Sir! no sir! — which begins a week’s run tonight at the Bloor Cinema — fits in nicely with the new vogue for documentaries about Vietnam-era America.
Like George Butler’s Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry and the recently rediscovered Winter Soldier, which documented veterans’ testimony of American atrocities in Vietnam, David Zeiger’s film examines the refusals of individual soldiers, on personal principle, to comply with their orders.
What hasn’t been widely known is just how many of those soldiers there were. As Sir! No Sir! reveals, the resistance movement was active in almost every major military outpost, where subversive newsletters were circulated in the early hours of the morning, and off-base coffeehouses provided a safe haven for GIs to question the ethics of the war.
Zeiger sticks to the standard documentary form, supporting relevant archival footage with present-day interviews; the requisite appearance by Jane Fonda, for example, is accompanied by clips from F.T.A., a 1972 revue which Fonda and her Klute co-star Donald Sutherland took to military bases — or the areas outside them, anyway — around the world. (The title was a sarcastic take on the unofficial military slogan of “Fun, Travel, Adventure”. You can imagine what replaced the words.)
It’s curious that there’s absolutely no acknowledgment whatsoever of John Kerry’s activism, which seems odd considering how crucial he appears to have been to the Vietnam Veterans Against War movement in other accounts. (If Zeiger thinks Kerry’s overstating his own importance, surely he could have found someone who’d say so.) And since Sir! No Sir! covers much of the same ground as the other Vietnam documentaries, some of it is bound to seem superfluous.
But then, Zeiger’s real point seems to be the unspoken sorrow that no such resistance exists in the modern American military, where once more soldiers are being sent into a quagmire for no discernible reason. In the final moments of the film, Fonda reappears to marvel at the strength and reach of the movement of her youth, and that world seems very far away from where we live now.