Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Top Ten Tuesdays: The Chicago Ten

Free speech means the right to shout
'theatre' in a crowded fire.
-- Abbie Hoffman

Last night I had the opportunity to watch The Chicago Ten, which has been sitting on my shelf for some time. I do find I have to be in the mood to appreciate these thought provoking pieces, and I guess after pondering A Walk on the Moon yesterday, I was ready to let in a little of that revolutionary spirit and time.

This was an absolutely brilliant film. It captured the feeling of the times, but with the animation unfolding the courtroom transcripts for us we were getting the best of all worlds. I remember being shocked when visiting Anne Frank's house at some of the items in the giftshop, including a comic book of her last days in the secret annex. I wondered why someone would want to make that entertaining or colourful or at least kitsch. This film showed me that it's not about any of those things - it's about highlighting the story and not a group of actors.

Okay, so without further adieu, here are the Top Ten Things I learned from watching The Chicago Ten:

- After the assassination of Martin Luther King and the subsequent rioting that occurred, Mayor Daley gave the police very specific shooting orders, instructing them to target arsenists and maim looters.

- "One person cannot incite a riot." Hoffman and Tom Hayden repeatedly asked for peaceful march. Most say it was the (over?) reaction by Mayor Daley's Office and this the Chicago Police that brought the city its knees. They locked the place down, rendering it nothing more than a "Police State" as Walter Cronkite put it. Meanwhile, to the public they were calling it a Visible, Peaceful, Military Presence.

-  The Yippies were advanced Hippies; it was a name thought up by Hoffman which propegated throughout those days and the entire National Democratic Conference, in fact.

- When trying to obtain a permit to protest in the Lincoln Park, they were repeatedly rebuffed by the Mayor's Office. At one point Abby Hoffman gets cute, telling the senior exec from the permit office that $100,000 would be a fitting amount for such a permit. Later on when reporters are questioning him about whether or not he was inciting bribery, he is asked "What's your price? How much would you pay?" Hoffman's answer is that he would give his life.

- The soundtrack has a kind of random selectiveness that you rarely see. With everything from Mozart to Eminem it's clear that we're supposed to be lulled and shooken at different intervals, but somehow it happens in a less jarring way than you would think. Near the end, clips of the police clubbing people, screams and the thud of wood against flesh, is left scoreless so that we get the full impact. It works.

- The courtroom scenes are where the animation tales place. Liev does an incredible job as William Kunstler, the defence lawyer with a voice of steel to match his convictions. He goes up against the Judge Hoffman (yes, that part was amusingly confusing to some) with the most level headed, controlled attitude that he always comes out on top. Liev gives and excellent portrayal. It also shows us just how much of acting is the dialogue - if you've ever doubted or wondered that alone is a great reason to watch this. You can hear a snippet of Liev's voice in the clip above at 1:45 - it begins "Free speech..."

- I was always confused when watcing clips of these events because some peopel were shouting "Peace Now" and otheres were shouting something else that sounded similar but not the same. In fact it was "Sieg Heil" and this was due to the fact that some felt Hoffman, Weinglass and Kunstler were Jews who were holding the city hostage.  Also, some of the protesters made comments about the police bing like Nazis and comparing Chicago to the camps.

- Scenes of Logan with hundreds shouting "Take the hill!" as one young man clings to the top are raw and chilling. Another one with police roughly shoving an elderly woman into the Paddy Wagon as she sings "We shall overcome" left me almost taking pity on the police - they must have been wondering what the heck they were doing at times. There's almways the danger of Stockholm Syndrome but for the most part the marchers seemed peaceful.

- A news story showing kids' newest playground game which was called "Cops and Protestors" showed kids beating each other relentlessly in mobs with nerf bowling balls and bats until someone cries was explicative and to the point.

- Footage if the real Abbie Hoffman in black and white left me feeling that this is a role Michael Imperioli must play one day in his carreer. He looks *exactly* like him.

All in all the is one of those ensemble endeavours where you go in already knowing that Liev's role will not be huge, but come out of it feeling grateful that he participated. It's a very unique film. I would absolutely love to see other periods in American history depicted in this way, interspersing real footage with other medias.

All Power to the People!