Thursday August 31
New Movie About Abbie Hoffman Has Friends Furious
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Abbie Hoffman, the court jester of 1960s
radicalism, is not around to review "Steal This Movie," a film biography of
him. But many of his friends are and they say it should be called "Forgive
Many Hoffman comrades in and outside the Yippie movement he founded say
film star Vincent D'Onofrio has a major problem: He bears no physical
resemblance to Hoffman and lacks the activist's spark. And they say the
film so fouls up historic facts that the "Chicago 7" are reduced to the
"It should really be called 'Forgive This Movie,' because it's absolutely
awful," said Paul Krassner, editor of irreverent journal "The Realist" and
a co-founder of the Yippies. "I think what really damns the film is that it
fails as a piece of entertainment," said Meyer Vishner, a member of a group
that aided Hoffman
when he was a fugitive from drug charges in the mid-1970s.
"D'Onofrio doesn't evoke Abbie. He doesn't communicate Abbie's energy. So
you have to ask what's the point?" Unofficial Yippie archivist Sam Leff
complained: "Spend ten minutes with Abbie and you could laugh, chuckle, or
guffaw a half a dozen times. Spend two hours in 'Steal This Movie' and you
hardly crack a smile."
The film, produced and directed by Robert Greenwald, drew material from two
books: "To America With Love: Letters From the Underground" --
correspondence between Hoffman and his wife Anita during his fugitive years
-- and "Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel," a biography by Marty Jezer, who was
intimately involved in the '60s counterculture.
The film co-stars Janeane Garofalo as Anita Hoffman, who consulted on the
movie before she committed suicide, after a devastating bout with breast
cancer, in December 1998, while it was being filmed. Her involvement
prompted Slate columnist Jared Hohlt to label the film an
At the premier of "Steal This Movie" in Santa Monica, actor D'Onofrio
conceded: "It's difficult to play somebody that had that much charisma."
Asked his impression of the late anti-war radical, D'Onofrio replied: "I
think he had a lot of guts. I think he stood up."
There is a widespread perception that D'Onofrio's attempt at Hoffman's
Worcester, Massachusetts, twang missed the mark. Depending on who you talk
to, the actor sound more like he is from Texas or Brooklyn -- or has a
On the movie's official Web site, the producers reveal that Anita Hoffman
was troubled by the casting of the tall actor to play Hoffman, barely
5-foot-7 (1.7 meters) "on a good day." Krassner says Greenwald wanted
Robert Downey Jr. to play Hoffman, but the actor, who can certainly relate
to Hoffman's drug use and run-ins with law enforcement, turned it down.
When Universal Pictures was developing a screenplay in the 1980s based on
Hoffman's autobiography, "Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture," the aging
activist made it known he thought Mel Gibson would make a good Abbie,
according to Johanna Lawrenson, who was Hoffman's "running mate" for 15
years, from the time he was underground until his suicide in 1989 at the
age of 52.
She, too, is displeased with the casting of D'Onofrio. "It doesn't have to
be someone who looks like Abbie. It just has to be someone who gets his
sense of humor and what he was saying," Lawrenson told Reuters.
She said the screenplay for "Steal This Movie" was sent to her anonymously
before shooting began and she asked Greenwald to have her name removed from
the credits. She is steamed that the Johanna Lawrenson character in the
film is portrayed as someone who tried to rein in her companion's eagerness
to organize against environmental threats to the St. Lawrence River.
Hoffman's old Yippie pals are also grumbling about attorney Gerald
Lefcourt, who defended Hoffman on many occasions over the years, being
shown on screen as a member of the defense team at the Chicago 7 conspiracy
trial. Lefcourt, listed as an associate producer in the credits, did not
serve as defense counsel at the raucous conspiracy trial. William Kunstler
and Leonard Weinglass did, but there is no mention of them in the movie.
"In fact," Krassner noted, "two of the defendants aren't included in the
movie. At the screening, I whispered, 'Hey, it's the Chicago Five.'"
Vishner, one of Hoffman's closest friends, is fuming that the filmmakers
present the fiction that Hoffman's son America did not know who his father
was when he was underground. And he says the film distorts the history of
1960s and "oversimplifies the treachery of COINTELPRO," the federal
government's dirty tricks campaign to disrupt the New Left.
He says the film should be called "Loot This Legacy."
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