music in the park san jose

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music in the park san jose

Anti-war protest doc must-see (FTA). Irish crime pic must-avoid (Pixie).

The Vietnam War (1955-75) was different than today’s modern American military conflicts. There was a national draft to raise troops, and the Selective Service System culled 2.2 million men. A draft-age man – women were exempt — could wind up wounded or dead, not because he had volunteered for duty but because his number came up and he had no other options. Then as now, low-income, rural, and non-white people had fewer options. These cold, hard facts set the tone for FTA, an eye-opening re-released 1972 documentary that explains much about its era, and our own.

As the war went on some grunts in the bush began to have serious doubts about their role. So did stateside anti-war activists, including Hollywood actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, who organized the “FTA” show – a loosey-goosey collection of skits and songs — as a counter to government sponsored “morale-building” visits to deployed GIs.

Says Fonda in FTA’s newly recorded introduction, “Bob Hope’s sexist UFO shows” didn’t cut it with restless 18-year-old recruits. The first FTA show (the perennially censored tag line was “Fuck the Army”) was staged in 1971, and director Francine Parker’s doc follows the troupe’s subsequent tour of “GI coffeehouses” and vacant lots outside U.S. bases in Hawaii, the Philippines, and Japan – everywhere but Vietnam itself. The brass didn’t want the peaceniks around, so the FTA always put on its free shows off-base, open to everyone, including curious locals.

FTA’s routines are pretty much what we’d expect if some Namvets had met some hippies over a few beers and a stick of boo. Old war movies get parodied from a politically disillusioned point of view – anyone who ever saw the agitprop spoofing of the San Francisco Mime Troupe can relate. The film is best viewed as a document of a time and situation we’re still trying to suss out, and maybe never will (the Vietnamese people are way ahead of us on that score).

Still, Len Chandler’s defiant song “My Ass Is Mine,” Rita Martinson’s heart-breaking rendition of “Soldier We Love You,” and Sutherland’s reading from Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun build an instant bridge of understanding across the generations – as do the sight of a throng of Manila students marching along singing the “Internationale” in Pilipino, or the stressed-out musings of some drunk Black Marines (“We’re fighting the wrong people”).

Fonda’s five-and-a-half-minute intro goes a long way toward explaining her still-controversial (to gung-ho right wingers) misgivings about the war. “It was anti-war GIs who first challenged me to oppose the war,” she states, and the skits were based on material from soldiers’ anti-war underground newspapers. Fonda points out that the GI movement reflected working-class guys who couldn’t afford college deferments. FTA the movie got into theaters in 1972 but was pulled by its distributor, American International Pictures, in its first week, and most prints were burned. But not all.

Ultra-Nam-doc FTA is a must-see for public-minded progressive history freaks, but there are other docs on that list: Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig; Peter Davis’ Hearts and Minds; the French-produced Far from Vietnam; Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War; and PBS’ excellent Vietnam: A Television History. The more we learn about the past, the more we can see through the fog of the present.

The inconsequential UK-produced Irish crimeboiler Pixie would have seemed tired and outdated 30 years ago, when filmmakers first began imitating Quentin Tarantino. Today it’s even worse. The eponymous Sligo female schemer (Olivia Cooke) makes saddies of the laddies over a cocaine windfall, real and implied violence occurs, and Colm Meaney and Alec Baldwin somehow get dragged into it.

Young Irishmen should sue. They are already typically depicted in movies as backward and tongue-tied with women, but here that idea is carried to its most ridiculous extreme — these boys are as stupid as they are gabby. Pixie’s guarantee: No cliché overlooked.

FTA is now playing virtually via Larkspur’s Lark Theater and the Smith Rafael Film Center.

Pixie is in select theaters and streaming.

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music in the park san jose