September 18, 2008

Probably the best way to describe Brett Morgan’s compelling and absorbing docudrama Chicago 10 is how the movie’s website describes it, “contemporary history with a forced perspective.” Morgan combines motion capture animation and archival footage to tell the often infuriating and scarcely believable story of the turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention and the subsequent trial of some of those who demonstrated outside the convention. Initially referred in the press at the time as the “Chicago Seven,” there were in fact eight men charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot, among them Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale. All were represented by attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. The 1969-70 trial, represented in the film in highly stylized, often wittily done animated segments, was presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman, who was clearly hostile to the defendants and their legal representation, to the point where it was clear to them that no justice was going to be served. This was, after all, the trial in which Bobby Seale was literally bound to a chair and gagged after demanding his Constitutional right to represent himself be granted. (It was not.) Chicago 10 does an admirable job of putting the 1968 convention, which ended in what was later characterized as “a police riot” in which scores of anti-war demonstrators were beaten, tear-gassed and arrested, into context for modern audiences, in particular younger audiences, at whom this film is probably mostly aimed. The voice cast for the animated segments is top notch, and includes Hank Azaria, Mark Ruffalo, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte and Roy Scheider, whose performance may seem mocking, but is in fact based on tapes of the court proceedings obtained by the filmmakers. A major minus of the DVD in general is the almost complete lack of special features. A film like Chicago 10 would have benefited from at least some supplementary materials, even a filmmaker’s commentary, but that said, the lack of those materials shouldn’t deter potential viewers from seeking the movie out. It’s a unique film experience, and unfortunately, far more timely and relevant than one would probably like, forty years on.


(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)


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