Rightwing Film Geek

Cartoon theater

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CHICAGO 10 — Brett Morgen, USA, 2008, 8

I have liked courtroom procedurals since watching “Crown Court” on Scottish TV daytime as a 7-year-old boy (I’m not sure I quite realized it was fictional at first). I still count ANATOMY OF A MURDER and WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION as personal favorites. A trial is naturally dramatic — it sets out a conflict in explicit terms, with defined protagonists in the Anglo-Saxon adversarial system, and a defined trajectory with a definite payoff, even in a “Scottish verdict.” And the courtroom is a kind of elemental “stage” on which to play through the conflict,¹ like a ring in boxing movie.

So CHICAGO 10 was aiming in part for my sweet spot. It mixes re-creations from the trial of eight despicable 60s radicals with the four days of the 1968 Democratic Convention they tried to disrupt, and some of the radicals’ contemporaneous extra-court activities as celebrity defendants. That stuff is mostly live footage, but some is animated — e.g., Abby Hoffman apparently went on a comedy tour, and he clearly had some ability in that field, kind of a poor man’s Lenny Bruce joking about his own trial. CHICAGO 10 is even the second time around for me in terms of a re-creation of the trial in question — I remember vaguely seeing the made-for-HBO CONSPIRACY: THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 8 in the late-80s.

chicago10rogues.jpgMorgen’s movie takes a couple of stylistic gambles and they both pay off rather handsomely. The first is obvious from the illustrations I use: CHICAGO 10’s trial recreations are animated in the same kind of fauvist/rotoscope look that Morgen also used (much more sparingly) in 2002’s THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE. If the very concept of using cartoons to re-create a trial turns you off a priori as A Violation Of Documentary Purity … well, go moon over Wiseman (more on this later). But to the rest of us, this was a brilliant choice. First of all, several of the people involved (Abby Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin and William Kunstler) are well-known even today. But because a cartoon can never look that realistic, it avoids “celebrity mimickry” as a measuring stick for the performances. Second, this particular trial was a circus anyway, with the defendants, Hoffman and Rubin especially, openly saying they wanted to turn it into street theater. Making the trial a literal cartoon seems like the perfect mordant judgment.

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March 7, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment