I finally saw Steal This Movie last night. It's better than I hoped or expected. As author of his biography, ABBIE HOFFMAN: AMERICAN REBEL (one of the two books on which it was based), I am certainly aware of all factual distortions. I list some of them below. But the film is more than the sum of its flaws. It captures the truth of the period and the verisimilitude of Abbie's life. It simplifies the politics (as well as everything else) but for a Hollywood film (even though it's a low-budget independent production), it gets the politics right. Friends of Abbie who have denounced the film are right in their critiques. But the things they object are not central to the film Where's Bill Kunstler in the Chicago trial? Johanna Lawrenson, in the most dishonest scene in the picture, is shown trying to persuade Barry Freed (aka Abbie) to keep a low-profile and stay out of the environmental organizing campaign to Save The River (when in fact she and Abbie were partners in starting it). All of Abbie's sidekicks are ignored (Jim Fouratt was his equal and Al Giordano was his creative partner in his later years). All of these friends are folded into one character, Stew Albert, who was politically associated with Jerry Rubin in the Yippie years. These are among the many factual flaws, but they don't detract from the overall truth of the movie. I wish the film had gone into Abbie's colorful "rebel without a cause" Worcester youth. The influence of Abe Maslow is unstated, though Abbie's forging a politics out of humanist psychology is suggested. There's nothing about Abbie's audacious (and in retrospect prophetic) attack on black power. His activities in the civil rights movement in Mississippi are overstated (Abbie exaggerated this too) and his civil rights organizing in Worcester ignored. One can go on and on and on. The FBI's COINTELPRO is blown out of proportion. It had an obvious impact on the movement, but the film implies that the FBI was behind Abbie's drug bust -- which, in fact, was a result of Abbie stupidly walking into a NYPD set-up (and being in a manic phase of his bipolar illness at the time). Those who knew Abbie or saw him in action will be taken aback by Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal. D'Onofrio is a good actor but he plays Abbie as if he was Jerry Rubin. Abbie's wonderfully harsh Worcester accent is demolished. D'Onofrio plays Abbie with angst and anger instead of joy and ebullience. Abbie was a natural and spontaneous comic. D'Onofrio just isn't funny. The Chicago trial (where the film's low budget becomes obvious) was Abbie's greatest performance. We hear some of his wonderful lines and see some of the shticks, but the brilliance is missing. On the other hand Janeanne Garofolo is great as Anita. Johanna Lawrenson is the only other character who isn't mere background. She was tougher than the film shows; and like Anita, his true partner. The underground scenes, when she, Abbie, Anita, and son america are together are very touching. The scenes of Chicago in August 68 and the October 67 Pentagon demonstration are intense and real. The inter-cutting of Newsreel's on-the-scene and in-your-face documentary footage and the film's staged shots is seamless and effective. (The Newsreel collective did some fantastic work, and Roz Payne deserves credit for keeping the archives!). The film accurately portrays Abbie's sense of patriotism, his understanding of himself as an American Rebel. The Save the River shots, though they distort the events and Johanna's part, show Abbie as a real community organizer; in this case effectively teaching white-haired Republican club ladies how to protest. Abbie, the great myth maker, would have had no objection to distorting the facts in order to make a sharper story. He probably would have objected to the film's treatment of Johanna, and a couple of other things, but he would, I believe, been pleased with the message. The film gets Abbie's politics across and takes a positive view of his role (and his skills) as an organizer. If the story isn't totally accurate in its presentation of Abbie's life, it's true to the movement and true to its meaning. Hollywood and how it distorts history makes an interesting topic for discussion, but not now. I recommend the movie and hope a lot of kids see it. Marty Jezer See the film "STEAL THIS MOVIE" and read the book Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel on which it is based. Author: Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words (Basic Books) Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (Rutgers University Press) The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960 (South End Press) Rachel Carson [American Women of Achievement Series] (Chelsea House) Check out my web page: http://www.sover.net/~mjez To subscribe to my Friday commentary, simply request to be put on my mailing list. <email@example.com> It's free!
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : 09/25/00 EDT