Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Trial Of The Chicago 7 | Lefsetz Letter

It’s not exactly how I remember it.

Then again, I lived through it, and most of America did not. So they’ve got no idea what the sixties were really like, everything was up for grabs, even the country itself.

And the funny thing is just like fifty years ago, the oldsters are completely out of touch with the country, they want the safe candidate, in this case Joe Biden. Eugene McCarthy and Bernie Sanders energized the youth, but in ’68 most youngsters could not vote, today many are too disillusioned to do so, or are so busy trying to get famous on TikTok that they’ve got no time to.

I’m a Sorkin fan. It’s what everybody hates that I love about him. The rapid fire dialogue. He doesn’t waste any time. Whereas too many in today’s movie business focus on image and mood to the point the story itself takes a back seat.

And what is the story here?

Nominally it’s about the Chicago 7, but really it’s about today.

The youth were on one side and the oldsters were on the other. Some oldsters aligned with the youth, my parents certainly did, they were not conservative, they were aware of injustice, my mother protested and even though they didn’t listen to music, they saw all the challenging plays off Broadway, when that was still a thing, before the Great White Way was all about musicals based on movies to appeal to the unchallenged from out of state, to the point where a real play, covering real issues, can’t even make it to Broadway. Broadway is about money, not the changing of the culture. Then again, there are exceptions, in this case the twenty first century “Hair,’ in other words “Hamilton,” a rap musical, which spoke truth and became a bigger success than all the rest, because people resonate with truth, even though most creators shoot so much lower, because they don’t want to offend, they don’t want to turn off a potential customer.

So maybe it was fear of getting your ass shot off.

Then again, the military was the enemy, no one railed on about protecting the troops, thanking soldiers for their service, the cops were pigs and then the Iran/Contra crisis happened and everything flipped, nationalism ruled, you were either on the side of our country or you were a traitor. And the youth was split.

Then again, today there’s no middle class. It’s hard to make ends meet. So, you’ve got an elite with Ivy educations who don’t want to ruffle feathers because it will negatively impact their careers and a lower class, oftentimes uneducated, which can’t analyze and in too many cases is in search of pure hedonism, when it’s not scrounging for food, not trying to keep a roof over its head.

That’s a snapshot of America. Income inequality. The boomers protesting in this movie sold out and got comfortable, they left the revolution behind, and while they were partying like it was always 1999, the moral fabric, the glue of this country came apart and here we are.

Today it’s all about democracy. Do you want to keep it? That’s what a vote for Biden is for.

Yesterday it was about getting your ass shot off.

Let me see… What were the two biggest anxieties in the sixties and early seventies if you were a guy. One, that you might have to fight in Vietnam. Two, that your girlfriend might get pregnant and your life would change overnight, you’d have to grow up, get married and go to work.

But the war ended, thank the protesters, really. And then we got abortion rights and now it’s like we’re starting all over again, with a Supreme Court looking to eviscerate abortion, to the degree states have not done so already. But there is no war, only Covid-19, but maybe that’s similar.

Everybody was not against the war at first. It took years for public sentiment to switch. Because America was the greatest country in the world and our duty was to stand up to Communism, but then we started to wonder…were the Vietnamese really our enemy, did the Domino Theory have any validity, and was it really worth it to sacrifice tens of thousands in Southeast Asia?

We’ve already sacrificed many times that to Covid. But right now that’s getting a shrug. This won’t be forever, because the virus is not going away, as a matter of fact, it’s doubling-down, just like the government.

Belief in the system. That’s what the oldsters couldn’t fathom yesterday and today, people’s rejection of this. Do you believe in the system anymore? I hate to say that I do not. Especially in an era where Republicans have their own ballot boxes in California and the law can’t shut them down, the Republicans are like toddlers, saying MAKE ME!

But the real issue is whether the system can solve our problems. That’s Abbie Hoffman, i.e. Sacha Baron Cohen’s, big point in this flick. You can vote, but the problems remain. Joe Biden may save your health care, but he ain’t gonna do much about income inequality, because the people who voted him in, with their cash and their power, don’t want him to.

You may say I’m a dreamer. But as John Lennon sang, I’m not the only one.

So it was such a different era. What you’ll notice first is the lack of computers. How did we live without them? Forget wasting time on social media, today you expect all the world’s information to be available and instantly searchable, yesterday you went to the library, which contained relatively little and what was there was not that easy to find.

Not that we knew any better. That’s how long I’ve lived. I’ve seen life change completely to the point it’s de rigueur to the younger generation. Those kids in college today, they don’t even remember dialup! Computers always existed. As did cable TV, but maybe not streaming TV, Netflix.

Aaron Sorkin wanted “The Trial of the Chicago 7” to play before the election. Forget Covid, even if the movie was distributed theatrically, most people would not see it, but being on Netflix, my inbox is filling up about it, I watched it because I wanted to be part of the discussion, just like why I used to go to the movies until around 2005, when we collectively agreed the quality was on TV, with “The Sopranos,” which was better than anything in the theatre, then or now.

And essentially everybody has access to Netflix. Then again, I’ll get e-mail telling me no, that they haven’t even got internet access, it’s the devil. These people without smartphones are proud, they don’t realize they’re being left behind, have already been left behind.

So Sorkin knew distribution is king. And he wanted his flick where everybody could see it, essentially for free. You debate whether a movie is worth it, at the theatre or on pay-per-view, but if it’s part of the package, it feel free, even though you, or the person you’re stealing it from, is paying for Netflix every month. Then again, Netflix is cheaper than the price of admission to one movie, ain’t that a head-scratcher.

So we know what happened to everybody involved.

Bobby Seale got into barbecue.

Jerry Rubin was into finance and self-help.

Abbie Hoffman killed himself. He was out of time, there was nowhere for him to go, he was no longer needed, and unlike a musician he could not go on the road and play his greatest hits, so he checked out.

Rennie Davis and John Froines? How do I know they ended up nobodies? Because they came to speak at my college, which was out of the way and irrelevant, and how many people showed up to hear them? For Rennie it was about twenty five, for Froines it was ten or fifteen. It seems the prep school kids missed the sixties, or they were aligned with their parents’ conservative vision. And the public school kids were so busy trying to get into college that they had no idea what was happening in the outside world.

Dave Dellinger disappeared and we all know that Tom Hayden married Jane Fonda and then stepped out on her. What’s that old joke? Show me a beautiful woman and I’ll show you a guy who’s tired…

As for Lee Weiner, I don’t even remember he was included!

But I do remember the trial. Judge Julius Hoffman. He was laughable, but he had the power. Just like all those right wing judges Trump and his Senate cronies have installed. Have you been following this? District courts have been standing up for voter rights and then appeals courts, packed with the aforementioned judges, are striking them down. Even if Trump were to vacate office, the game would still be rigged. Especially with the Supreme Court, which canned the census, why?

As for the actors… Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the most believable. Then again, Richard Schultz was evil.

Sacha Baron Cohen got the points across, but not for a moment did you ever believe it was Abbie Hoffman, who was inherently unbelievable.

Eddie Redmayne? That was not Tom Hayden.

The actors are placeholders. And William Kunstler had more gravitas than he does in this movie. But the guy playing John Mitchell is just as evil as the real man and Michael Keaton almost steals the show as Ramsey Clark.

Oh, I forgot Frank Langella. Actually, Julius Hoffman was crazier than that. Langella was good, but Frank had been a leading man, Dracula, now he’s the old man, time has passed.

It most certainly has.

The difference between now and then is in the sixties the youth, the rebels, were optimistic, we truly believed we could change the country for the better.

Today’s Biden sales point is we need to get rid of Trump. That’s how far we’ve fallen. Pessimism reigns.

And so many reject education and science. Abbie/Sacha makes the point he went to Brandeis, and despite his clownish behavior, he ends up evidencing intelligence, he’s erudite and he wows those in attendance.

But they’re still convicted. Once again, if you believe in the system I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Being right in America ain’t that important, the key is to have the power, it’s who you know, so if you do get yourself in hot water you know who to call, someone who can get you out of a jam.

Do you know these people?

Probably not. You’ve been closed out. Or maybe you missed the memo, that there’s no lifetime employment anymore and if you’re not networking and moving ahead you’re falling behind, to your utmost detriment. Lose your job at fifty, even forty five or forty, good luck getting another one.

So, as you’ve read above, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is food for thought.

But I wish you’d been there the first time around. When you had to read the newspaper to know what was going on. The network news was only half an hour long. Or the underground press. That’s how “Rolling Stone” started out. The Chicago 7 were testing limits for all of us, they were spearheading the future just like musicians, as Abbie/Sacha references re Ginger Baker.

So, movies end up becoming history. Accuracy is irrelevant, it’s just a matter of mindshare. And usually there’s no money in the past, so no one tries to set the record straight.

The trial was a circus. The 7 were pushing the envelope, the antics were incredible, you sat at home and wondered if they’d be convicted, and then what?

In this case they got out.

But now you don’t. Just ask all the African-Americans in jail for minor drug offenses.

We do live in a law and order country. There are cameras everywhere. And there are fewer murders and it’s much safer, despite what the right wants you to believe.

But ain’t that America, they want to make you afraid.

Especially of the government. Ramsey Clark stands up, but the point here is Trump and his cronies are immune to the legal system, they don’t show up, even if they’re called, the message is telegraphed loud and clear.

That’s why this movie was made. To let Sorkin make points about today, not yesteryear.

And sure, if you lived through it you’ll get nostalgic. But a lot of that is cinematography, the warm hues. Life is easier today, no doubt.

And the interesting thing is in the past six months we’ve seen spontaneous demonstrations. In larger size and with more intensity than anything we experienced in the sixties.

And that’s the question of today, what happens after November 3rd, no matter who wins.

Sorkin inserts right wing frat boys, who infiltrate the protest, but that’s not how it was, you had to go below the Mason-Dixon line to find any youngsters who were Republicans, at least in numbers. It was us versus them. The youth against the system.

Now it’s us against us. That’s what Trump played into, that’s what he’s amplified. The immigrants, your neighbors, the Jews, the Blacks, they’re messing with your life, they’re keeping you down The real enemies, like Trump and his cronies themselves, end up inviolate, as well as the corporations and fat cats who support them. Somehow, they’ve taken the focus off of them.

But one thing we know is the Democrats of yesteryear were not wimps. We can argue whether they wanted violence, but one thing is for sure, they wanted change, and they were willing to stand up for it, they did not only not trust the government, but the established players on the left either. Don’t forget, Mayor Daley was a Democrat.

So I recommend you watch “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” So you can be part of the discussion. It’s been a long time since America has been on the same page, exposed to the same info. And this is history, so if the right wants to complain…I don’t see how it can.

Food for thought.

Which you won’t get at the superhero movies Hollywood is lamenting it cannot distribute in theatres.

Streaming television saves the world. The internet certainly punted.


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