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Steal This Movie


Rex Weiner

No one who doesn’t know Hollywood will ever understand how movies and TV shows get made, including everybody in Hollywood.

I say this as a journalist occasionally waylaid by “The Business,” who once had a rather grim investigative article on torture turned into TNT’s first made-for-TV movie. “Forgotten Prisoners: The Amnesty Files” premiered at the Director’s Guild, introduced to a star-filled audience by Angelica Huston, with TNT honcho Ted Turner grinning in the front row.

I understood that my liberal-minded movie was greenlit by the notoriously conservative Turner to impress his date that night, Jane Fonda. My original screenplay, based on a composite of actual Amnesty cases from several countries, was fiction. Nonetheless, the movie was sufficiently accurate about Turkish prison conditions, and my name high enough in the credits that, tipped off by sources close to the State Department, I’ll never step foot in Istanbul.

Aaron Sorkin won’t have any such trouble in Chicago, because no one who didn’t come of age in the 1960s will ever understand what that crazy time was like, and neither do we, the ones who actually did come of age in the 1960s. Because he wasn’t even bar mitzvahed when the events of “The Trial of The Chicago 7” took place, Sorkin gets a pass for the largely fictional entertainment; not unlike my torture flick, it’s a painless diversion, even for many of those who were actually witness to, and perpetrators of, the Chicago ’68 shenanigans.

That seems to be the general verdict of the awesome email chain I’m on, formed around friends and colleagues mourning the passing a few years ago of venerated satirist and Yippie co-founder Paul Krassner. The Krassner List, as it’s come to be known, includes many Sixties luminaries such as former Fug Ed Sanders, former Weatherman Bill Ayers, former Fish frontman Country Joe MacDonald, former Hog Farmer Wavy Gravy, former White Panther John Sinclair, and former Yippies Judy Gumbo and Nancy Kurshan. Lately, everyone has been sharing bulletins from Rennie Davis’ Facebook feed, as Davis breaks down the facts and forgivable fictions of The Trial of the Chicago 7, which they are no doubt watching at home on Netflix, safely quarantined as befits their age.

Most continue to be engaged in worthy pursuits, according to the ongoing chatter, albeit of a less strenuous nature than back in the day. Grandchildren proliferate. Another preoccupation is parsing current politics from a 1960s viewpoint, and the Sorkin movie provides much fodder.

Writer Michael Simmons muses “While Sorkin made stuff up for dramatic effect, some of his choices seem pointless. But as others have pointed out (notably Judy Gumbo), it’s a movie, not a history book. We’re naturally more sensitive to the inaccuracies, but I doubt these flaws have any effect on veracity in the vast scheme of history.”

Nancy Kurshan, Jerry Rubin’s partner during the time, mostly likes the film, but make a major point about how the women involved in the anti-war movement are once again left out of the story. In a widely shared and applauded Counterpunch essay about women involved in the anti-war movement, she objected to Sorkin’s portrayal of Rubin as “a violence-provoking buffoon, one who let a female FBI agent get close to him in the midst of what we had put our hearts and souls into for much of the year. The only woman that was next to him the whole time was me.”

“Is having Dave [Dellinger] throw a punch he never did,” posits one of the other Krassner Listees, “and giving the dramatic ending of the film to [Tom] Hayden reading the names of the dead when in fact it was Dave who did that...artistic license or a distortion of history?”

Hey, in the writers’ room it’s called a “character arc.” The scene where Dellinger is packing for the journey to the Windy City protests and the most prominent pacifist anti-war organizer of the era reassures his anxious wife that he’ll steer clear of any violence is a set up. (Didn’t you read Robert McKee’s “Principles of Screenwriting”?)


Naturally, violence finds him. The punch he throws is meant by Sorkin to show the lengths to which even the most dedicated pacifist can be pushed by the Fascist Insect That Preys Upon the People (remember them? Hint: Patty Hearst—different movie), or at least a rampaging Chicago cop.

The truth is, it’s amazing that any movie gets made, even zombie flicks (Hey, how about “Chicago 7” meets “Night of The Living Dead”?) and you have to cheer each obscenely expensive enterprise, if only for the well-salaried jobs dispensed among highly skilled union casts and crews in an industry that has been steadily shrinking during the studios’ slow demise—which streamers like Netflix have now completed.

But “Truth is Silly Putty,” as my friend Krassner liked say, which may be true, but perhaps only in the era when people knew what Silly Putty is/was.

Today, it’s sad that Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin—global rockstars in their time—are largely unknown, and despite “Chicago 7’s” attempt to bring them to life, only those left standing can recall the details that might have given Sorkin’s picture a bit more verisimilitude.

Like the time back in the East Village Other office, when my underground press colleague, the late Coca Crystal, was laughing about Abbie insisting she touch his dick while they were smoking a joint in the stairwell.

But that’s another movie entirely.

broken image

Photo of 1971 press conference announcing the verdict of the "Counter-Culture Court" the author convened to arbitrate a dispute between Abbie and Tom Forcade over Steal This Book. In the middle is Mayer Vishner, who served as the court spokesman. And that's me, off to the left.

Each one of the three in this photo committed suicide at various times, sorry to say. Like Ishmael, I'm the only one left to tell the tale.

- Rex Weiner

Rex Weiner is an editor, author, and journalist who began his career in the underground press and co-authored, with Deanne Stillman, Woodstock Census: The Nationwide Survey of the Sixties Generation (Viking). He once assisted Abbie Hoffman in the sales of "Steal This Book."

Sweet Home Chicago ::: Taj Mahal w/ The Pointer Sisters

Born In Chicago ::: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band

South Side Chicago ::: Lord Melody

Say Hello To Chicago ::: Neil Young

Chicago Breakdown ::: Dr Ross

Chicago Pizza :::Jon Stewart

Chicago ::: Crosby Stills Nash & Young

Jolly Coppers On Parade ::: Randy Newman

Fish Chant ::: Country Joe & The Fish

Get Together ::: The Youngbloods