Dir: Brett Morgen. US. 2007. 103mins.
The opening film at this year's Sundance, Chicago 10 revisits the violently suppressed anti-war demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the prosecution a year later of the colorful leaders who brought irreverent theatricality to political protest.
Brett Morgen's documentary about those closely-watched events, now largely forgotten by anyone but historians and the surviving participants, will play well among the greying US baby boomers who were touched by the counterculture's rise as America waged a war in Vietnam that was killing 1,000 US soldiers a month.
The film could also crack the under-40 audience (which cheered the film at its Sundance premiere) with Morgen's blend of animation, evocative editing and contemporary music to tell an earlier generation's story in the broadened documentary language of 2007. Outrageous humour lifted right from the trial transcripts won't hurt, either.
Morgen - previously at Sundance with On the Ropes (1999) and The Kid Stays In The Picture (2002) - avoids voice-over narration and the pro forma war stories told by protest veterans.
The writer/director is an unabashed partisan who makes no concessions to journalistic 'balance' in his admiration for the radicals who eventually stood trial, although the film never falls into the speechy nostalgia of an homage like the recent Bobby, set on one day in June 1968.
The documentary's pull on today's audience could build on the loose but clear parallels that it draws between US governments fighting foreign wars and facing domestic opposition then and now.
Man viewers will draw parallels between Texan Lyndon Johnson commitment of additional troops to
Mayor Richard Daley refers to the youthful protesters as terrorists. Yet the politics of the summer of 1968 and the trial of 1969 may be too distant in 2007 to attract the mass public that flocked to An Inconvenient Truth.
Even though protesters in the film chanted 'the whole world is watching' as police clubbed them with nightsticks, outside the
The Chicago 10 were really seven political leaders determined to make opposing voices heard while the Democratic Party met in Chicago to choose its 1968 presidential candidate.
The strategy advocated by the Yippies, a group formed by the activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, was as much about pot, music, parody and sex as it was about marching.
In vivid archival footage,
In the trial a year later for violating US anti-riot laws, three more anti-war activists are added as defendants (notably the Black Panther leader Bobby Seale).
Morgen animates these sequences, an ingenious move, which he weaves back and forth with 1968 footage, and with other animated sections in which Hoffman and Rubin, as stand-up comedians (voiced by Hank Azaria and Mark Ruffalo) ridicule the trial.
Animation seems as fitting as any story-telling device to portray a cartoonish courtroom where defendants screamed obscenities and openly mocked the judge by wearing judicial robes; and Seale (voiced by Jeffrey Wright), demanding to represent himself, was ordered bound, gagged, and handcuffed, and beaten by guards when he still insisted on speaking. Judge Julius Hoffman is a cranky autocrat in the voice of Roy Scheider.
At the film's surprisingly underwhelming end, after a hallucinatory crescendo of 1968 police beatings, we learn from explanatory text that the defendants' convictions in the 1969 trial were all thrown out on appeal.
Morgen's look back to troops battling youths on US streets and circus antics in a Chicago courtroom tells its own inconvenient truths about state brutality against critics.
Any Bush administration manoeuvres to broaden war or surveillance powers in the next few months will be marketing gifts for this documentary.
River Road Entertainment
Main cast (voices of animated characters)