically set up as a parody of Bob Hope’s USO Shows.  Each performance featured music, skits, and a reading from Dalton Trumbo’s anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun.  Headlining the FTA show were actors Donald Sutherland Jane Fonda, comedians Michael Alaimo and Paul Mooney, and musicians Swamp Dogg and Holly Near.

F.T.A. is really two documentaries in one.  One documentary features the F.T.A. performances and follows the troupe as they travel to military bases in Hawaii, The Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan.  The other documentary features interviews with the anti-war soldiers who came to see the show.  They discuss how they feel about the prospect of dying in a war that none of them support and few of them understand.  They discuss how clueless the officers are.  Black G.I.s discuss the racism within the ranks and wonder why they should die for a country that discriminates against them.

For the most part, the celebrities come across as being dilettantes.  With the exception of Swamp Dogg (who is obviously sincere in his concerns for the people that he’s performing for), the F.T.A. performers come across as being a bit too enamored with themselves and a lot of what we see of the F.T.A. Show seems to be more about impressing the activists back home than entertaining the G.I.s.  (Many of the skits reminded me of the worst of the Freedom School scenes from Billy Jack.)  However, the soldiers themselves are fascinating.  The soldiers discuss their anger, fears, and experiences with an honesty and an authenticity that is never less than compelling.  If nothing else, this documentary highlights the difference between people who are anti-war because they’ve experienced it firsthand and people who are anti-war because it’s the latest thing to be.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a history nerd.  Seen today, F.T.A. is an interesting historical document, one that’s all the more fascinating because it’s a Vietnam documentary that was filmed while the war was still being fought.  As such, there’s no hindsight or attempts to mold the material into something designed to appeal to those looking back with either nostalgia or disdain.  Instead, it’s a time capsule, one that takes you back to a tumultuous time and allows you to experience it for yourself.  On that level, it’s a history nerd’s dream.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra
  42. Revenge
  43. Legend
  44. Cat Run
  45. The Pyramid
  46. Enter the Ninja
  47. Downhill
  48. Malice
  49. Mystery Date
  50. Zola
  51. Ira & Abby
  52. The Next Karate Kid
  53. A Nightmare on Drug Street
  54. Jud

One response to “Insomnia File No. 55: FTA (dir by Francine Parker)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 8/1/22 — 8/7/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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