2007, Movies

Chicago 10 (2007, Brett Morgan)

The trial of 10 people after the demonstrations outside the 1968 Democratic Convention is certainly a notable trial in the history of civil liberties abuses in the United States. And it is a story that deserves to be told. But I’m not sure if this ADD movie is the right vehicle for it. Moreover, it is certainly not a film which is going to convince anyone who sided with the government in that situation that the government was wrong.

The idea of reenacting the trial using famous actors and animation feels inspired. instead of doing it with live actors, it gives a more documentary feel which would have seemed less authentic with live actors. So I think that idea was correct.

These reenactments are mixed together with footage of the demonstrators and protests as well as some animation of other seemingly relevant stuff which happened before and after the Convention. The problem is that it is all integrated in a way that feels extremely ADD, perhaps in keeping with the spirit of a few of those on trial. But there isn’t enough of a link of the court proceedings with the actions of those on trial during the Convention – with a few exceptions – perhaps because there isn’t enough footage of all of those on trial. The result is that, for someone who didn’t live through it, there’s a great deal of confusion. That is probably intentional – a stylistic choice – but it does less of a successful job than I would have liked, especially given how much of a farce the trial seems to have been. Assuming that at least some of the audience watching the film could use more context wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

And a note about the soundtrack: sometimes they use contemporary music and sometimes they use more modern music and there’s no real rhyme or reason to it. It’s another thing I don’t think quite works. Did this movie need Eminem?

There are the building blocks of a very successful documentary here. But the thing that is missing is actually the thing that most documentaries are criticized for: talking heads. Some people describing their actions or narrating events would have really helped with the archival footage. Alternatively, it could have just focused on the trial with reference to archival footage when the government discussed a specific incident.

Still, despite its flaws, and its lack of interest in convincing anyone in the “protesters deserve to be beaten” camp, this is still a valuable documentary which is worth your time if you are at all concerned about freedom of association and assembly, freedom of speech, and the disproportionate use of force (oh and the use of state resources for stupid purposes, such as putting people on trial for their thoughts).

6/10 I guess.

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