[sixties-l] Fwd: 'Steal This Movie!': That Was a Heady Time on the Left, Right?

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Aug 29 2000 - 02:34:06 CUT

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    >'Steal This Movie!': That Was a Heady Time on the Left, Right?



    New York Times/Arts
    August 18, 2000

    >"Steal This Movie!," Robert Greenwald's likable but muddled screen biography
    >of the charismatic Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman, raises a ticklish
    >question: how can a contemporary film "do" the late 1960s in a way that
    >isn't a sentimental retread of countless documentaries that have trotted out
    >the same old television news clips to push the same old nostalgic buttons?
    >Those filmmakers who have tackled the '60s, most notably Oliver Stone, have
    >typically pulled out every emotional stop, exalting the era's Dionysian
    >pretensions along with its self-righteous paranoia and apocalyptic cant.
    >Such movies only reinforce a myth that, its excesses and burnouts
    >notwithstanding, the era was American democracy's glorious last moment of
    >endless possibility. Despite the film's obvious fondness for its subject and
    >for the era, "Steal This Movie!," adapted from two books -- Abbie and Anita
    >Hoffman's "To America With Love: Letters From the Underground" and Marty
    >Jezer's "Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel" -- doesn't sanctify either the '60s
    >or the main character, whom Vincent D'Onofrio plays with an appealing,
    >self-conscious gusto. The way the movie (quite accurately) remembers the
    >period, it was messy, frenetic and unglamorous. A lot of what happened on
    >the left had an ad hoc, improvisatory quality.
    >Antiwar marchers may have descended on Washington by the hundreds of
    >thousands to protest the Vietnam War, but those (like Hoffman) who actually
    >had the nerve to stick flowers in soldiers' rifle barrels while urging them
    >to join them were few in number.
    >Strapping and heroic, D'Onofrio may not physically resemble the more
    >diminutive Hoffman. And the actor's odd Boston-meets-Brooklyn accent sounds
    >somewhat forced. Yet his portrayal of this excitable, mischievous proponent
    >of "the politics of joy" still emerges as a reasonable enough facsimile.
    >Hoffman was a charming merry prankster, an inspired political comic whose
    >cheerfully anarchic message was decidedly nonviolent and upbeat. His gift
    >for politically charged charades and hilarious verbal jousting reached a
    >dizzying summit during the notorious trial of the so-called Chicago Seven.
    >That trial, whose grim, punitive judge, Julius Hoffman, made a perfect comic
    >foil to the younger Hoffman's potty-mouthed clown, is really worth a whole
    >movie in itself, and it's a shame that "Steal This Movie!" gives us only a
    >The source of Hoffman's downfall, the movie suggests, was his own willful
    >naivete. He just couldn't believe that his playfully provocative political
    >theater could make people so angry and vindictive. Later diagnosed as
    >manic-depressive, Hoffman had to go underground in 1974 and lived on the run
    >under various disguises for the next seven years as "Barry Freed." As Freed,
    >he even became an environmental activist of some note in upstate New York.
    >In 1980 he surrendered to the government and spent a short time in prison.
    >Nine years later, he died, a probable suicide. The screenplay (by Bruce
    >Graham) notes that he didn't like taking his lithium medication because it
    >robbed him of his inner spark.
    >"Steal This Movie!" uses the familiar and rather awkward device of having
    >the story unfold in flashbacks and voice-over reminiscences, as an
    >interviewer (Alan Van Sprang) prepares a major article for an unidentified
    >national magazine. When they meet, it is 1977, and Hoffman is living a
    >fugitive, hand-to-mouth existence, taking low-paying temporary jobs in
    >constantly changing locations.
    > >From those desperate days the story jumps back a decade to the happier
    >times. In some of the movie's warmest moments, he meets his future wife,
    >Anita (Janeane Garofalo), and sweeps her off her feet. Garofalo gives a
    >tender, finely shaded portrait of a woman of remarkable flexibility,
    >strength, humor and loyalty.
    >Such antic public happenings as Hoffman's organizing a group to surround and
    >"levitate" the Pentagon, and his trip to the New York Stock Exchange, where
    >money was strewn and burned, are briefly glossed. In its eagerness to touch
    >on so many of the events from this heady period, the movie gives them too
    >short a shrift. Although we meet Hoffman's fellow activists Tom Hayden (Troy
    >Garity) and Jerry Rubin (Kevin Corrigan), they remain peripheral.
    >It's only after those heady days have ended that the movie comes into sharp
    >dramatic focus to tell the disheartening tale of a man worn down by a
    >governmental vendetta until he begins to question (and to lose) his own
    >sanity. Once the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover and goaded by Richard Nixon,
    >decided Hoffman was an enemy of the state, the bureau made his life
    >miserable by spying on him, trying to bust him for drug possession, and
    >playing assorted dirty tricks. It was all because he had the effrontery to
    >embarrass the United States government. The persecution could be read as the
    >paradigmatic revenge of a classically square father upon a disrespectful,
    >disobedient hippie son.
    >Even in exile, Hoffman had emotional support. Although cut off from Anita
    >and his young son, America, he was tended by a new woman, Johanna Lawrenson
    >(Jeanne Tripplehorn), who stuck by him in spite of his increasing
    >instability. Another hero of the movie is its associate producer Gerald
    >Lefcourt (Kevin Pollak), Hoffman's lawyer, who took no fees for his
    >"Steal This Movie!" is saddled with a fake inspirational ending in which
    >Hoffman delivers a stiff, upbeat courtroom speech. The Crosby, Stills and
    >Nash anthem "Carry On" follows. Such phony uplift only makes the sad story
    >seem even sadder.

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