Chicago 10 [DVD]
Director : Brett Morgen
Screenplay : Brett Morgen
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Hank Azaria (Abbie Hoffman / Allen Ginsberg), Dylan Baker (David Dellinger / David Stahl), Nick Nolte (Thomas Foran), Mark Ruffalo (Jerry Rubin), Roy Scheider (Judge Julius Hoffman), Liev Schreiber (William Kunstler), Jeffrey Wright (Bobby Seale)
Give due credit to Brett Morgen: He has taken an already well-trodden piece of recent American history and not only made it vibrant and new, but also painfully, strikingly relevant. Chicago 10, a bravura documentary-cum-polemic about the circus trial of eight (later seven) defendants charged with inciting a riot outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago is an ideological bum rush that hits you with the force of its conviction and keeps you enthralled with its mesmerizing mixture of documentary footage and motion-capture animation. That’s right--Morgen took a serious gamble in recreating the trial (in which no recording devices were allowed) using animation, and it paid off. Not only does it sidestep the problem of having recognizable actors doing historical-persona drag, but the animation suits the almost surreal nature of the lengthy trial, which by any stretch of the imagination was a mockery of the judicial system.
Morgen, whose last film was the intriguing and gossipy Robert Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture (2003), knows how to build momentum and sustain it. No one will mistake Chicago 10 for an even-handed journalistic account of what happened during the 1968 protests and the subsequent trial; from the get-go Morgen is on the side of the counterculture and all it represents. Yet, that is precisely the film’s source of power because it doesn’t feign impartiality, nor does it have to. Morgen’s film is a celebration of leftist politics and a cultural revolution that for a brief, shining moment seemed on the brink of changing the world. Morgen has certainly hedged his bets in celebrating flower power by downplaying the role of drugs and the inherent ideological contradictions in a worldview based on a kind of freedom that verges on anarchy, but it’s not unjustified.
Chicago 10divides its time equally between an impressive mixture of documentary footage and interviews and the animated recreations of the trial. At first, the shifts between grainy 16mm live action and the pristine, smooth motion-capture animation, which has that uncanny sense of being almost too realistic, is jarring, but after a few transitions you almost lose sense of which is which. The real-life footage of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale merges with their animated counterparts, who are ably and invisibly voiced by such name actors such as Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, and Jeffrey Wright. Morgen hits all the trial’s greatest hits, including the always-theatrical Hoffman and Rubin mocking contemptuous Judge Julius Hoffman (who is voiced as a caricatured, grizzled weasel by the late Roy Scheider) and the judge ordering Black Panther leader Seale bound and gagged in the courtroom.
Morgen does overplay his hand at times, particularly in the documentary portions of the film that aim to overwhelm the audience with its accumulation of increasingly violent footage. Seeing armored cars and heavily armed soldiers marching through downtown Chicago is a chilling enough image, but Morgen pours it on once all hell starts to break loose, giving us image after image after image of police beatings, protestors running from exploding tear gas canisters, and general mayhem. A little of this goes a long way, but at times Morgan seems hellbent on literally beating the audience with the violence, as if to say, “Here’s the pain, here’s what they felt. What are you doing?”
And that, ultimately, is what makes Chicago 10 such an incisive piece of work. Rather than just a clever rehash of recent American history, Morgen’s film carves out a piece of the past and serves it up as a heated admonition to the current generation who have yet to take to the streets for anything. With its blaring, aggressive use of contemporary protest music by the likes of The Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine, Chicago 10 bridges the past and the present to show that, the more things change, the more they stay the same--violence and injustice in ’68 are violence and injustice in ’08. Without ever once explicitly mentioning it, Morgen has made the most relevant film this year about Iraq.
|Chicago 10 DVD|
|Audio||English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Supplements||Chicago 10 Remix Video Contest winner|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 26, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Given that the film is a mixture of archival 16mm footage and new computer animation, the visual quality on this disc varies greatly, but is always appropriately representative. The CG sequences are bright and clean, while the archival footage has the expected levels of grain and noise. While some of the archival footage is in black and white, portions of it are in color, and moreso than when I saw the film theatrically, it looks like the colors have been purposefully boosted and saturated to the point of surrealism. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is as aggressive as the film’s politics, filling the surround channels with chaos and noise and blasting you with the powerful strains of contemporary protest rock.|
|I am really surprised that this disc doesn’t have a single supplement outside of the Chicago 10 Remix Video Contest winning entry. No commentary by Bret Morgen? No making-of documentary featuring interviews with the voice cast? Nothing about the CGI motion capture technology? Seems to me like a real opportunity to elaborate on a fascinating film was dropped here.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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