The Chicago 8 dramatizes the infamous trial of Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner, Rennie Davis and John Froines, who were accused of violating anti-riot laws and conspiracy in connection with the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The film shows Judge Julius Hoffman’s bias and the defendant’s defiance as is reported in the court transcripts. It’s a film of a chapter of American history of great import as it shows how derailed our justice system can get.
In an article about a play on the trial that the Remains Theater was doing in 1997, the event was summarized as follows:
It went down something like this.
By the summer of 1968, Chicago had been rocked by wide-scale rioting on the city’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mayor Richard J. Daley had issued his infamous “Shoot to kill” arsonists order during that time and he publicly vowed that when the national convention of his beloved Democratic party came to Chicago in August, “outside agitators” would not be allowed to disrupt his city again.
Sen. Robert Kennedy was murdered several weeks before the convention, anti-war protests had continued unabated even though incumbent President Lyndon Johnson had announced he would not seek re-election and his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, marched toward the Democratic convention as his likely successor.
When the convention convened in a heavily guarded International Amphitheater on the Southwest Side, thousands of young demonstrators gathered in Lincoln and Grant Parks, engaging in five nights of violent clashes with Chicago police.
Early in 1969, after months of finger-pointing and blame, eight of those demonstrators, representing a cross-section of the anti-war movement in the country, were charged with conspiring to come to Chicago to stage riots and with rioting. It was the first major use of a new federal anti-conspiracy law that was decried as an unconstitutional violation of Freedom of Speech.
By September 1969, the stage was set for a replay of the Democratic convention, this time in an austere courtroom on the 23rd floor of the Dirksen Federal Building at 219 N. Dearborn St. and presided over by crusty Federal Judge Julius J. Hoffman. (Davis, 1997)
The film captures the feeling of the five month long trial, though it leaves out parts that would have been good like “folk singer Judy Collins having her mouth covered by the hands of a federal marshal as she tried to sing, “Where have all the flowers gone?” in an impromptu concert during her testimony . . . .and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg chanting a mantra-”ommmm, ommmm”-while on the witness stand in a humorous attempt to restore tranquility when the court broke out in one of its frequent bursts of shouting” (Davis, 1997).
We forget how fragile our justice system is and how one judge can contort it to his own ends. The movie starts a little slow and includes some footage of an orgie that just doesn’t belong as there’s no follow up, but the second and third act are more tightly put together and the historical event should be understood by all.
Davis, R. (1991, Sep 15). Return of the Chicago 7: the trial was great theater, but will it work on stage? Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from search.proquest.com on April 22, 2013
N.B. Since Bobbie Seale was removed from this trial, in a very racist manner, some call it the Chicago 7 and others the Chicago 8.