Written by Fantasma el Rey
Chicago 10’s tagline, “The Convention Was The Drama. The Trial Was The Comedy,” is perfectly illustrated in the films’ hour and forty-three minutes. Blending actual footage and animation makes this documentary something different and unique, as were the participants in those events of 1968. Chicago was not only host to the Democratic Party convention that year but also to youthful subculture figures who would rise out of the chaos of those days as legends. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, and Bobby Seale would become inspiration for many, many people for years to come. Not only in the world of politics but in music as well, fueling the fire for bands such as Rage Against The Machine and System Of A Down.
The 1968 Democratic convention was to be the stage for one of the largest gatherings of youth in peaceful protest. There were to be bands playing and hippies dancing toward peace in nearby Lincoln Park but that was not to be the case. As the crowd grew and the march began, police presence became more visible and active to prevent anyone from getting too close to the steps of the International Amphitheatre. Alternate routes were taken, yet things still got bad. Violence erupted everywhere, much of it caught on film.
The key figures were rounded up and accused of conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to the protests and so on and so forth. There is more to the story but that is what Chicago 10 goes over and covers in graphic detail. I’m not going to recreate those days here in type; I’ll let you watch the film or seek out more detailed accounts of those days than I could ever give.
The film does do a wonderful job in bringing back to life those days of color and horror, though. Existing archive film is used when and where available while animation based on court transcripts is used for the courtroom and other places where cameras were not present, as in that key moment when the “Yippie” (Youth International Party) name was born. During those latter scenes, the actors used as voice talent for our main characters do good work in capturing the personalities of the people they are voicing. Hank Azaria (Abbie Hoffman), Mark Ruffalo (Rubin), Jeffery Wright (Seale), and Roy Scheider (Judge Julius Hoffman) lend their skills to help paint the picture.
Also lending talent and punctuation to the film is the music of the Beastie Boys and Rage Against The Machine. The music is put to good use by writer/director Brett Morgen and highlights scenes perfectly, providing an energy level that must have matched the electricity that was in the air in those uncertain times.
From start to finish my eyes were fixed on the screen as the images of the courtroom and around Chicago played out in front of me. Morgen has arranged the scenes so the movie flows back and forth between the events, pulling moments from during and prior to both the convention and the trial. This method not only keeps the film fresh but gives it a pace that pushes it forward, holding your interest while upping your anticipation of what will happen next.
Some of the unbelievable events that came out of the trial are played out for us. Even though it’s animated, it makes one think how close to a police state the nation was, or is. To see Seale bound and gagged to his chair in the courtroom (the precedent was actually set in a case years prior) and to see how certain rights were denied today we think these things can never happen in our country but they did and not that long ago.
On the other hand Chicago 10 illustrates how the older generation could see these youths as loud-mouthed troublemakers. Morgen took nothing away from Abbie’s or Jerry’s personalities and a more conservative viewpoint can point out that they were acting up and being juvenile merry pranksters. They did wear judicial robes to court and Abbie was fond of blowing kisses to the jury, but that, my friends, is for you to decide. I suggest reading more on the lives of the Chicago 10 or 8 or 7, depending on how you look at the case (if you count the lawyers as Jerry did, it’s 10 along with Seale, who’s was eventually tried separately). So go steal this DVD and draw your own conclusions.
The DVD has one special feature that is a remix video by a contest winner that uses scenes from the movie to sum it up in a few minutes. The rumor mill has it that two sequels are in the works as well as a live-action film. Should be interesting to see how those pan out. Don’t forget to vote.