Sunday, March 2, 2008

Applying Then to Now: 'Chicago 10' (A Film Review)

I'm an 80's baby. I can't reminisce over the passion and energy of my parent's generation; I can only revel in its mythical aura, retrospectively, somewhat enviously. Activating the youth and mobilizing a movement, the luminary rebels and anti-war rabble-rousers of decades past took to the streets, literally, to demand their rights and actualize a new wave of young visionaries to carry the flag. To many people my age, this seems like ancient history. Too often has my generation been labeled "complacent", "egotistical" or overly "cynical." Truth be told, however, these critiques aren't too much of a stretch. But the way in which our society is built, this cynicism and complacency has clearly been facilitated by the constant bombardment of celebrity gossip, steroid controversies and other nonsensical, trivial tripe - all while masking the real issues, such as health care, education, the economy and the dreadful black hole that is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our "authorities" have done nothing to stir up the youth, and the few leaders who have expressed interest in carrying on this mission, have gained little to no traction from both the media and the people. In the words of Black Thought from The Roots:

When the leaders is posers, we needing some soldiers
'Why? (What's Goin' On?)'

This weekend, I went out to the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles to check out 'Chicago 10', a documentary about the Chicago Seven (also known as the Chicago Eight ... confusing, I know), a collective of protest leaders who were charged with conspiracy and other trumped up allegations. The group comprised of the following activists: Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Lee Weiner, John Froines and Bobby Seale. The film does a masterful job of contrasting nearly forty-year-old footage of speeches, marches, protests and other important scenes, with the notable court room scenarios and hysterics that took place during the actual trial. The scenes in the court room are animated, as there is no video recorded footage of the actual hearing(s). Panning in and out of the court room, director Brett Morgen shows how real it truly was out on the streets. Footage of nightstick-wielding police officers hammering away at peaceful protesters is a tough sight to see. The image of an elderly woman chanting "We Shall Overcome" while getting shoved into the back of a police van will make you cringe and make you internally recite those three famous words from N.W.A.

Viewed from a historical perspective, the film captures that raw energy and emotion that burned so bright roughly four decades ago. To many, it seems like this flame has long been extinguished. But the director and music department made a wise choice in selecting their soundtrack. Archival video of Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, Jerry Rubin and the other leaders delivering their passionate orations over the guitar riffs and chants of Rage Against the Machine, for instance, make the experience feel contemporary and very real for this moment. In fact, a climactic moment of the film, for me at least, involved a very significant protest scene with an equally fitting audio backdrop. The image of scores of people stomping through the streets and parks of Chicago, blended with the anthemic rallying of Eminem's 'Mosh' felt so palpable. So real... So now... The director's choice of including the famous "Fuck Bush" felt quite suitable, to say the least. ;-D

The film takes you to a far-out place in the past, while keeping you comfortable with the fun animation technology and provocative soundscapes of the present. The message of the film is very powerful and reminds me of that great Patti Smith song: "People have the power!" Like the Black Thought quote that was mentioned above, it's evident that it all comes down to the people. Only we have the ability to change and shape our destiny. Gandhi once said: "We must become the change we want to see in the world." Borrowing from this philosophy, Barack Obama recently exclaimed: "We are the ones we've been waiting for!"

The message of hope, the message of change... it's real.

It's real... if you want it.