Friday, January 29, 2010

Chicago 10

(Movie Review)

This is another movie I've been wanting to see for a while, but had to wait until I was back in America. (Unfortunately it never made it to the Japanese video stores).

And, although one always hesitates to admit publicly how much of a geek one really is, I am well acquainted with subject material.

Being a history geek, and having an interest in radical politics, I've read a lot about this trial. In fact, back in my college days the Calvin library had (presumably still has)a book containing the entire transcripts of this trail, and I read through most of it.

I've also seen dramatic presentations of this trail in the past. Which is no surprise as this trial has been dramatized many times in the past, and I'm sure will be dramatized many times in the future.
Once I sat through a TV movie based off of the trial transcripts. (Again this was back in my college days). Although I couldn't tell you now who made it, or what it was called, I remember finding it very interesting at the time.
"Steal This Movie!" (W) also comes to mind as another film that dealt with this subject.
And various other documentaries I've caught on TV or on video over the years.

I guess all this raises the question: why sit through it again?
To which I don't really have a good answer, other than that I love watching historical documentaries, and often this love will cause me to sit through material I'm already familiar with.
Also, it's always interesting to see how a new movie handles familiar material.

So, right, onto the review.

As you probably already know, much of this movie is animated.
That struck me as an odd choice when I saw the previews, but now that I've watched the movie I can understand why they did that. It allows them to mix in re-created animated scenes with archival footage relatively seamlessly, and still keep the same look for each figure.
In this respect the film is much more of a documentary than anything else. The court room scenes are all re-created, but half the movie (or more) is made up of archival footage.

Making use of the archival footage, the film seeks to document both the trial and demonstrations at the Chicago Democratic National Convention that resulted in the conspiracy trial.

In doing so, the film bites off a bit more than it can properly chew.
Most documentaries will focus on either the demonstrations or the trial. For example, the TV movie I remember seeing back in college focused all 2 hours only on what actually happened inside the courtroom.

Certainly one can understand the impulse to try and put them together (the story of one is not really complete without the story of the other). But in this case the result is that neither one is dealt with adequately. And there are all sorts of gaps in the narrative.

Well, perhaps at this point I should remind myself that the purpose of historical movies is to introduce people to the topic, and try to get them interested in it so they can continue learning on their own. It's impossible to fit everything into 2 hours anyway.

That being said, here are some of the gaps I noticed in the film:
The entire film revolves around protesting the Vietnam War, and yet the film never includes any of the reasons why people would be against the War.
When the war was actually going on, the consciousness about what was actually happening was pretty high. In the years since, younger generations have been raised on a sort of white washed version of Vietnam, which omits a lot of the uglier details like the the carpet bombings of civilian populations, children being burned with Napalm, villages being massacredet cetera.
To get into all of that would have been a subject too vast for a 2 hour film, but they might have at least touched on it. Given it, say 5 or 10 minutes. Without this background, it's a little hard to understand why emotions were running so high in the first place.
Instead the war itself becomes almost a side issue, and the movie becomes a commentary only on the freedom to protest. (Which I guess is still a noble enough theme in and of itself)

Another noticeable gap is that the film never explains the significance of any of the players. Most of the members of the Chicago 8 were already celebrities in their own right before the trial even started. If the purpose of this film is to introduce a new generation to history, some of this might have been touched on.

The courtroom trial scenes themselves contain many omissions. Again, it's impossible to do everything in 2 hours, but I thought the testimony of Mayor Richard Daley at least would have been worth including.

With all the stuff they cut out, I'm a little bit confused about some of the stuff they left in. It sometimes seemed a bit random.
As did the ending of this movie. It just ended very abruptly.
Anyone interested in getting the full story of the trial would do well to read a book, or check out the actual transcripts (link here).
If you click on the link, you'll notice first of all that the witness list for the trial reads like a "who's who" of the 60s. All sorts of celebrities showed up to testify. (Something not really included in the movie).
And if you read the actual transcripts of some of these witnesses, you see a whole lot of interesting dialogue and disruptions also not included in the movie.

All that being said, not a bad little movie. Some parts of it were very well cut together, and generally they did a good job of keeping the energy up with a high adrenaline soundtrack. Hopefully this high energy will catch the interest of younger people, and make history seem more exciting to them.

Final comment: When a film like this gets an "R" rating, it really does make you wonder if the MPAA rating system is broken. Especially with all the really violent PG-13 movies out there ("Die Hard" comes to mind).
Seriously, if "Die Hard" gets PG-13, but a movie about people peacefully protesting against a war gets rated R because of a few 4 letter words, what does that say about our culture?

I'm not sure if any one still pays attention to these rating systems or not, but I can only hope that no one was stopped from seeing this movie because of a bonehead move by the MPAA.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky on the Role of the Educational System

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