Friday, October 24, 2008

Chicago 10 - DVD Review

CHICAGO 10 (**1/2) - Starring the voices of Hank Azaria, Nick Nolte, Dylan Baker, Mark Ruffalo, Roy Scheider and Jeffrey Wright.
Written & directed by Brett Morgen.

This stylized documentary outstylized the Errol Morris doc I just saw, although I really appreciated what Morgen was going for here. My main problem was that he couldn't shape it in a way where a story was told, where a series of events are strung together where we can follow cause and effect, this lead to that. To understand what actually happened, it's good to already have your own familiarity with the 1968 DNC riots and subsequent Chicago 7 trial, or do your own reading before or after viewing, as the movie is full of cool images and powerful scenes, but it's missing the crucial element of narrative.

It cuts back and forth between 1968, leading up to the riots, and 1969, during the farce of a trial. In 1968, we have all real footage, and where we don't have the actual footage, we have actors covered with rotoscope animation (like in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly and those soulless Charles Schwab commercials). In 1969, we have the trial, and all dialogue is taken from the transcipts, but we have actors doing the parts. Hank Azaria is Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsburg, for instance. This allows for editorializing. The judge, as voiced by Roy Scheider, might as well be Strother Martin ("what we've got here is failure to communicate") but when you look at what the judge said and did during the trial, it seems pretty fair.

For me, the 1968 footage is much more effective. We see the players - Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, et al - saying their words and doing what they'll do. We see the perfect storm brewing at the DNC. History's been kinder to LBJ; it's easy to forget just how hated he was in 1968. There seems to be an effort to tie the fervor of 1968 to anti-war sentiments of 2008, but it was a much different time. Most importantly, there was a draft back then. But the most chilling moment was when one of the protestors, talking to the crowd, said they will march to the convention and enter "by whatever means necessary." Oo, that's not going to end well.

Jumping back and forth between the two time periods might have worked if each followed a natural linear progression, but the 1968 order of things is jumbled. The 1969 line is better at this, but it lacks the impact. I thought both storylines had built to climaxes that were coming in the next scene, but suddenly the credits are rolling and we get a bunch of epilogue cards. How extensive were the injuries at the riots? Why did the lawyers for Hoffman and crew wind up serving more jail time than the accused? I don't know. I guess I can do more of my own reading.

No comments: