[sixties-l] Review of Steal This Movie

From: Marty Jezer (mjez@sover.net)
Date: 09/23/00

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    I finally saw Steal This Movie last night. It's better than I hoped or
    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
    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
    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
    see some of the shticks, but the brilliance is missing.
    On the other hand Janeanne Garofolo is great as Anita. Johanna Lawrenson is the
    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
    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
    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
    part, show Abbie as a real community organizer; in this case effectively
    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.
    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. <mjez@sover.net>  It's free!

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