The Chicago 7 Trial Onscreen: An Interpretation for Every Era
Abbie Hoffman described the trial of the Chicago 7 as “a great show,” and for the past 50 years, moviemakers have agreed. Aaron Sorkin’s new Netflix production “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is the fourth filmed dramatization of the 1969 prosecution of Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Lee Weiner and John Froines, who faced federal charges of conspiracy and incitement of the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
That the events in that Chicago courtroom are such catnip to dramatists is understandable — it was, in many ways, performative in nature, with heroes and villains and court jesters aplenty. At one point, Judge Julius Hoffman demanded of Rubin, “You said you enjoyed being here?” And the defendant responded, “It’s good theater, your honor.”
In fact, Jeremy Kagan’s 1987 made-for-HBO movie “Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago Eight” (now streaming on Amazon) was adapted from a piece of theater, the play “The Chicago Conspiracy Trial” by Ron Sossi and Frank Condon. Among other differences, the various film versions can’t even agree on their titles; Bobby Seale is often counted, as he began the trial alongside the Chicago 7 but was dismissed midway through to be tried separately, while the defendants themselves often included their two attorneys, making it the “Chicago 10.”
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