Monday, May 28, 2018

Chicago 70 (1970)

          One of the stranger cultural reactions to the notorious “Chicago 7 Trial” was an absurdist theater production blending excerpts from courtroom transcripts with allusions to Alice in Wonderland alongside satirical interjections somewhat in the style of the Marx Brothers. Chicago 70 is a cinematic adaptation of that play. Presumably, the idea behind both versions of the piece was to skewer the absurdity of putting left-wing activists on trial for the chaos surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention, even though the real culprits were Chicago’s police department and the city’s mayor, Richard J. Daley. Featuring such iconic characters as Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale, the trial was a flashpoint in the counterculture era, but the story’s insane sprawl has stymied most attempts at reducing the trial to a feature-length narrative. Hence such experimental treatments as this film and Chicago 10 (2007), alongside occasional mainstream piece including Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8 (1987). Anyway, there’s not much to say about Chicago 70 beyond the description provided earlier—as written by the unlikely figure of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Chicago 70 is a flimsy gimmick stretched to feature length.
          Performing on a stripped-down set, actors spew transcript excerpts in a rapid-fire style, transforming history into farce. Sometimes actors switch roles, sometimes characters are represented by props instead of people, and sometimes the movie cuts from the court action to silly interludes—after the judge forgets the name of a defendant, for instance, he plays charades until remembering the name. Given its frenetic presentation, Chicago 70 mostly fails as a delivery device for information, so viewers unfamiliar with the real historical events are encouraged to learn facts elsewhere. Even for those who know the story, however, Chicago 70 hasn’t aged well. Stripped of the relevance it presumably had during its original release, the movie now seems childish and noisy, except for an imaginatively rendered and somewhat poignant sequence depicting the moment when Seale was bound and gagged. As for the film’s politics, the lopsided depiction of activists as valiant warriors and court officers as fascist buffoons is unhelpful.

Chicago 70: FUNKY

No comments: