Director Brett Morgan's 2002 documentary, "The Kid Stays in the Picture" was one of my favorite films of that year. "Kid" followed the career of Hollywood producer Robert Evans, and what was so remarkable about the picture was not only the film's unusually (for a documentary) rich visual style, but the fact that the documentary managed to be more entertaining and fascinating than I have to imagine any fictional film about Evans could be. Morgan then worked with Evans on the animated "Kid Notorious", a series that aired on Comedy Central.
The latest from Morgan is "Chicago 10", which - as with "Kid" - certainly has a strong visual style, but the issue here is that the visual style calls a little too much attention to itself. It isn't as strong a film as "Kid", but it's a generally interesting, unusual film that takes a look at the eight people - Dave Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, and Lee Weiner - put on trial after demonstrating at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968.
With an unpopular war in Vietnam raging, crowds of protestors came out during the days of the convention. While the protests were initially peaceful, over the course of the convention, confrontations between police and protestors grew ever more tense, eventually exploding into a full-scale riot. Hoffman and the others were accused of conspiracy and inciting to riot (among other charges). Approximately half the movie covers the events leading up to the trial, while the animated half covers the absurd trial, where Judge Julius Hoffman made a number of horrifying decisions, the most infamous of which was keeping co-defendant Bobby Seale (Jeffrey Wright) bound and gagged after Seale was not allowed to represent himself.
Morgan's film is a mixture of animated (rotoscope) footage and archive news clips. During the rotoscope stretches, the subjects are voiced by various actors, including Nick Nolte, Hank Azaria, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Dylan Baker, Jeffrey Wright and others. The style is vibrant and bold (and on top of it, the animation is quite good), but I found it a touch distracting from the material. The score is a jumble of different styles - everything from classical to Rage Against the Machine.
Overall, this is a fascinating look at a legendary event and the court case that followed. While I don't think it's as strong a movie as "Kid Stays in the Picture", it's still a visually striking (while I did think the rotoscoping was a bit of a distraction, I do appreciate that it was a risky, imaginative bet to take with a film like this) film with very good performances from the voice cast and some fascinating archive footage.
Two more sequels to the film are reportedly in the works.
VIDEO: Paramount presents the picture in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it's an excellent presentation. The film is a mixture of archive footage and animation, and the picture remains consistently crisp and detailed throughout the show. While some of the archive footage is understandably rather worn at times, it's not too bad considering the age. Aside from the specks and marks on some of the older footage, the picture looked clear and clean, with no pixelation or edge enhancement. Colors in the animated footage looked bold and bright, but colors - as one might expect - could look faded in the archive footage.
SOUND: This is a fine enough Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation that is mainly "documentary sound", with the audio spread across the front speakers. There is some minor reinforcement of the music from the surrounds, but the rear speakers are generally silent. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: "Chicago 10" video contest winner footage and previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Chicago 10" remains an interesting - both in terms of approach and material - documentary that looks into an landmark event and the aftermath. The DVD presentation boasts very good video quality, decent audio and not much in the way of extras (a "making of" documentary or commentary would have been quite appreciated in the case of a movie like this.) Still, despite a few minor issues with the stylistic approach, the film does get a recommendation.
The Film B