- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

Andrew Sullivan, a conservative writer whose dyspeptic antipathy for President Bush drove him first into the arms of Sen. John Kerry and now of Sen. Barack Obama, says the singular appeal of the latter presidential aspirant is his distance, in both age and temperament, from the 1960s.

“Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America — finally — past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us,” wrote a hopeful Mr. Sullivan in the Atlantic.

Yet bad ‘60s juju has ensnared even Mr. Obama, with the recent revelation that, during the mid-‘90s, he was friendly with former Weather Underground radicals William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

To paraphrase the aging Michael Corleone: Just when we thought we were out, the ‘60s pull us back in.

There’s at least one guy, though, who’s happy to be there, if only in spirit: Brett Morgen.

The 39-year-old filmmaker (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”) was still in utero during the summer of 1968, when thousands of young people descended on Chicago in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention to protest the Vietnam War.

With the documentary “Chicago 10,” opening today exclusively at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, Mr. Morgen aims to revivify those dramatic events — the riots, followed by the trial one year later of eight leading antiwar activists — for a generation that is as apt to express its political discontents online as it is to hit the streets in protest.

Intriguingly, Mr. Morgen thinks the YouTube generation has more in common with the “yippies” — media-savvy, soundbite-ready radicals such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, who were among the eight indicted for inciting the Chicago riots — than one might initially assume.

And he doesn’t mean just unruly hairdos.

“Those of us who were born after that era grew up with this feeling that, during the ‘60s, you went out your front door and there was a protest on your street,” Mr. Morgen says. “A lot of protest today has gone viral.”

“One of the things that I want people to take away from this film,” he continues, “is the sense of fun, the sense of theater that the yippies were able to introduce into the antiwar movement. You can see it today in YouTube parody videos.”

“Chicago 10” — Mr. Morgen includes defense lawyers William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, both cited for contempt during the trial, in the title’s numerical shorthand — is a lopsidedly leftist affair. It brooks no sympathy for Chicago police or the city administration of then-Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Indeed, in our conversation, Mr. Morgen says the Chicago riots were just one example of a “timeless tale” of oppressive government silencing political opposition. The Chinese communist regime’s crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989 was another, he says, drawing an absurd moral parallel.

Any historical appraisal of the film must account for its romanticization of New Left extremism — not least its convenient overlooking of protest organizer Tom Hayden’s not-so-secret desire to foment violence.

Recovering radical David Horowitz recalls in his memoir “Radical Son” having private discussions with Mr. Hayden in which the latter shared his general strategy for gathering movement support.

“If people’s heads got cracked by police, he said in more than one of these sessions, it ‘radicalized them,’ ” Mr. Horowitz wrote.

In this, the Daley administration played right into the hands of the organizers.

“Chicago 10’s” chief value lies not in its apologia for radical dissent, but, rather, in its impressive ability to enliven a piece of history.

Mr. Morgen says he spent three years collecting documentary media: 1,200 hours of film, 500 hours of audio, 14,000-plus photographs and countless “flat-art elements” such as newspaper articles and written journals.

Whatever its politics, such a mass of information had all the makings of a drearily empirical exercise — the kind of earnest documentary that, say, wins an Oscar but fails to reach many eyeballs.

“We tried to make this film entertaining,” he says. “It was very much in the spirit of yippie: ‘Let’s make a film that’s irreverent and filled with this rock ‘n’ roll spirit.’ Our feeling was, if it’s not entertaining, no one’s gonna go — we’re going to be preaching to an empty room.”

To that end, Mr. Morgen jettisoned traditional documentary methods such as voice-over narration and interviews with survivors and other talking heads. With a team of animators and well-known actors such as Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo and the late Roy Scheider giving voice to the dramatis personae, he presents the trial as a sort of gonzo-intellectual cartoon.

Mr. Morgen also, smartly, avoided ‘60s protest music — cliched and overcommercialized, he says — in favor of a booming contemporary soundtrack. “When you take archival footage from 40 years ago and score it with the Beastie Boys, suddenly an event that happened in your parents’ or grandparents’ generation feels like it might have happened last week,” he says.

He calls the approach “experiential cinema” — storytelling that tries to connect equally with the heart and head.

He is perhaps overly optimistic that one can walk away from the film without feeling the brunt of its anti-authoritarian outlook, but Mr. Morgen sounds sincere enough when he says: “I made it for everyone. The film simply puts up a mirror to the audience and asks them, ‘How far are you willing to go for your beliefs?’ ”

And best of all for Republican viewers: They get to watch Democrats beat up other Democrats.

Given the devolving tenor of the Democratic primary these days, maybe the ‘60s truly are still with us.

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