'Chicago 10' Re-Animates a Protest Story Forty years ago, another presidential race was focused on an unpopular war. The 1968 Chicago convention riots — and the "Chicago Seven" tried in their wake — are the subject of an unorthodox documentary.
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'Chicago 10' Re-Animates a Protest Story

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'Chicago 10' Re-Animates a Protest Story

Review

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'Chicago 10' Re-Animates a Protest Story

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Forty years ago another presidential race was focused on an unpopular war. In 1968, the Democrats gathered for their convention in Chicago. They were met by demonstrators who had organized what they called a youth festival to protest the war in Vietnam.

After several days of peaceful demonstrations, violence erupted. The police fired tear gas and clubbed the demonstrators. A federal commission later called it a police riot. The protest leaders were arrested and put on trial together. They became known as the Chicago Seven. Now, their story is the subject of an unorthodox documentary called "Chicago 10."

Bob Mondello has this review.

BOB MONDELLO: I'll get to that title inflation in a moment. But first, let me just note that an era of convulsive political upheaval gets really interestingly animated, and I mean animated, literally, in this documentary. Director Brett Morgen takes archival film of the protests outside the 1968 Chicago convention.

(Soundbite of movie "Chicago 10")

MONDELLO: And he combines it with actors reading from court transcripts of the Chicago Seven trial, animating the action through a technique called motion capture.

(Soundbite of movie "Chicago 10")

Mr. NICK NOLTE (Actor): (As Thomas Foran) Their plan was to bring people into Chicago protests. And then create a situation where these people would riot.

Mr. MONDELLO: Motion capture is the animation technique where actors are filmed and then have their images digitally painted into virtual environments, so that they seem like characters in a video game. In this case, you'll recognize some of the voices. Nick Nolte was the prosecutor in that scene, for instance. And as the camera swirls and whooshes around the courtroom, he and Liev Schreiber as a defense attorney and the late Roy Scheider as Judge Julius Hoffman engage in lots of what you'd have to call animated arguments.

(Soundbite of movie "Chicago 10")

Mr. LIEV SCHREIBER (Actor): (As William Kunstler) Your honor. We asked for five minutes two days ago and you refused to give it to us.

Mr. ROY SCHEIDER (Actor): (As Judge Julius Hoffman) You are shouting at the court.

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) Oh, Your honor.

Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) I have - I've never shouted at you during this trial.

Mr. SHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) Your honor, your voice has been raised. And several times…

Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) You have been disrespectful.

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) It is not disrespectful.

Mr. HANK AZARIA: (As Allen Ginsberg) Om…

Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) And sometimes, even worse than that.

Mr. AZARIA: (As Allen Ginsberg) Om…

Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) Will you step off the witness stand.

Mr. SCHREIBER: (As William Kunstler) He is just trying to calm us both down.

Mr. SCHEIDER: (As Judge Julius Hoffman) I needed no calming down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MONDELLO: Animation is a pretty hip way to re-create the circus-like atmosphere of the trial. Where paper airplanes flew through the air, and there were plenty of other distractions. Defendant Jerry Rubin actually called the trial a cartoon at that time. But the historical footage that's mixed in with the courtroom scenes is sometimes just as amusing. Take this newscast about that very moment with a, shall we say, transcendentally-challenged newscaster.

(Soundbite of movie "Chicago 10")

Unidentified Man #1: When an argument broke out between defense attorneys and the judge about an early recess, Ginsberg said om. The judge got mad and kicked him out at the courtroom. And there was a running verbal battle down the court…

Mr. MONDELLO: In fairness, meditation techniques weren't as well known in 1968 in the U.S. as they are now. As history, this movie leaves a good deal out. The name Hubert Humphrey, for instance, who became the nominee at that convention. And that title, "Chicago 10," further confuses things. Before Black Panther Bobby Seale's case was separated from the others, the Chicago Seven was the Chicago Eight. And director Brett Morgen thinks that because both of the defense lawyers were cited for contempt, they should be included, too.

With music by Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys, Morgen is clearly trying for a younger audience than folks who actually remember the '60s, and it's in that context that the film works best. Not as history, but as a sort of primer for activists on what happens when a passion for change is not being embraced by the political establishment.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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