Midway through Brett Morgen's dauntless documentary "Chicago 10", decades-old news footage beholds then-Chicago Mayor Richard R. Daley answering the question "Will it be a good convention?" referring to the 1968 Democratic Convention, which was held at Chicago's International Amphitheatre and ran for four days, from August 26 to August 29. His response was this: "The best ever held." Whether the political convocation was, in fact, the best ever held or not, it is certainly one of the most memorable in American history. Why? The Chicago Seven and the trial of the Chicago Eight (a.k.a. the Conspiracy Eight).
The Chicago Seven is Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner, each a representative of either the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE) or the Youth International Party (the "Yippies"). After leading thousands upon thousands of activists/demonstrators into war-protesting marches, these seven, along with an eighth person, Black Panther Party activist Bobby Seale, were indicted and tried in court in 1969 for conspiracy and inciting to riot (among other charges). As the trial went on for nearly five months, crowds of protestors accrued outside of the courtroom, initiating crowd control security from the U.S. National Guard.
"Chicago 10" (the ninth and tenth inclusions are defense attorney William Kunstler and prosecutor Tom Foran) is a boldly original new brand of documentary filmmaking that mixes a fair dose of trippy animation with a hansom helping of archive footage/news feed. It's a comedy, of sorts, largely for the singular fact that it showcases the inspired, revolutionary comedians of the infamous Conspiracy Trial (mainly Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin), but its more dramatic than funny, and it benefits greatly from its lopsided focus on the historical content that gives the film its purpose. But the history behind the Chicago Seven/Conspiracy Eight and the judicial mockery that followed is 40 years old -- and society has since changed.
Fear not, for Brett Morgen knows this.
As he did for 2002's "The Kid Stays in the Picture", a shapely exercise in both biographical transposition (it's based on movie producer Robert Evans' '94 autobiography) and industry knowledge, Brett Morgen (who co-directed "Kid" with Nanette Burstein) delivers his subject material as though to be interpreted by only today's young potential voters. Despite the genre tag, "Chicago 10" briskly reels along like any other Hollywood production -- a value helped greatly by its intimidating voice cast*, used for the illustrated scenes -- abstaining from possibly momentum-killing interviews, and instead using digitized courtroom farce to describe the topical event timeline. That's one of the impressive qualities of 10 -- it modernizes a 40-year-old headline in a way that can be heard even amidst our nation's present disconnected population (heck, it even features music by Beastie Boys, Eminem, and Rock's ultimate anti-political group, Rage Against the Machine).
In the end, however, as I alluded to earlier, what makes this Morgen work a winning one is the mass amounts of archive video recordings -- some charming (virtually every bit that features Abbie) and others ghastly (the culminating riot clip is terrifying and infuriating) -- which mediate and overcome the cultural conformity/richness of its vibrant style and allow audiences of both youthful and subdued mindsets to appreciate the challenge for change and moral righteousness presented by the Chicago Seven, nonviolent activism everywhere, and this motion picture.
*Hank Azaria (as Abbie Hoffman/Allen Ginsberg), Mark Ruffalo (as Jerry Rubin), Nick Nolte (as Tom Foran), Liev Schrieber (as William Kunstler), Dylan Baker (as David Dellinger), Jeffrey Wright (as Bobby Seale), and Roy Scheider (as Judge Julius Hoffman)