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RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
• CHICAGO 10 Remix Video Contest Winner (Created by Gine Telaroli)
Half animated, half live-action docudrama about the trial of the Chicago 8. It’s the Roger Rabbit of courtroom dramas.
Voices of: Hank Azaria. Dylan Baker. Nick Nolte. Mark Ruffalo. Roy Scheider. Liev Schreiber. Jeffrey Wright.
Academy-Award winner Brett Morgen writes and directs a half-animated documentary based upon the actual transcripts of the trial of the eight alleged conspirators and riot-inciters involved in the protests that took place in Chicago during the 1969 Democratic National Convention. Mixing the stylish visualization of the courtroom scenes with archival footage, Morgen creates a film that at times is funny, infuriating, and moving. And oh is it timely.
The current administration’s mishandling of the war in Iraq has been the subject of much debate this election year and I’m sure by now you’ve all heard the comparisons drawn between Iraq and Vietnam. There’s little that hasn’t been said on this matter, but I think it’s pretty obvious that the America depicted in Chicago 10 is a very different one than the one we have today. Sure, the war’s there – but the atmosphere couldn’t be more different.
As the credits began to roll, my friend turned to me and said, “You know, that could never happen today.” He wasn’t referring to another Vietnam or a riot like the one here, he was talking about the protestors – the Abbie Hoffmans and the Jerry Rubins who took their politics and passion to the streets with thousands of others. The force with which these two and their supporters were met only seemed to empower them. Larger than life doesn’t begin to describe them.
David Dellinger and the protestors were no match for Chicago’s 42nd precinct, the fearless “Blue Cap Brigade.”
In the months following the Summer of Love, the Youth International Party convened at party-founder Abbie Hoffman’s apartment. Ideas were discussed about what the Yippies could do at the Democratic convention the following year and the idea of a free music festival in the city of Chicago was settled upon. Also planning on attending was the MOBE (National Mobilization Against the War), an organization that mobilized most of the significant Vietnam war-protesting groups. What was supposed to be a peaceful, nonviolent protest quickly escalated out of control, becoming one of the most infamous civil confrontations in American history.
The trial that followed was of course, only for show. Authorities had little to no evidence in putting away the seven men allegedly responsible, Black Panther Bobby Seale, and their two lawyers – who rounded the group at 10, hence the name. Hoffman, Rubin and company knew from the start that they weren’t going to get off the hook – the state had the excuse they needed to put away America’s most influential counter-culture figures and they weren’t going to waste their chance.
The footage of the events taking place outside of the convention is impressive and shocking. Indeed, being able to find this up-close and on-the-street footage in such amazing condition lends a very immediate feel to a movie that could easily have fallen prey to the approach A&E or History Channel take with a moving photograph being narrated by a caricatured portrayal of the subject. The film’s aided by Morgen’s (wise) music choices, which include an eclectic array of punk, rap, and funk – everything from Rage Against the Machine to Van Morrison, Beastie Boys to Black Sabbath. I’m not saying a new precedent needs to be set where documentaries need to be scored to only modern music, but it’s such a breath of fresh air to hear a 60’s-set movie that’s soundtrack isn’t comprised of “For What It’s Worth,” “Volunteers,” or any of those other songs turned stale by movies like Forrest Gump.
Ira Glass was distraught his new segment about a day in the life of Toontown was going nowhere.
What really makes this movie come together in the end is it’s structure. How it plays out, is that the story of the protests are flashbacked to from the trial transcripts and while it’s a very simple conceit, there’s no doubt that it certainly makes for a great narrative pacing. The courtroom scenes are the animated portion of the film, naturally. I can’t imagine anyone trying to find look-alikes to match the newsreels and other footage for live-action reenactments, so again, the 3D cell shading approach Morgen’s utilized is really great (think Waking Life, if it doesn’t summon up bad feelings). Though the sequences can be a little rough around the edges at times, it’s never a hindrance. Morgen approaches the whole deal very seriously even when the material itself reaches levels of grand absurdity, despite being all factually true (one sequence in particular when Seale is ordered bound and gagged by the judge after refusing to be silenced. Seale, whose lawyer wasn’t even present was asking only for the constitutional right to be heard.)
The voice cast is terrific. Hank Azaria is a great Hoffman. Jeffrey Wright, whose role in the movie isn’t as big as I would’ve liked, plays Bobby Seale well enough. Nick Nolte sounds like he’s having fun growling through his part as prosecutor Thomas Foran. And Roy Scheider, in one of his last roles, plays Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation to Abbie, as he’s quick to point out) with an at times hilarious senility and get-off-my-lawn attitude that’s so often attributed to authoritarian figures in stories like this – except that in Judge Hoffman’s case, it’s a spot-on impersonation.
“You’re telling me I’m going to play a cross-dressing pirate AND direct credit card commercials? Go fuck yourself – I’d sooner be in a Rocky & Bullwinkle movie than do that shit.”
With the Aaron Sorkin-penned adaptation of the same story in development, it’s pretty clear that this is a story that’s among the most significant in modern American history. A movie like Chicago 10 offers insight and hopefully prompts discussion about what we’ve learned since then. A few days before the convention took place, Walker Cronkite who was covering the story at the time, observed, “This Democratic Convention is taking place in a police state. It’s as simple as that.” Though not detailed in the movie, U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark felt the police were at fault for the nature in which they met with protestors, and initially decided not to press charges against the men. In addition, Judge Hoffman authorized an F.B.I. action to bug and wiretap the defense attorneys’ offices. The parallels in these interruptions of due process by the federal government to the actions of today’s administration are too blatant to ignore.
There’s no doubt that the movie shows bias in favor of the 10 – Morgen’s showing us people he clearly holds in high esteem. They were heroes to a generation who grew tired of an oppressive government. You can’t help but be a little jealous and wish we had more like them today.
Paramount’s not pulling any punches with this single-disc release. We get no less than five (!) trailers for films that have been out for God knows how long now (except Son of Rambow). We also get a fan video – it’s a remix of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys set against footage from the movie. It’s basically an extended trailer.
The movie itself looks and sounds great though. I watched this on my Blu-Ray player which, with the 1080i upconversion, often reveals transfer flaws more obviously but I was surprised to say I found none. The archival footage looks fantastic and it’s amazing how well it’s been restored. The sound itself, while not demo material, has great left and right directionals and some occasional back channel fidelity that comes through crisp and clear. A movie like this doesn’t need to worry about wowing us with fly-bys and such, and that’s perfectly okay.
The cover artwork’s alright. It uses some badly-rendered pictures of all the characters standing around like they’re in some Guy Ritchie film. Jerry Rubin’s politely raising his hand to ask a question or something. It’s all the more troubling since the late Jeremy Blake’s theatrical poster was pretty brilliant and it would’ve been a perfect tribute to him to preserve the original print. But I guess that’s why I’m writing reviews and not designing DVD cases.