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Chicago 10 in our magazines

SUBJECT: Chicago 10

The Chicago 10 Struck by the lack of passion by the American public against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, writer/director Brett Morgen started looking back at the anti-war movement of the 60’s to understand what it means to take a stand, particularly the 1968 Democratic Convention where protestors, denied permits for demonstrations against the Vietnam War, repeatedly clashed with the Chicago Police. The riots were witnessed by a television audience of over 50 million. Needing to find a scapegoat for the riots, the Government held eight of the most vocal activists accountable for the violence and brought them to trial a year later, including Abbie Hoffman (voiced by Hank Azaria), Jerry Rubin (Mark Ruffalo) and Bobby Seale (Jeffrey Wright). We sat down and talked with Morgen who, in an innovative concept, mixes both archival footage and original animation that explores the build-up to and the unraveling of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial.

Q: Why is the movie called Chicago 10 when the trial was against eight defendants?:
Writer/director Brett MorgenBrett Morgen: At the beginning of the trial, the defendants were known as the Chicago Eight. After Bobby Seale was dismissed, they became the Chicago Seven. I couldn’t figure out whether I should call the film C7 or C8, when I stumbled upon an interview with Jerry Rubin where he said, ‘Anyone who calls the Chicago Seven is a racist. You need to call us the Chicago Eight – but, really, you should call us the Chicago 10 since our lawyers were each given contempt sentences.

Q: Why did you decided not to use interviews with the surviving members of the Chicago 10?
A: The incident happened 35-40 years ago, if we’re reintroducing this story to a young audience, these guys are their grandfathers. So instinctively we were not going to do interviews with the survivors; two main reasons, one, I didn’t want to do this film through the prism of 70-year-old men, secondly, a lot of the interesting and more charismatic members of the trial are dead. More importantly most social change is brought about by young people, so let them see the face of their peers on the screen. One of the things that I really came to admire, respect and love about this project is these guys came up with this idea sitting in their living room smoking pot; it wasn’t like they got college degrees in leading an anti-war movement. Abbie and Jerry were sitting in their apartment on New Year’s Eve, going, ‘Man, let’s do something in Chicago,’ and then – boom – they create one of the biggest pieces of political theater ever staged on US soil.

Q: There wasn’t footage from the trial, how did you come up with the idea of using animation to depict the trial instead of actors?:
Animated courtroomA: Because of the heavy amount of archival footage in the film, I thought if I was constantly going between actors and archival footage, the actors would never look or sound like their archival counterparts, and it would be really distracting and almost laughable. With the courtroom, Jerry Rubin described the trial as a cartoon show, and it just seemed like the Yippie thing to do. But I knew that the audience would say, ‘Is Morgen taking license with this or did this really happen?’ because we were in animation, and so there are a number of points where you see some outrageous thing happen in the courtroom and then you cut to archival footage of someone commenting on it, to drive home the fact that this really happened. We wanted to have a revolutionary esthetic to be a movie that captured that youthful energy of that moment in time. It’s not a history lesson by any stretch of the imagination. If you want the history please read a book on it. In a 90-minute movie I just kept a narrow through line of action; there’s war, there’s opposition to a war and there’s a government trying to silence that opposition.

Q: Can you talk about the music you use in the film?
A: The music in the film from the get-go, before I put pen to paper, I was never going to use the actual recordings from the Sixties. This isn’t a movie about the Sixties, it’s a movie for all times. I didn’t want it to be about 1968 and didn’t want the music to be about ’68, because kids today, the audience I ultimately wanted to reach with this film, if I show them the protesters marching to Phil Oakes or Judy Collins, they’re going to be totally alienated, they’re going to be laughing. So 95% of the music is contemporary – rap, reggae, genres that didn’t even exist in ’68 but they are organic to the story, because the other elements of the film feel a bit more contemporized.

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

Images above © Roadside Attractions
Feature © 2008 Visual Imagination.
Not for reproduction.

Film Review, #693, March 2008 cover

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