This is a movie about what we usually refer to as the Chicago Seven: Abbie Hoffman (no relation to Julius Hoffman, the hanging judge), David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner (pronounced WINE-er, as he pointed out to the judge, and no relation to the notorious weenie-wagging ex-congressman). (Sobering thought: Most of them are dead now.) When the trial began Bobby Seale was indicted, though he had virtually no connection to the others. He was a Black Panther, and the Panthers didn’t have a lot of use for spoiled rich white boys marching in the streets. When the judge refused to allow him his constitutional right to represent himself he protested so long and loud that Hoffman had him bound and gagged. It’s one of the most enduring images of that time. So Seale was eventually severed from the others, but he was the eighth man. Rounding out the Top Ten were the two lawyers, William Kuntsler and Leonard Weinglass, who were sentenced to up to five years for contempt! The Seven were found not guilty of the main change, conspiracy, but five of them were convicted of lesser offenses. All sentences were soon overturned, dismissed, or vacated by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which found a ton of errors by Judge Hoffman, who always sustained objections by the prosecution and overruled any objection by the defense. He might as well have had They’re Guilty! tattooed on his forehead.
Before this we have had to be content with courtroom drawings to see that image of Bobby Seale, since cameras were not permitted in courtrooms in those days (and still isn’t in most cases). Now, we still have just drawing but they are animated! This movie consists of two parts, and switches back and forth between them.
The earlier stuff is of the thousands of demonstrators who came to Chicago to protest the war in Vietnam. There is a lot of footage of the police riot that I had never seen. It always gives me a lump in my throat, seeing those peaceful people being clubbed by the Chicago pigs. (I do not call cops pigs, not then and not now, but in this instance it is totally appropriate.)
The other location, a few months later, is the trial. All the dialogue is taken directly from the trial transcripts. The animation is very good, not photo-real but far, far better than the drawings that are all we had before. It just shows you what a surreal zoo the whole thing was. It was the most blatantly political and prejudiced trial in my lifetime, and as I watch it it’s hard for me to believe that it happened in America. And even with all that, the jury found them not guilty!
The characters are voiced by some big names: Nick Nolte, Roy Scheider, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, and Hank Azaria, among others. This is a fascinating look back at a bygone era, forty-eight years in the past now. I think it is well worth seeing to brace ourselves for the threats to our freedoms in the coming four years.