DVD: Jane Fonda in Five Acts (2018)

November 9, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: n/a

Label:  HBO

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  March 29, 2019

Genre:  Documentary

Synopsis: Lengthy portrait of actress / activist Jane Fonda, contrasting aspects of her life and careers with interviews & rich archival materials.

Special Features:  (none)




Few actors from a dynastic Hollywood family have had such a varied career as Jane Fonda, and Susan Lacy’s lengthy but never dull documentary is comprised of five chapters that trace Fonda’s evolution from precocious child to actress, movie star, political activist, workout queen, and elder statesperson of 1970s cinema.

Current interview segments are boosted with contrasting material from myriad archival Q&As, news clips and film extracts, and although that material will satisfy most film fans, it’s Fonda’s moments of self-reflection that drive the narrative. She’s surprisingly open in dissecting her personal struggles with self-confidence, beauty, intelligence, eating disorders, and the strained relationship with father Henry Fonda.

Family relations are complex and sometimes deeply flawed, and it’s that nasty repetitive behaviour that keeps children in a nasty state of circular tension, as coping mechanisms from childhood start to fail and wreak havoc in adulthood.

Fonda’s marriages opened new directions – French director Roger Vadim made her an international cult film icon with Barbarella (1968); activist Tom Hayden clarified political conundrums and helped Fonda mature and find direction, purpose, and methods of organization, expression, and effective publicity tactics; and media mogul Ted Turner offered her an escape from Hollywood after she’d been balancing a frenetic schedule of acting and activism for more than a decade – but it was during these periods Fonda remained quietly tormented until family secrets were addressed, and she achieved some important closure.

Her second career as activist still continues to this day, but it’s her visit to North Vietnam that remains a particular sore spot among critics. Admitting bad judgment and apologizing to veterans in later recurring interviews, Fonda says she was misrepresented by the media; her good intentions – to spotlight the effects combat was having on villagers as the Nixon administration blundered through an unwinnable war – were soured by manipulated stills and footage of her seated in an anti-aircraft gun, applauding like a giddy child to North Korean soldiers.

The stark contrasts within Fonda are unique: an award-winning movie star (Klute), activist, commune mom, and later wife of multi-millionaire and CNN founder Turner. The most striking is workout queen: her best-selling, massively popular exercise video was an impromptu attempt to find a possible source of income for the charity and political work of herself and husband Hayden. Neither expected the video nor Fonda to become a pioneer in the home video market, yet the tape’s success plus subsequent follow-ups and tie-in books strained the Hayden-Fonda union as the workout tapes gained more attention than her husband’s altruistic ventures.

At 133 mins, Lacy’s doc weaves through present and archival materials to present a portrait of a multifaceted Hollywood icon, but Fonda’s personal struggles highlight the pressure, sexism, and abuse women have to endure for movie and still cameras, and the discord and power plays between couples.

Jane Fonda in Five Acts also captures the steeped trauma from her mother’s sudden death, and what seemed like her father’s attempts to distance himself from children Jane and Peter (Easy Rider, Ulee’s Gold) for career and indiscreet love affairs. Lacy’s doc is a celebration of Jane Fonda as a warrior with striking contradictions, and moments of deep humanity – chiefly achieving some closure to her mother’s death; and a simple gesture during the filming of a scene in On Golden Pond (1981) which quietly bridged a decades-old divide between stalwart father and a multifaceted daughter.

HBO’s DVD-R is a bare bones release and features a clean transfer with a very subtle 5.1 surround sound mix. Susan Lacy’s other portraits include episodes of PBS’ American Masters (Rod Serling, Leonard Bernstein, Judy Garland), and Spielberg (2017).



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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