Chicago 10 Brett Morgen

Chicago 10 Brett Morgen
Stepping up a couple of weight classes from his previous feature, fizzy Hollywood documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, Brett Morgen uses a splashy, imagistic bouillabaisse of newsreel footage, animation, music videos and general psychedelic hoo-ha in Chicago 10 to paint an emotionally resonant, if intellectually confusing, picture of the famously violent Democratic Convention of August 1968. Unlike Medium Cool, Haskell Wexler’s 1969 genre-creating docudrama masterpiece that also made extensive use of archival footage of those events (and an obvious inspiration here), Chicago 10 broadens its focus to include the subsequent trial of the eponymous instigators ("organizers” seems overstated). Skittishly intercutting his trial material with the portentous lead-up events — the secret March meeting of the protesters, April’s Martin Luther King riots, jittery cops and National Guardsmen prepping for mass insurrection — Morgen tries, with some success, to recreate the whipping, disorienting winds of rapid zeitgeist shift. Chicago 10’s defining aesthetic choice is to re-enact the trial using rotoscoped animation, with actors (notably Nick Nolte and a weirdly, unrecognizably creaky Roy Scheider) reading from the actual trial transcripts. The trial often defaulted to farce — goofy play acting by name brand revolutionaries Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, a reactionary judge often paralyzed with disgust and incipient senility, an obstreperous Bobby Seale trussed up like Hannibal Lecter — and one can understand the urge to present the circus as cartoon. Still, the animation seems both pointless — no Waking Life lysergic excursions here — and distracting. When Mayor Daley’s baton-wielding, commie-hating bulls finally meet the Yippie-led hordes, jazzed on pot and revolution but not yet soured by Altamont and Manson, Morgen drops his art-house fiddling but besides scoring it with MC5, Black Sabbath and (weirdly) Eminem and the Beastie Boys, he lets the bloody mayhem speak for itself. The niceties of the politics are forgotten and we’re left with a chillingly effective lesson in untameable mass psychology, and the frightening brutality of naked tribalism. At the end of the day, everyone gets convicted of something, almost everything gets overturned on appeal and our boy Nixon wins the 1968 election. Some comparisons to today’s political climate seem called for — how, for example, opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion similarly achieved little beyond a second Bush administration — but all we get for extras is a thoroughly skippable "video remix contest winner.” (Paramount)