DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: CHICAGO 10

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Chicago 10 (2007) dir. Brett Morgen


One of the most significant political events in the U.S. of the 60’s is the Democratic National Party protest of 1968. Unlike the peaceful protests of Martin Luther King, this rally had a much more militant and aggressive approach from both sides of the conflict. And the ensuing trial of the organizers was equally spirited. Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”) has constructed a documentary both documenting and dramatizing these tumultuous events. The Paramount DVD release is timed perfectly with the current Democratic National Convention occurring this week, 40 years after 1968.

As background, in 1968, the Vietnam War was in full force which caused much political debate between the Government and it’s youthful citizens who were being drafted into the military. In August of ‘68, the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. A protest was assembled by a group of eight known as the ‘Yippies’, led by, among others, Abbie Hoffman, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale. After some mutual agitation from both sides, the protest turned ugly, people were beaten and arrested, including the eight leaders, who came to be known as “The Chicago 8”. They were all tried in an equally raucous public trial.

Morgen has a two-pronged approach to the story. He recounts the events leading up to and during the protest using traditional archival footage. And intercut with the events is the trial, which is dramatized using animation with celebrity actors’ voices playing the parts of the key players.

The influence of the Chicago 8 has remained with the protest movement beyond 1968. The events in Chicago is a reminder, good and bad, of the action taken to disturb the WTO talks in Seattle in 1999. And so instead of using tired old 60’s protest songs to set the tone, Morgen uses a range of aggressive protest songs to bridge the past 40 years – Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys, MC5.

In “The Kid Stays in the Picture” Morgen used a distinct stylized visual design at a time when docmakers were still stuck using an uncreative Ken Burns-style stills and archival footage approach. Morgen once again attempts to break some new ground with his animation recreations. It’s a mixture of Bob Sabiston (“Waking Life”) and Ralph Bashki (“American Pop”) styles and so there’s more familiarity than innovation.

And unfortunately these trial scenes are the downfall of the film. They don’t merge completely with the traditional elements and so there’s a major disconnect between the protest events and the trial. While some of the actors give wonderful voiced performances (Jeffrey Wright as Bobby Seale and Mark Ruffalo as Jerry Rubin) other performances such as Roy Scheider’s Judge Julius Hoffman and Nick Nolte’s attorney Thomas Foran feel like a bad Saturday morning cartoon. Unfortunately these sequences are half the film and it’s more than just mere distraction.

I still don’t why the film is called “The Chicago 10” and not “The Chicago 8”, perhaps I missed that. In any case, Morgen’s film is an interesting technical experiment but in the end won’t entertain anybody other than an ideologically interested audience.

“Chicago 10” is available on DVD from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment

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