Review of Chicago 10

Review of Chicago 10 directed by Brett Morgan
Rating ***

Growing up in the 60s and 70s I was aware of the names Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Allen Ginsberg, but I had no idea what they did to gain their notoriety. Now I do.

This is a strange but interesting documentary. I say strange because of the way they use animation to dramatize courtroom scenes. This is the second documentary that I've seen recently that has done this. The other was Cocaine Cowboys II. One main difference here is the star studded cast that did the voices including Nick Nolte, Hank Azaria, and Mark Ruffalo.

This is the story of the 1968 Democratic convention that was held in Chicago and the arrests of ten protest organizers. I happened to watch the documentary within a week of the fortieth anniversary of this event and within a week of the most recent convention, so it took on an extra level of significance. It's interesting to see the similarities to what's going on now with the Iraq war and what was going on then with the Vietnam war. The only difference now is that we don't see the massive public protests that we did back then. One reason, as David Crosby pointed out in a recent interview, is that we don't have the draft as we did back then. Students today may be against the war, but they're not facing the possibility of being drafted.

The filmmakers tell the story by alternating between the animated courtroom scenes and showing actual footage from the time period. It's effective, but they could have done an even better job had they included interviews with the actual participants. I'm not sure how many of the ten men that went on trial are still alive, but I'm guessing that even if they aren't they could have found footage of these men talking about their experience many years after the fact.

What I learned was that these men gained their notoriety mostly because of the media coverage of the trial. Additionally, as the the trial was taking place they gave speeches throughout the country at various universities, flying back and forth between Chicago and various speaking engagements. This more than anything else propelled them in the public eye.

The courtroom scenes uses dialogue taken directly from the actual transcripts. I'm no lawyer, but even I could see that the judge in this case did not allow for a fair trial. And this was proven in the outcome of the trial. All ten men were found not guilty of the main conspiracy charge, but they were each given sentences of a few months to several years for contempt of court. So if one of them dared speak up and ask a question or try to speak in their own defense, the judge would silence them and ultimately send them to prison for contempt of court. The filmmakers give the individual sentences that were handed out and point out that all of them were eventually overturned. What they don't say is if any of the men had to serve any of their sentences while waiting their appeals. It took nearly two years to have the charges overturned, by then most of them would have served their time.

The sad part about this whole episode is that it could have all been avoided had Mayor Daley simply let the protesters alone in Lincoln Park. Instead, he is responsible for the violence that erupted and for making stars of men whose names are now synonymous with the anti war movement of the late 60s and 70s. It's also sobering knowing that the end result of all of this turmoil would be the flawed presidency of Richard Nixon. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned.

The DVD did not have any worthwile extras.

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