The Chicago 8

The Chicago 8

DVD - 2013
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The true story of the explosive trial that resulted, when seven leaders of the Vietnam antiwar movement, along with the Chairman of the Black Panthers, were charged with conspiracy to incite the devastating riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It is one of the highest profile criminal court cases in US history.
Publisher: [United States] : Passion River Films, [2013]
Branch Call Number: DVD DRAMA Chi
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (88 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in
Alternative Title: Chicago eight


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May 01, 2017

The Chicago Eight is, indeed, a rare movie—a piece whose appeal to the viewer is that of a car crash on a crowded highway: It’s awful, just appallingly bad, and (while you know you shouldn’t) you just can’t help but look.

The movie—and this reviewer cannot bring himself to call it a “film,” for that would bestow upon it a distinction this piece doesn’t deserve—purports to tell the story of the trial of the Chicago Eight, which opened on September 24, 1969 and concluded on February 18, 1970. And it does, in fact, very selectively portray some of the events of this watershed moment for the anti-war movement and one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American judicial system. It does so, however, with a simplistic story line and, even worse, two-dimensional, stick-figure good/bad characterizations with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledgehammer.

One might conclude from the film's sympathetic depiction of the horrors visited upon Bobby Seale during the trial that it was the filmmaker’s intent to make a film sympathetic to the defendants (and, by extension, the anti-war movement and youth counterculture). If that was, indeed, their intent, the piece fails spectacularly to achieve it.

The story line is simplistic, with the screenwriter exhibiting extraordinarily poor judgment and making the most grotesque choices about what events to portray, how to portray them, and what to leave out. A good example: Allen Ginsberg’s surpassingly bizarre testimony (which resulted in Hare Krishna followers disrupting the courtroom by chanting the Maha Mantra) is included; Norman Mailer’s erudite testimony is not, nor is that of such leading figures of the anti-war movement as Timothy Leary.

Tom Hayden, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Rennie Davis of the SDS (all prominent members of the anti-war movement) are dealt with perfunctorily, as if they had to be included because they were, after all, members of the Chicago Eight—but there cannot reasonably be said to be any characterization of them, and they have so few lines they come across as non-entities. Gary Cole’s “Bill” Kunstler (defense counsel) is unconvincing at his best. Danny Masterson’s Jerry Rubin is a stick figure who seems incapable of forming an opinion of his own and far more interested in saving his own skin than in any highly-principled defense. But the most unsympathetic portrayal of all the defendants is Thomas Ian Nicholas’s Abbie Hoffman, whom the screenplay depicts (with, in retrospect, a fair degree of accuracy) as a self-promoting, narcissistic, womanizing douche whom one suspects was a part of the “movement” for all the wrong reasons. One of the most famous scenes in the trial is when Hoffman says to Judge Hoffman (no relation), in Yiddish, “you are a shande fur de Goyim” (disgrace in front of the Gentiles).

Speaking as a Jew I can only say: Yeah, Abbie, right back atcha.

The opening sequence is a simplistic crawl about the war and the anti-war movement over the worst possible choices of stock footage from the period, and is completely inadequate in setting the stage. The score, such as it is, is a confusing, bizarre mish-mash of original score and protest music of the period which does nothing to enhance the piece and much to detract from it. The cinematography and art direction are purposelessly both garish and ugly, with all the charm of a pig's corpse rotting in the summer heat. The frequent use of split-screen is distracting, again detracting from the piece rather than enhancing it.

The film opened at Atlanta’s Peachtree Film Festival in 2010, where it received the award for Best Feature Film (which it also won at the 2011 Beverly Hills Film Festival). One can’t help but wonder how bad the competition was. Despite its reception at such respected film festivals (please note the heavy tone of sarcasm), it took two years for the filmmakers to find a distributor willing to disseminate this piece of garbage.

Jun 18, 2015

Good quick movie. At 88minutes I wonder if more was censored from this movie. Early character back stories might have helped.

kevfarley Apr 10, 2014

I wish they had included more about the actual anti-war movement,.. for those of us who weren't there. Doing so may have helped to clarify the meaning and the context of these courtroom 'antics'. This prosecution was always about punishing dissent, and never about justice. The 'trial' was really a cover-up for violating our Constitutional "right of the people to assemble to seek redress of grievences". (4-10-14: 0 ; 4-11: 5)

aaa5756 Dec 08, 2013

This movie was entertaining and interesting but not one of my favorite for this year. Not too bad---good performance. I fast forwarded a lot but not all the way.


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