Monday, October 15, 2007

'Chicago 10' makes poignant connections

Mia Mask, a film professor at Vassar College, attended a screening of "Chicago 10" Saturday evening at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck. Here is her review:

Brett Morgen’s “Chicago 10” was an enjoyable find at the Woodstock Film Festival. Having made the rounds at Austin, Sundance, and Silverdocs, it’s only fitting this depiction of ‘60s counterculture mavericks be screened at the hippy-est of film festivals — the one most closely associated with anti-war, peace-loving bohemia.

A 95-minute feature, “Chicago 10” tells the tale of the Chicago protest during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the trial of seven activist-icons.

The original eight defendants, indicted by the grand jury on March 20, 1969, were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Black Panther Bobby Seale.

The defense attorneys were William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge was Julius Hoffman. The prosecutors were Richard Schultz and Tom Foran.

The (in)famous defendants — who were catapulted to celebrity as a result — were charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot and other misdemeanors related to violence that ensued during convention week.

It’s clear the charges only heightened their popularity with the non-conformist, anti-authoritarian followers, making them more symbolic than they would have been without police brutality and National Guard deployment.

After all, Yippies (the Youth International Party) were a theatrical party with a penchant for carnivalesque political performance.

They aligned with groups like the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (a.k.a. MOBE), which also appears in “Chicago 10.”

Local Chicago government and state resistance only made charismatic leaders of playful resistors like Abbie Hoffman and his crew.

What makes Morgen’s treatment unique is that it combines rotoscopic animation techniques — made famous by films like “Waking Life” and "A Scanner Darkly” — with archival riot footage, and existing feature film clips (excerpts from Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool “).

Morgen reconstructs the animated courtroom proceedings with the help of professional voice talents Nick Nolte, Roy Scheider, Hank Azaria, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber.

These scenes are intercut with the archival footage.

Morgen parallels the action by using a split screen, dividing it horizontally and vertically.

Aesthetically, “Chicago 10” is reminiscent of other films that have blended live-action and animation like Ralph Bakshi’s work in the ‘70s or Robert Zemeckis’ cartoon-noir, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

Here rotoscope is put to more political and progressive use: educating a younger generation about the events of the 60s.

In his introduction to the film at Upstate, director Morgen told the Woodstock festival audience he wanted to “make the history accessible and recreate the experience of being in Chicago rather than an academic account of Chicago at the time.”

Morgen may have also succeeded in advancing the amalgamation of documentary and animation as docu-mation.

“Chicago 10” makes it clear (for younger audiences who didn’t live through the ‘60s) that the baton-wielding, tear-gas throwing police initiated much of the violence.

While some might have been looking for trouble, the majority of hippies, Yippies and protesters could barely find their way out of Lincoln Park.

Made by the same production company that produced “An Inconvenient Truth,” it’s no wonder this feature has been well received at festivals.

It makes the poignant connections other films strive for but miss.

And, its pastiche of images is set to an equally rebellious score.

The connection between Johnson’s Vietnam and Bush’s Iraq is provided — ironically enough — by Eminem’s anti-war anthem, “Mosh,” and Beastie Boys rhymes.

“Chicago 10” is certainly the best documation treatment of the confrontation between police state authoritarianism and youth-driven protest.

It captures the political tumult, spirit of rebellion and momentary feeling of euphoria experienced by the charismatic cadre that helped define the ethos of The Sixties.

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