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I came to Chicago 10 almost entirely ignorant to the subject matter, but I was excited to see it because of one line in the description – ‘From Brett Morgan, director of The Kid Stays in the Picture’. The Kid Stays in the Picture is easily on of the most entertaining and innovatively constructed documentary features I’ve ever seen. I had to see what else this guy could do with the often static format.

Chicago 10
This time Morgan takes us back to the days when the Democrats were the ones sending Americans to unwinable wars in far off lands – 1968 – and sticks us in an animated courtroom for the famous case of the Chicago Seven (or Eight, depending on what you read), who were tried for inciting a riot during the Democratic National Convention (beating Paul Greengrass and Steven Spielberg to the story). Morgan (and co-director Nanette Burstein) told the tale of movie mogul Robert Evens using a sort of advanced, 3D slideshow, this time he mixes stock and news footage, and a both traditional and vector based, cell shades animation. Robert Evens told his own story, but these animated representations of real men are voiced by a cornucopia of A-List actors, including Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Jeffery Wright, Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Live Schreiber, and Roy Scheider in one of his last roles.

Chicago 10 is a documentary like none other. The pacing is wicked, the narrative jumps to and fro in time with wild abandoned, and there is no narrator to keep us centered in the drama. Morgan’s intensely stylized film over steps its bounds at times, becoming exhaustively overdone, and losing the point of the exercise. The ninety five minute film blows by in no time, which is a usually compliment for a documentary, but at certain points the attention deficit style caused me personally to zone out a bit, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the desired effect.

Chicago 10
However, in the end, Morgan’s sense of drama and pathos manages to shimmer through his wacky modus operandi, and all the silliness begins to make sense. The tonal shift is a healthy reminder of the history we should be careful to never relive, and that responsibility can be found on both sides of the confrontation. By placing the riot itself at the end of the film rather then the beginning or middle the film puts the farce of the trail in the proper perspective.

Video


Mixed media and forty year old stock footage are not the ideal materials for a spotless transfer. The news footage looks old and dirty, but the colours are quite bright and well represented. It appears that a lot of this stuff has been purposefully saturated to blend a little more naturally with the animation. The animation is smooth, and the colours are solid. There’s very little noise in these sequences, though the sharp edges are doubled up with white edge enhancement. The black levels across the board (animation and stock footage) are deep and rich as can be expected from the DVD format.

Chicago 10

Audio


The disc’s 5.1 Dolby Digital kicks into gear right off the bat with the intensely stylized opening credits, which start with a surround sound representation of a radio broadcast of the riot itself, and punch into Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Wake Up’, minus the vocals. Taking what is an inherently flat original soundtrack and turning it into something this ferocious is a pretty impressive feat. Sometimes the additional surround effects are a little jarringly artificial sounding, but they work to intensify the over-the-top, multi-media production. The licensed music selections are spot on (War Pigs, Kick Out The Jams, Sabotage), and never sounded better. The track seems to have been compressed a bit further then most of the stuff that’s graced my player recently, so the volume had to be cranked a little further then usual.

Extras


The only extra, besides some trailers, is a ‘remix contest winner’, by Gina Telaroli. This is basically a home made trailer. I’m given no context, so I can only assume footage from the film was offered up on the website or something. Frankly, this winner is pretty sloppily cut.

Chicago 10

Overall


Chicago 10 wasn’t quite the film I wanted it to be, and director Brett Morgan seems to have found a limit for his flashy style of documentary filmmaking. The movie’s an entertaining and breezy romp through a series of events that often goes overlooked these days. One only wonders if this kind of message hasn’t come four years too late. I could’ve used some extras covering the historical events, the casting, or even the animation process, but the disc looks and sounds good enough.

Note: I couldn’t get the film to play on my VLC player, so I had to get screen caps from the lo-res trailer on the disc. These are not an accurate representation of the film’s video quality


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