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Unconventional 'Chicago 10'

March 20, 2008 By:
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Three stooges or stars for peace? Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin of the "Chicago 10"

Yippie, oy vey?

The Yiddish yelp and war cry of a Jewish John McClane?

Or the peace plea of the Jewish dissidents of the Chicago 7/8?

Life may seem safer with McClane as your die-hard buddy and battery mate, but it's the "Hair" today, gone tomorrow activists of an atavistic time that put America on trial who take up screen space in the expanded "Chicago 10," now playing in area theaters.

Nice Jewish boys they weren't -- well, maybe to their mothers -- but nobody ever accused Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman or Lee Weiner of being tied to their moms' apron strings; just tying up the city of Chicago as they and their band of buds took to the streets to protest Vietnam and prick the Johnson administration for ignoring the tired, the poor ... the weirded out ... outside the Democratic presidential nominating convention 40 years ago.

Denver, are you watching?

Brett Morgen's film adds salt to the wound that was a Beatles "Revolution" recording almost realized. At a time when the war of the worlds was something maybe worse than Orson Welles could have imagined, and 'Nam was the name for a national curse -- unlike the poster-pretty picture of an American tourist attraction that it is now -- the Chicago boys -- and boys they were and acted when they didn't get their way -- paraded and partied before a Democratic party apoplectic at their interference.

Of course, Chicago cops copped more than an attitude; they used night sticks as if prepping for a future Rodney King convention, busting heads as if they were Yippie piñatas. Not America's finest moment for Chicago's finest.

And, left metaphorically lynched in the political lurch as the riots raged on, protest banners seared and soured in blood, was poor Hubert Humphrey; he looked more lost than when asked to ride a horse at LBJ's ranch.

It was an important time for impotent politics and, in retrospect, it all doesn't seem as pure and pristine a posturing taken by the Yippies as it was then. But it did serve a purpose -- turning the country into chaos and hurting Humphrey later at the polls, ensuring that Nixon was indeed the one to make the war last longer.

Talk about your diminishing -- and diminished -- returns.

So, in a way, this is a home movie for the crowds who cooed and thought it cool when Hoffman would deck himself out in an American flag to gain attention -- and censorship -- on a late-night TV talk show. Or show up on Wall Street and toss dollar bills to the Bills and Muffies beneath him at the Stock Exchange.

Exchange this time for then? Maybe the times aren't a'changin' so much, with talk of possible protests and pickets at the Dems convention in Denver this summer should the party pull its own Supreme Court calculations and deny the nod to the most nod-able.

Not Their Kind of Town
Forty years after the fact, Chicago is no longer Rubin's kind of town; he long ago went mainstream, becoming a Wailing Wall Streeter himself, a stockbroker picking the pocket of capitalism for his own benefit before his death 14 years ago.

And Hoffman? He committed suicide in 1989, in, ironically, New Hope, according to police records, revealing an emotionally troubled tryst with bipolar disorder that transcended society-bashing.

And here we now have the "Chicago 10," which, with its archival footage, interviews and needless animated segments augmented by famous actors' voices -- please, soft-spoken Liev Schreiber as geshrei-shouting attack attorney William Kunstler? This court is so out of order -- is offered up as hysteria and histrionics as history.

Just what it does do is reveal the past for the broken revolution it became, the change it never was.

Four decades later, the peace sign looks as lost as ever in the killing fields of barbarism that is the human condition. And no veneer of V-signs then or now can ever change that.

After all is said and done, it's only a movie -- about a predecessor to today's times that are Iraqued and roiled, looking back to an era that was perhaps more solipsistically aware than socially astute.

But if you want to stay true to the credo of the Chicago hell-kickers, just do as Hoffman would have done, passing the joint -- i.e., theater -- to attend a rally:

See the movie? Steal this movie! 

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