Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"My name is Abbie. I am an orphan of America."

Today marks the 38th anniversary of the day the Chicago Seven were sentenced. The OJ Simpson trial may have been the best legal soap opera of the 20th century, but the Chicago conspiracy trial of 1969-70 was the best legal theater. When I was in high school I read The Tales of Hoffman, a collection of highlights from trial transcripts, and I still remember how amazed I was at the attitudes everyone had - judge, lawyers, defendants, even the spectators constantly interrupting with shouts of "Right on!"

Here's one exchange from memory, between attorney William Kunstler and a government witness:

"When you said the defendants announced they were going to open up a whole can of worms on the city of Chicago, were any of them holding a can opener in their hand?"
"No, sir."
"Thank you. No further questions."

The trials weren't filmed, but that didn't stop moviemakers. There were dramatic performances of those transcripts done at the time, preserved on film and recently released on DVD.

There's also a documentary that mixes news footage with animation, going into limited release at the end of the month.

Looks cool, doesn't it? Well, get this - there's a movie version in preproduction, written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Sasha "Borat" Cohen as Abbie Hoffman. Who in real life faced off against Judge Julius Hoffman. Who also faced off against Kunstler, who will be played by (wait for it) Philip Seymour Hoffman. To my mind, this is a great argument for living.

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