Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chicago 10

Chicago 10 (Brett Morgan, 2008) [6]

Morgan's documentary takes footage of the chaos at the1968 Democratic Convention and the subsequent trial of those accused of inciting the riots and violence with the hopes of enlivening history. In theory it's all well and good and I can see Morgan using the trial of these radicals in hopes of inspiring today's younger generation. The problem for me is he creates a film that works in its standard mode but trivializes the material (the trial) that he updates. I see this as more of a personal view, since I'm one who has had nothing but positive reviews for the Ken Burns, stodgy and historically reverential. You can't blame Morgan for at least trying, but his idea creates two distinct elements that don't quite work in harmony. If this was a film using solely found footage, it would be a very good one and it already does most of the work of the film. It lays out what was happening in Chicago in August 1968, who was there, who led the radical protests, and what ultimately happened. What the film lays out is that Mayor Daley and his police force set up a quasi police state and treated the protesters in a way that a confrontation was inevitable. That the footage shows that the police were the ones who started the violence only re-inforce Daley's culpability. All of it is highly fascinating in its own regard and could stand alone (just don't try to use Eminem to make it feel up to date). Morgan then tacks on the trial of those the government accused of inciting those riots, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, and Bobby Seale among them. Since no footage of the trial exists, Morgan takes transcripts and re-creates the events with rotoscope animation. I've never been a fan of rotoscoping to begin with so visually, it plays out in is swirling miasma. The bigger problem is that Morgan doesn't know how to treat the trial. It plays out as a Yippie exercise, politics as theatre, no doubt helped by Hoffman and Rubin's presence. There is a point that the trial itself was a kind of absurd theatre, but it was because of what the actions of the court, not of the defendants. The film equates the trial as just another showpiece, a platform to raise the absurdity of just what the government was trying to prove. It's a bit dangerous because there was certainly more to it than that. Also, it trivializes it and the defendants to an extent that for me, is too easy to explain. You can take liberties with history to an extent, to broaden an appeal but there's a point where the air just gets too cloudy. Chicago 10 does that enough to where it's just not effective enough as a historical piece of work.

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