Film

Sir! No Sir! (2006)

War, the documentary establishes right off, is mythic and ruinous.


Sir! No Sir!

Director: David Zeiger
Cast: Troy Garity (narrator), Jane Fonda
Distributor: Docurama
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Balcony Releasing
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-04-07 (Limited release)

The fact that Sir! No Sir! closes with the Coup's "Captain Sterling's Little Problem" is not a little disturbing. The track is sharp and the lyrics are relevant, but its utter appropriateness for a film about the GI antiwar movement during the Vietnam war underlines the awful sameness of then and now. For, even as the documentary makes the case that the history of the movement has been revised to suit subsequent political and cultural agendas, the language in current news reports and official statements about the war in Iraq is sounding alarmingly like the language deployed back in the 1960s and '70s.

Directed by David Zeiger and narrated by Troy Garity (whose mother, Jane Fonda is a prominent interview subject), Sir! No Sir! traces the movement's development by way of the usual talking head interviews and artifact displays. As the Shirelles sing "Soldier Boy" and a plane soars away from a Southeast Asian jungle, the point of view shot suggests not the romance promised by the soldier's girl back home, but the brutal devastation left behind by U.S. munitions. War, the documentary establishes right off, is mythic and ruinous.

The stories that follow are specific and sadly repetitive, in the sense that they all revolve around the personal discovery that the mythic part is all too calculated, a means to make victims of aggressors and vice versa. The stories of troops' resistance begin small, at the level of personal decisions to refuse orders. And it's not hard to see why men and women were inspired to resist. The official and sometimes under-the-radar tactics are astonishing -- at once inept and ferocious. Dr. Howard Levy, a dermatologist in the army, recalls his orders, to train Green Beret special forces to administer dermatological "band-aids" of help to villagers' children (say, treatments for impetigo), in order to "win hearts and minds," at the same time that U.S. forces were daily " bombing the jell out of 'em." When he found the training he was providing "immoral and medically unethical," and stopped providing it, he was court-martialed and spent three years in prison.

Donald Duncan (U.S. Army Special Forces) became famous in 1966 when he refused to participate anymore in what he describes as "sickening" practices, including handing over prisoners to ARVN (South Vietnamese Army Regulars) forces, who would torture them (photos show prisoners hung upside from a tree and held at knifepoint). Duncan appears on a 1966 Ramparts magazine cover with the caption, "I quit!", as he says he found the U.S. military's cynicism "really sickening part of it."

These early resisters, both describing their protests as "personal," soon give way to organized efforts to make clear GIs' misgivings about the war as a mission (its lack of direction, planning, and sense) and the specific tasks they were ordered to perform on a day to day basis. At times the documentary rehearses once well-known and now mostly forgotten information: Tet 1968 was a "turning point," as the North Vietnamese demonstrated that it had civilian supporters against the U.S. By July of 1968, GIs in San Francisco -- named the Nine for Peace -- claimed sanctuary in churches and chained themselves to priests (considered a first antiwar protest organized by GIs).

Many resisters, including those who went AWOL, were imprisoned in the Presidio stockade. Marches and other public demonstrations followed, including the dissemination of leaflets at military bases, picketing, marches, and newspapers and broadsheets (including the memorable "Worm's Eye View," a paper named for the "lowest" perspective, and the acronym for "We Openly Resist Military Stupidity"), and, in the case of the Presidio 27, a sit-in in the prison yard following the shooting death of Michael Bunch, a young GI who was trying to escape. With this sit-down, Garity says, "The GI movement had arrived."

While the documentary notes that the movement was for a long time piecemeal, and separate from other anti-war and civil rights movements of the era (the Black Panthers, for one), its participants borrowed strategies and gathered steam (after all, it had years to develop, as the war went on and on). GI coffeehouses drew attention within the military, and some high-profile cases drew national attention (as when Louis Font, a West Point and Harvard graduate, refused to go to war and lost his career: "Thirty-four years later," he says, "I know I did the right thing."

Other right and costly things featured in Sir! No Sir! include the 1971 Winter Soldier investigation, organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War (some footage appears in this film; the original film version will finally be available on DVD this month from New Yorker Video). For several days, GIs testified to atrocities they had perpetrated and witnessed in Vietnam. As Joe Bangert (U.S. Marines) says, it "wasn't really in defense of [Lt. William] Calley [singled out for punishment following the My Lai massacre], but going after the notion that the policies of the U.S. military created things like My Lai." Bangert says the point was to expose "the truth": "You can't put up a smokescreen and say, [in the words they used back then, it was an 'isolated instance of aberrant behavior'... Calley was doing precisely what we were told to do when we were in Vietnam, essentially? Which is, kill them all, and sort it out later."

With these testimonies and increased visibility of VVAW, Joe Urgo says, "You weren't just coming home saying, 'I'm against the war.' You're saying, 'This is what we did. This is how we did it. This was a crime, this was wrong.'" And this process, he says, "helped people to really cross the bridge and to see us in a way that the antiwar movement hadn't really seen GIs before."

Antiwar GIs were at the time categorized as traitors and troublemakers. Billy Dean Smith was arrested for fragging his commanding officer, in a trumped up case that left him -- even after he was acquitted, in dire emotional and other straits (he ended up living on the streets and is currently imprisoned). As it collects documents, photos, and memories, Sir! No Sir! insists that we remember what happened, as much as possible. Those recording their memories include David Cline (wounded three times in country), Keith Mather (who went into exile in Canada for 18 years), and Randy Rowland, all U.S. Army and outspoken critics of the war. As Cline puts it, following an incident in Vietnam where he was shot and then congratulated for killing his shooter, he was struck as he looked at the dead man's face and wondered about his family, by the fact that his government was "lying to the American people. I couldn't be silent. I felt that I had a responsibility to my friends, to the country in general, and to the Vietnamese."

Folks back home also felt responsibilities, including Jane Fonda, who appears here in archival footage as well as in her very fine home (a marked contrast with the meager surroundings of the vets), speaks not as "Hanoi Jane," but as a welcome celebrity contributor to a movement. She traveled with a group called FTA ("Fuck the Army") to raise consciousness and expose spreading antiwar sentiment; as she said at the time, the group was "not trying to tell the people on the bases anything they don't know."

At times, in assembling so much information, the film leaves some connections vague. Long Binh Jail (LBJ), the primary incarceration center in Vietnam, produced repeated uprisings in 1967 and 1968, including riots when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Such dissent was not precisely part of an organized movement, and in fact, more likely represented the ways that the inmates -- some 90% black inmates (the film notes that in this, the prison resembled facilities in the U.S.) -- were reacting to racism in the military and back home. The military successfully repressed news of what went on at LBJ, so that to this day, precious little information is disseminated.

While Sir! No Sir! does not go into detail about LBJ, it does make this important point, that "history" was and continues to be rewritten. While this process certainly allows catastrophes like the war in Iraq to go on (the six generals' recent stand-up against Rumsfeld draws on this notion, with Lt. General Greg Newbold using the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" to make the case that with history forgotten or, more often, revised, that military and civilian "deciders" make mistakes again and again).

The current U.S. wars, including "tactical errors" and growing opposition to them, suggest that the reworking of history is an ongoing, even standard practice. As Sir! No Sir! presents the memories of those who stood up, it puts official pronouncements in perspective, such as Kissinger's infamous declaration, "We believe that peace is at hand," even as the administration was secretly bombing in Cambodia. The point here, as ever, is the discrepancy (even the collision) between history and memory, the public and personal experiences that all reframe the war. In the end, though, truth and reconciliation -- however disparate these may be -- remain crucial. As Terry Whitmore, a Marine who escaped to Stockholm during the war, now says it, "Then you think about this shit man, and you say, 'Goddamn, did I do that? Did I actually live in that shit? Did this government push me into this shit?'" Terrible questions, they are also necessary.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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