Chicago 10 Reviews
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Hoffman and Jerry Rubin), but its more dramatic than funny, and it benefits greatly from its lopsided focus on the historical content that gives the film its purpose.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)
Through a completely re-enacted (and animated) courtroom scene for the famous "Chicago 10" (the scapegoats who were tried and convicted for all that went wrong with the protests), animated back-story interviews, and gritty archival footage, the filmmakers are able to showcase not simply the anger of the American public, and the American youth, at the sorry state of affairs in Vietnam, but also the infectious nature of revolution. We see in this documentary how easy it is to get swept up in protest when the establishment is clearly wrong, and when you sense the blood in the water: that you must do something, anything, to disrupt the power structure, and that you are on the right side of the battle.
The film, of course, also contains some of the grittiest and most violent footage that I've ever seen of the police beatings at the protests. Some of it is very, very disturbing, as we watch pissed-off police just lunge at the crowd and start swinging night sticks wildly. Were they right to be pissed off that their power structure was crumbling? Sure. But it feels like watching a parent--annoyed at their child for making too much noise--beat the child senseless. And we get to see the truly evil nature of some of Chicago's old political establishment; it almost feels like "Gangs of New York," the politicians reducing to sub-human those who disagree with them or who would threaten their image...
In fact, some of the archival footage is so violent and shocking that I would compare it to footage from some of the old Civil Rights marches. Yes, circumstances were very different, but some of the violence and disregard for human life are very similar. And to be honest, "Chicago 10" is most interesting for how it showcases the dramatic difference between modern protests (Tea Parties, Iraq protests) and the protests of 1968. We see, pretty clearly, that the '68 protesters were very much like Civil Rights marchers, as they were indeed fighting to protect our right to free speech and freedom of assembly. In the face of a mayor who boldly proclaimed that he would suppress any protests, and who was vocal about using violence to suppress the protests, we have thousands of young people who gathered in Chicago anyway. Whether you agree with the politics or not is irrelevant; as you watch, you continually ask yourself, "Can I imagine any of this happening to the Tea Partiers today?"
In the end, then, you begin to see that the risks that these protesters made did indeed protect our freedoms.