Animation and real life characters combine in Chicago 10
By Andy Klein
Directed by Brett Morgen. Featuring: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and
the voices of Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Roy
Scheider, Liev Schreiber and Jeffrey Wright. 110 min. Rated R.
As some of you may remember and those too young may have heard
there was some stuff that happened in the 1960s (which, for the sake
of this of this article, encompass a bit of the '70s). In fact, a lot
of stuff: the Kennedy assassination; the Beatles; the Vietnam War;
the increasing public disgust with that war; upfront gay pride; a new
wave of feminism; the rise of a more militant response to black
oppression; the realization that many pleasurable substances were
illegal for totally bogus reasons; and the counterculture that arose
from it all. (My apologies if I've omitted your fave, but the list
would be endless.)
I wouldn't want to pin down any one event as the nexus of all this,
but the trial of the Chicago 8 (or 7 or 10) the subject of Chicago
10, a new documentary from Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the
Picture) is certainly a contender. (To explain the numerical
confusion: There were initially eight defendants; one case was
severed from the others, leaving seven; and eventually the vengeful
judge gave all eight, plus two of the lawyers, unprecedented
sentences for contempt of court.)
In brief, there had been anti-war demonstrations during the 1968
Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The cops really
overreacted even a later government inquiry characterized the
resultant melee as "a police riot." Nonetheless, a grand jury
indicted some of the organizers for conspiracy, together with some
fairly minor cohorts and not wanting to leave out the brothers
one Black Panther leader, Bobby Seale, who had given a speech at one
of the demos but didn't even know the others.
Adding Seale to the mix of traditional peace activists (Dave
Dellinger), more militant SDS types (Tom Hayden), and counterculture
agitators (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin) cemented the notion that this
was a showdown between Us and Them the government/ establishment
and the disenchanted/disenfranchised (respectively or not, depending
on which side you're on). Basically, the grand jury had provided a
structural outline for the drama to come, with judge, defendants and
lawyers acting a sort of improv group filling in the details.
Much of the casting was better than could have been hoped for. Abbie
and Jerry were consciously comedic figures already, Abbie brilliantly
so. Judge Julius Hoffman was a hypocritical, seemingly forgetful
fuddyduddy right out of a Preston Sturges film (but scary). And Seale
was the righteously defiant reminder of America's slave past, who, a
century after emancipation, was clearly being dealt with by harsher
standards than the others. (Ironically, Seale was the only one of the
group who had actually been a professional comic, but his situation
didn't provide a lot of opportunities for humor; it's hard to
articulate a punch line when the judge has you gagged and chained to a chair.)
The result was amazing theater. Some of the excerpts in Tales of
Hoffman, a book of selections from the trial transcripts published a
few months after the verdict, read like Marx Brothers scenes or
Clevinger's court-martial in Catch-22. You couldn't make this shit
up. (Well, Joseph Heller could, but he was a genius.)
Morgen crosscuts between newsreels of the 1968 demonstrations and
scenes from the trial. But, since this was in the days before cameras
were allowed in the courtroom, he has employed animation for the
trial material. (Hank Azaria does a stellar job voicing both Allen
Ginsberg and Abbie, capturing the latter's accent more convincingly
than Vincent D'Onofrio in the 2000 biopic Steal This Movie.)
For the most part, Morgen plays it serious. We get some very funny
stuff from Abbie: The guy really was a star. The film covers the
history of the central events as well as could be hoped in an hour
and 40 minutes and conveys some of the feel of the time. I think it
all comes across clearly, but, then, it is hard for me to judge,
since I remember a lot of this stuff from when it was happening.
(Let's make it clear once and for all: Contrary to the saying, one
can remember at least some of the '60s and still have been there.)
Unconventional 'Chicago 10'
March 20, 2008
by Michael Elkin, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Yippie, oy vey?
The Yiddish yelp and war cry of a Jewish John McClane?
Or the peace plea of the Jewish dissidents of the Chicago 7/8?
Life may seem safer with McClane as your die-hard buddy and battery
mate, but it's the "Hair" today, gone tomorrow activists of an
atavistic time that put America on trial who take up screen space in
the expanded "Chicago 10," now playing in area theaters.
Nice Jewish boys they weren't -- well, maybe to their mothers -- but
nobody ever accused Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman or Lee Weiner of being
tied to their moms' apron strings; just tying up the city of Chicago
as they and their band of buds took to the streets to protest Vietnam
and prick the Johnson administration for ignoring the tired, the poor
... the weirded out ... outside the Democratic presidential
nominating convention 40 years ago.
Denver, are you watching?
Brett Morgen's film adds salt to the wound that was a Beatles
"Revolution" recording almost realized. At a time when the war of the
worlds was something maybe worse than Orson Welles could have
imagined, and 'Nam was the name for a national curse -- unlike the
poster-pretty picture of an American tourist attraction that it is
now -- the Chicago boys -- and boys they were and acted when they
didn't get their way -- paraded and partied before a Democratic party
apoplectic at their interference.
Of course, Chicago cops copped more than an attitude; they used night
sticks as if prepping for a future Rodney King convention, busting
heads as if they were Yippie piñatas. Not America's finest moment for
And, left metaphorically lynched in the political lurch as the riots
raged on, protest banners seared and soured in blood, was poor Hubert
Humphrey; he looked more lost than when asked to ride a horse at LBJ's ranch.
It was an important time for impotent politics and, in retrospect, it
all doesn't seem as pure and pristine a posturing taken by the
Yippies as it was then. But it did serve a purpose -- turning the
country into chaos and hurting Humphrey later at the polls, ensuring
that Nixon was indeed the one to make the war last longer.
Talk about your diminishing -- and diminished -- returns.
So, in a way, this is a home movie for the crowds who cooed and
thought it cool when Hoffman would deck himself out in an American
flag to gain attention -- and censorship -- on a late-night TV talk
show. Or show up on Wall Street and toss dollar bills to the Bills
and Muffies beneath him at the Stock Exchange.
Exchange this time for then? Maybe the times aren't a'changin' so
much, with talk of possible protests and pickets at the Dems
convention in Denver this summer should the party pull its own
Supreme Court calculations and deny the nod to the most nod-able.
Not Their Kind of Town
Forty years after the fact, Chicago is no longer Rubin's kind of
town; he long ago went mainstream, becoming a Wailing Wall Streeter
himself, a stockbroker picking the pocket of capitalism for his own
benefit before his death 14 years ago.
And Hoffman? He committed suicide in 1989, in, ironically, New Hope,
according to police records, revealing an emotionally troubled tryst
with bipolar disorder that transcended society-bashing.
And here we now have the "Chicago 10," which, with its archival
footage, interviews and needless animated segments augmented by
famous actors' voices -- please, soft-spoken Liev Schreiber as
geshrei-shouting attack attorney William Kunstler? This court is so
out of order -- is offered up as hysteria and histrionics as history.
Just what it does do is reveal the past for the broken revolution it
became, the change it never was.
Four decades later, the peace sign looks as lost as ever in the
killing fields of barbarism that is the human condition. And no
veneer of V-signs then or now can ever change that.
After all is said and done, it's only a movie -- about a predecessor
to today's times that are Iraqued and roiled, looking back to an era
that was perhaps more solipsistically aware than socially astute.
But if you want to stay true to the credo of the Chicago
hell-kickers, just do as Hoffman would have done, passing the joint
-- i.e., theater -- to attend a rally:
See the movie? Steal this movie!
Recalling roiling times
*** RATING | Animation Documentary
By Lisa Kennedy
Denver Post Film Critic
"On March 23rd, 1968, at a camp in northern Illinois, the 'movement'
met to discuss 'actions' relating to the Democratic Convention which
will occur in late August in Chicago." These words begin Brett
Morgen's vibrant, unconventional documentary "Chicago 10," about the
conspiracy trial of the so-called inciters of the riots that occurred
during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
A week before the meeting, the My Lai massacre took place in Vietnam.
Barely a week later, Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated in
Memphis. Sen. Robert Kennedy would be felled two months later in Los Angeles.
The months leading up to the convention were not merely heady, they
For those in Denver hankering for (or fearing) a repeat of the
debacle that occurred 40 years ago, "Chicago 10" should be seen as a
Of course, the release of Morgen's bold if aggravating doc exploits
just that anxiety.
The actual trial was of the Chicago Seven: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry
Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and
Lee Weiner. The inflated number comes from an assertion Rubin made
that Bobby Seale should be included (though the Black Panther
co-founder's case was split off), and that attorneys William Kunstler
and Leonard Weinglass should be counted too. After all, they were
sentenced for contempt of court.
Visually, aurally, "Chicago 10" is a stunner.
The actors providing the voices within the graphically rendered trial
are commanding: Hank Azaria, Mark Ruffalo, Nick Nolte, Jeffrey Wright
and Liev Schreiber among them.
The stop-motion animation used to re-create the trial (courtesy of
Curious Pictures) recalls the pop muscularity of Howard Chaykin's
indelible "American Flagg!" comics.
Animation is an elegant solution to the glitch of cameras having been
barred from the courtroom.
The archival footage Morgen did get is remarkable, especially given
its fluid treatment by editor Stuart Levy and sound designer Paul Urmson
Agile cuts from color to black-and-white archival footage of clashes
in the streets to telling news reports and back prove yet again that
talking heads and voice-over are not narrative necessities for
A car driven by a woman with a bouffant surrounded by National
Guardsmen with bayonets drawn is intercut with footage of poet Allen
Ginsberg leading a chant. Later, a female shriek pierces the crowd
murmur to signal something far uglier is underway.
But "Chicago 10" is a flawed beauty rife with regret and nostalgia.
The regret may be Morgen's. The maker of the lauded documentary "The
Kid Stays in the Picture," about producer Robert Evans, was born in
1968. The nostalgia likely belongs to his producer, Graydon Carter,
58-year-old editor of Vanity Fair magazine. When the U.S. bombed
Afghanistan, the two commiserated on the lack of the vociferous,
multitudinous youth-led war protests of the Vietnam years.
If absurdism were a person, "Chicago 10" would be his biopic.
Hayden, Davis and especially Dellinger come across in the news
footage as adults working for change.
But Hoffman (Azaria) and Rubin (Ruffalo) are Morgen's impish stars.
A lot of culture clashes fed those roiling times. This film spends
its abundant energy on the face-off between dour patiarchs and their
cocky symbolic sons.
What could be more irony-laden than Judge Julius Hoffman (voiced by
the late Roy Scheider) presiding over a trial starring Abbie Hoffman?
"Chicago 10" is a bit too enamored of the chaotic, back-talking
gestures of the court jesters.
They aren't typically the hard laborers of permanent change. But,
boy, do they know how to put on a show.
"Chicago 10" director responds to my review
by Rob Thomas
Last week, I wrote up a review of "Chicago 10," the new documentary
about the street protests in chicago during the 1968 Democratic
National Convention, the brutal police crackdown that resulted, and
the subsequent trial of antiwar "co-conspirators" like Abbie Hoffman
and Jerry Rubin.
I gave the movie 2.5 stars, basically the reviewer's equivalent of
sitting on the fence. I thought the footage of protesters taking over
Grant Park, and the bloody clash with police in riot gear was
mesmerizing, and director Brett Morgen's decision to use a
contemporary rock score by bands like Rage Against the Machine and
Beastie Boys was surprisingly affecting.
But his choice to dramatize the trial by using motion-capture
animation and voice actors like Mark Ruffalo, Hank Azaria and Nick
Nolte didn't work quite as well for me. I thought it literally turned
complex individuals into cartoon characters, and was especially
thrown by the late Roy Scheider's performance as Judge Julius
Hoffman. By modern standards, the cranky, out-of-touch Hoffman would
be the villain of the piece, but the mean-old-man voice Scheider used
seemed so over-the-top that it reminded me of Mr. Potter from "It's A
To understand what I'm getting at, here's a clip from the film, where
the judge and Bobby Seale go toe-to-toe: [See URL for clip.]
Hours after the review posted online, I got an e-mail from Morgen:
"I believe this is the first time I've ever written a critic, so
please forgive me for "crossing the line." However, you wrote that
Roy Scheider seems to be channeling Mr. Potter rather than a real
person, which really caught my interest.During the course of our
research, we uncovered audio that was recorded in the courtroom, that
hadn't been heard since the trial. Two weeks ago, I released some of
these recordings on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I'd like to invite
you to listen to the tape.After hearing it, I would like to know what
you think of Roy's performance. Judge Hoffman had one of the most
distinct voices I've ever heard and I think Roy did a pretty spot-on
impersonation. However, I am a bit biassed. Thank you for taking the
time to review the film."
So I went to NPR's web site and found the "Fresh Air" interview with
Morgen, which includes audio clips from the original trial that
Morgen unearthed, that he believes have never before been broadcast.
And, I have to say, that weird, vaguely menacing mean-old-man cadence
that Scheider displays in the film is all drawn from Hoffman's actual
voice. (Somebody refers to Hoffman's voice as "Elmer Fudd, the Angel
of Death.") It's fascinating to listen to the original tapes --
Hoffman is the embodiment of the out-of-touch authority figure in the
1960s, completely unaware that he's on the wrong side of history in
his own courtroom.
So, anyway, I concede Morgen's point. "Chicago 10" is playing at
Sundance, and will be held over for a second week beginning this Friday.
Chicago 10: Takin' it to the streets
By Curt Holman
Why does documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen use Chicago 10 as the
title for his collage-like account of the trial of the so-called
Chicago Seven? In the name of inclusion: The "10" comprises not just
the seven major anti-war dissidents charged with inciting a riot at
the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but also their lawyers
William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, and Black Panther co-founder
Bobby Seale, who was eventually tried separately.
Despite its title's precision, Chicago 10 focuses more closely on the
mood of the times than factual specifics. Morgen cuts between
archival footage of the events leading up to the demonstrations
outside the convention hall and animated re-creations of the trial
with actors reading from the courtroom transcript, including Hank
Azaria as pranksterish radical Abbie Hoffman and the late Roy
Scheider as cranky, doddering Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation).
Chicago 10 feels like an artifact both about and from the
counterculture's height, with the crunchy rock music and Waking
Life-style animation at times evoking Ralph Bakshi's X-rated cartoon
features. Little exaggerated frills poet Allen Ginsburg hovering in
a lotus position hardly prove necessary to a trial that at times
sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland. At one point
Hoffman and alleged co-conspirator Jerry Rubin (Mark Ruffalo) enter
the courtroom in judicial robes, and the judge is not amused.
The animated guise of the trial's prosecuting attorney and
"Establishment" figurehead (voiced by Nick Nolte) looks suspiciously
like a young George W. Bush. Perhaps that's a complete coincidence,
or maybe it's Morgen's way of drawing a line between the Vietnam War
protests and today's anti-war movement. The film concludes with a
harrowing juxtaposition of the 1968 riot and scenes of Seale in
court, repeatedly bound, gagged and beaten while demanding his civil rights.
Chicago 10 occasionally blurs specific details, but it captures the
era's tumultuous feelings and political agendas. The overall effect
resembles Morgen's previous documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture,
a self-mythologizing account by Hollywood producer Robert Evans.
Morgen's films are less like photographic portraits than mosaics of
strong personalities and archetypal episodes. It's like piecing
together a plate glass window after history has already thrown a
brick through it.
Documentary mixes animation and archives
Kevin Koczwara, Collegian Staff
Issue date: 3/26/08
Brett Morgan ("The Kid Stays in the Picture") attempts something
really big in the world of documentary filmmaking with "Chicago 10."
The film is based on the Chicago riots of 1968 during the Democratic
National Convention that culminated in the prosecution of 10
suspected masterminds and leaders of what began as a non-violent
protest and ended in tragedy. The film jumps from animated courtroom
to archived footage to shots of police brutality, hippies chanting
and smoking a lot of marijuana to Allen Ginsberg trying to calm
everyone who is involved using a simple word: "um."
The animation looks like the footage from the screens at Universal's
Island of Adventure's rollercoaster and main attraction, The Hulk. It
has the same feel and it proves to be the most glaring flaw in the
film. While the film has a decidedly gritty feel, with the actual
footage and soundtrack supplied by Rage Against the Machine, the
animated courtroom scenes lack the same luster.
They lose their punch and kick, and as a result, by the end you feel
almost no pain for Bobby Seale as he is kicked, gagged and beaten by
the bailiffs. The courtroom scenes have no actual footage and Morgan
uses the transcripts to re-create the scene. He has accurate
depictions of the prosecution and trial of each of the ten.
The courtroom scenes act as a vessel of narration for Morgan as well
and this impedes at times on the archival footage he has so
meticulously gathered. The shot of police beating men and women needs
no narration from the stand. He also leaves much of Bobby Seale out.
He never covers why he is actually there, what he is accused of and
what he was really doing at the time of the riots. This lack of
understanding or context leads the audience to not care for him in
the same manner that they care for the others who organized the event.
The YIPPIE group steals the show in the film. Bobby Seale may be the
best in the courtroom but outside of it the YIPPIES are stars. They
are funny, heart-warming and the most civil human beings in the film.
They want freedom to speak, freedom to give their opinion and they
want the Vietnam War to end. They go to Chicago to spend some time
smoking weed, listening to music and practicing a non-violent
approach to life. They also like to have fun and joke with the mayor,
the police and the media.
Abbie Hoffman uses the media as a means to purvey his own message. He
is interviewed by ABC and CBS news and his interviews always get his
point across while being accented with a good amount of humor. He has
the charisma the movie needs to allow it to move so fluidly and to
help retain the audience's attention.
Beyond just the retelling of historical events, the movie also serves
as a social commentary on today's war protestors. In the context of
the film, any protests going on today are nothing compared to what
people would go through to stand up against a war they did not
support. To hear someone say they do not support the Iraq War is the
norm in Amherst and on the UMass Campus but we, as a community, do
not in fact gather and commit to the cause.
The small protests about fees and tuition that have surfaced
throughout campus don't amount to anything that the people in Chicago
accomplished. They went to a city with a mission, a message and a
will. Today, people do not support our president in polls but in
public people are afraid to stand with one another. It is eye-opening
to see what once was and the heart and passion that went into a protest.
The idea that future generations will continue to stand up against
tyranny and keep the American government in check is repeated
throughout the film. It is as if the film is mocking the generations
to come, implying that the current generation has been prone to kneel
down as of late.
"Chicago 10" strongly delivers its message. It is a documentary
definitely worth viewing if you have any interest in social change
and the real strength of freedom of speech. It stumbles in animation
but leaves nothing behind with its powerful archival footage.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'Chicago 10' Makes a Case for Infamous Conspiracy Trial Defendents
By Carina Chocano
Los Angeles Times
Monday, March 24, 2008
What constitutes a documentary and what doesn't is a subject that's
been hotly debated in the last decade or so. Whatever the merits of
each side of the argument, it's undeniable that the genre has changed
radically, with the most interesting docs filling the gap in the
public discourse between straight news and opinion.
Are they tendentious? Absolutely. But they back up their arguments
with eloquent images. Their mission is to contextualize, make
connections, draw conclusions and, ideally, spur action.
Brett Morgen's unapologetic "Chicago 10" is a sterling example of
this kind of filmmaking. The film is a reconstruction of the events
surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago from the
Yippie festival in Lincoln Park to the police riots that followed
and the conspiracy trial, a year later, of the activists and
protesters known as the Chicago 7 (originally the Chicago 8: Abbie
Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John
Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale).
Morgen weaves the two components of the narrative together from
archival footage and animated segments voiced by actors (the trial
sequences were adapted from court transcripts) and underscores them
with '60s protest music and more recent tracks.
Morgen, whose previous film, the Robert Evans documentary "The Kid
Stays in the Picture" was put together in a similar way, draws
comparisons between the political situation of the late 1960s and the
situation today. Or rather he hammers home the contrasts until it
becomes impossible to watch the film and not wonder why another
escalating, pointless war has yet to spark anything remotely
resembling the social activism of that era.
OK, maybe we know. Rubin became a dedicated Yuppie who touted
wealth-creation as the ultimate form of activism. But in Morgen's
considered view, what happened later is not the point. "Chicago 10"
wants to re-celebritize counterculture figures like Hoffman and
Rubin, to remind us that they were rock stars in their day.
The movie begins in early 1968, with President Lyndon B. Johnson
announcing that the monthly draft call would increase from about
17,000 troops per month to 35,000, and activists from the National
Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), Students for
a Democratic Society (S.D.S.) and the Yippies meeting to make plans
for protesting during the convention in Chicago. Protesters were
denied permits for anti-war demonstrations and clashed with police in
the streets several times in the week leading up to the convention.
The violence culminated in a police riot that was televised and
watched by 50 million viewers.
The trial that followed tried to locate fault in the instigation of
the riots. The government brought Hoffman, Rubin, Dellinger, Hayden,
Davis, Froines and Weiner to trial along with Seale, the co-chair of
the Black Panther Party, who during a two-day stay in the city had
encouraged demonstrators to fight back against police assaults.
Because Seale's attorney was recovering from surgery, Seale demanded
to represent himself. The judge, Julius Hoffman, denied his request,
Seale became belligerent, and Hoffman had him gagged and bound to a chair.
The other defendants were represented by William Kunstler and Leonard
Weinglass, whom the judge eventually found in contempt and sentenced
to prison terms hence the Chicago "10."
All of this is shown in an animated sequence done with motion-capture
technology. The result is effective, though disconcerting, as the
film cuts back and forth from footage of the actual Hoffman and a
digital Hoffman, voiced by Hank Azaria, looking oddly robotic in a
box-like courtroom. (Other actors who lent their voices to the
principal characters include Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo,
the late Roy Scheider, Liev Schreiber and Jeffrey Wright.) It has the
effect of making the trial portion of the film seem surreal.
Morgen's decision to avoid talking heads recounting events and find a
way to dramatize them instead is consistent with his intention for
the film. The director wants to bring recent history to life for
people who weren't around to witness it, and in that he succeeds
'Chicago 10' explores '68 riots
Issue date: 3/24/08
It has been almost 40 years since the infamous riots in Chicago broke
out during the 1968 Democratic Convention, when protesters and cops
collided violently in the streets.
The new documentary, "Chicago 10," explores this bloody episode in
American history along with the court case that followed which put
activist leaders Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom
Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale on
trial for conspiracy to create a mob scene.
The film is a combination between archival footage from newscasts,
the Youth International Party (Yippie) and the Mobilization to End
the War in Vietnam (MOBE) home videos and cunning animated sequences
from courtroom transcripts and animated scenes from recorded speeches
"Chicago 10" shows how Chicago mayor Richard Daly prepared for the
Democratic Convention by bringing in the National Guard, barbed wire
and armed cops along the convention and a "shoot to kill" order for
anyone seen with a Molotov Cocktail after the assassination of Martin
Luther King Jr.
This is accompanied by a newsreel of Walter Cronkite telling his
audience that "the Democratic Convention is being held in a police state."
It also shows how the activists prepared, urging non-violence tactics
among their followers.
It shows the runaround they received from Chicago officials in
attaining permits for areas to demonstrate.
The film exposes the brutality of the scene in Chicago. Blue helmeted
cops swinging clubs and shooting tear gas into crowds of
demonstrators and the demonstrators attacking back with rocks,
bottles and anything else they could find.
Despite this, there is a lot of humor in the film.
This comes from the commentary by Hoffman and the court scenes, where
the trial nearly became a real circus.
One scene in particular stands out where Rubin and Hoffman appear in
court dressed like judges. When ordered to take off the costumes,
they comply only to be wearing Chicago police uniforms.
This is the Yippie ethic of making politics street theater. Perhaps
the most stirring scene is an animated one from the court transcripts.
The scene is Black Panther Seale wanting to represent himself or have
his own hearing once he can get his attorney.
After one of Seale's disruptions, the judge orders the authorities to
"deal" with Seale. They do by tying him to a chair with leather
straps and tying cloth around his mouth and under his jaw to prevent
him from disrupting the court.
The prosecutor is horrified, as is the rest of the court. An enraged
Seale manages to break the straps and remove the gag to which the
authorities start using more force on him.
Hoffman then yells that what is happening to Seale is exactly what
happened in Chicago. The authorities used excessive force to quiet dissent.
Seale was dropped from the case, but the seven others were found not
guilty for conspiring to create a riot.
Five were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot, a
ruling which was overturned two years later.
"Chicago 10" is an important film for many reasons. It explores the
fear of dissent in the American political machine, and it shows that
the act of protest many enjoy today was a very dangerous form of free
speech only 40 years ago.
Chicago 10 (Roadside Attractions, R)
Written by Sarah Boslaugh
Friday, 28 March 2008
Don't expect a traditional documentary: Morgan is more interested in
recreating the confusing experience of living through those times
than in evaluating them in a perspective informed by 40 years of hindsight.
Brett Morgan's new film, Chicago 10, presents an interesting take on
the riots at the Democratic National Convention in August 1968, and
the trial of the "Chicago 8" defendants who were accused of inciting
the riots. Don't expect a traditional documentary, however: Morgan is
more interested in recreating the confusing experience of living
through those times than in evaluating them in a perspective informed
by 40 years of hindsight.
Chicago 10 is skillfully constructed from archival footage and
motion-capture animations, and jumps back and forth between the riots
and the trial, with dates and locations helpfully provided by title
cards. Information is deliberately presented in partial and
fragmentary fashion and, in a manner reminiscent of today's political
coverage, opinions are stated in sound bites that tend to polarize
opinions rather than promote the exchange of ideas. So the police are
either "pigs" in the service of a police state or the last bastion of
law and order, and the defendants are either martyrs to the causes of
freedom and justice or outside agitators threatening the American way of life.
The title Chicago 10 refers to the fact that defense attorneys
William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass were found guilty of contempt
of court, along with all members of the Chicago 8: Abbie Hoffman,
Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines,
Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale. Let the record show, however, that all
convictions were reversed in 1972 on the grounds of judicial bias.
Morgan makes only fleeting attempts to place the riots and trial in
context with reference to contemporary events, including President
Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War and the assassination of
Martin Luther King, Jr. He exerts even less effort in exploring the
complex social changes taking place in America in the late 1960s and
the Chicago 8's connections to those changes. In fact, were this film
your only source of information, you would conclude that the
defendants had no serious political or social goals and were
motivated primarily by an inflated sense of their own importance, an
inordinate need for attention and a singular lack of appreciation of
the consequences of their actions. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who
get the lion's share of the film's screen time, are most pointedly
presented as charismatic media manipulators who prefer to indulge
their skill in provocation rather than work in any organized manner
Members of the establishment come off no better: presiding judge
Julius Hoffman is portrayed as a petulant tyrant who can't be
bothered to pronounce the defendant's names correctly; Chicago mayor
Richard Daley appears as a pig-faced fascist concerned only with
asserting his authority; and members of the police department seem to
be no more than Daley's minions. All of this may lead the viewer to
declare "A plague on both your houses!" and simply move on.
That would be a shame. Whatever your memories of or opinions on the
events in question, Chicago 10 is a fascinating film that is more
interested in raising questions than answering them. Even people not
yet born in 1968 may find that the film gives them a feel for that
vital time in history and piques their interest to learn more.