The other night I saw Chicago 10, Brett Morgen’s excellent, half
animated documentary about the riot at the Chicago Democratic
Convention in 1968 and the trial of eight ‘conspirators’ a year later,
and I was struck by two things:


- Steven Spielberg is just not the right person to do this story in his
next film, The Trial of the Chicago 7* (although Aaron Sorkin is a great
choice to write the script) (you’ve heard me whine about this before)



and



The Trial of the Chicago 7 can’t have a structure any better than
Morgen’s, which uses the trial transcripts to flash back to the events
at the convention.



It turns out I was right about number two and Brett Morgen gave me some
food for thought on number one. I sat down with him this morning to
talk about the film and he told me that The Trial of the Chicago 7 is
essentially an adaptation of his film.



“I don’t know if they’re going to call it an adaptation or call it
‘Inspired by the film Chicago 10‘ or what have you,”
he said. “The way it came
about is that last year after Sundance I screened the film for Walter
Parkes, not in the context of doing a remake or anything, just in a
general meeting. Walter saw the movie and called my agent and I
immediately and was like, ‘I love this, I have to remake this.'”




Morgen has been consulting with Parkes and the production team, and he
said that Sorkin told him that he’s seen the movie 50 times. “I’m
really excited about it; I’m excited because my film, regardless of
what I want to call it, is that it is a documentary because I used all
primary sources. The reason I didn’t interview survivors was that if
they told me stories that existed outside of our [footage] I couldn’t
really incorporate it into a film. What Aaron is going to do is all the
stuff I couldn’t do in a documentary, all of the stuff that happens
outside the cameras. I think it’s going to be a tremendous project.”




As for my misgivings about a square like Spielberg taking on this
seminal moment of American radicalism? “I had the same question you
did, that he wasn’t the person you’d think
of,”
he said. “Although, when we were making the film Stuart Levy, the
editor, and I
would watch Saving Private Ryan over and over again to watch the
Normandy scenes and to see how they created the experience of what it
was like to be on that beach. If there’s anyone who can pull off the
riots, any filmmaker in the world, it’s going to be Steven Spielberg.
In fact, when Walter first talked about the film, I didn’t say it to
Walter, but I was thinking, ‘You’re going to shoot the riots? You think
you can do a better job than we could with real footage and a cast of
ten thousand people?’ But yeah, if there’s one person in the world who
can do it, it’s Steven Spielberg.”



Morgen also thinks that Spielberg’s squareness may be just what the
movie needs. “The thing is I wasn’t born in 68. I think sometimes you
need an
outsider’s perspective to do justice to a story. If you gave each of
the defendants a hundred thousand dollards to write a script, you’re
going to get eight very specific takes on the trial. Which might be
great, but I think you’re better served by going for somebody who
wasn’t there, who can approach it with fresh eyes. When I came to this
it was all new to me, everything was fresh. Not only that, I didn’t
really know what had happened to the people so I didn’t have the
baggage of, ‘Oh, Rennie Davis ended up selling life insurance. Jerry
Rubin’ [became] a yuppie, so fuck him!’ I’d much rather someone like
Steven Spielberg make this film than someone like Dennis Hopper, who
was very active in the movement at the time. Most importantly, he’s the
greatest filmmaker living today, and his more personal films, like
Schindler’s List, are masterpieces. I think that what Spielberg has
shown through his life, even moreso than his work, is his commitment to
social change and values and what have you, and he’s obviously
incredibly dedicated and committed to his causes, and I think this
falls in line with that. I don’t want to speak for him, but I think
he’s actually a brilliant choice.”




I don’t know if Morgen has sold me, but he’s definitely opened my mind
some. My full interview with Brett Morgen will run soon, and keep an
eye out for my review of Chicago 10, which opens in limited release on
February 29.

*Here’s how the name discrepency works: there were eight indicted conspirators. Black Panther Bobby Seale’s case was severed from the rest, leaving seven. The two defense lawyers got jail time for contempt of court, making them the final two of the ten. In true Yippie fashion you can count this group in any way you like.