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Movie Based on Chicago 8 Trial Draws Today's Chic Ex-Radicals

May 18, 1987|LAWRENCE CHRISTON | Times Staff Writer

When it was over, the crowd took to the sweets, crackers and cheeses at the buffet tables, and drank Perrier and white wine.

And Tom Hayden commented about the movie they had just seen: "It's accurate as myth. It doesn't have to be accurate in detail."

The movie was "Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8," which aired Saturday and repeats Tuesday, next Sunday and May 27 on Home Box Office. It was screened Friday at the Wadsworth Theatre in Westwood to benefit the Odyssey Theatre. Ron Sossi, the Odyssey's artistic director, and the Odyssey's associate artistic director, Frank Condon, collaborated on a hugely successful dramatization of the trial in 1979, by which the movie is "suggested." Sossi is one of the film's executive producers. Condon is uncredited, except as a consultant.

Before the screening, the post-collegiate looking crowd, dressed mostly in the studied casualness characteristic of Westsiders, took a long time to file through the doors of the Wadsworth. An empty bandstand stood to the right of the theater, next to the concession booth that sold only coffee, tea and Hansen's natural juices.

"Maybe they'll play some '60s music," said a young man. His conjecture proved true. After the show, the band played Judy Collins-style themes that now fall into the category of the sentimental.

Inside, co-hosts Karyn Brode and Robert Braun took the lectern in front of the screen. The audience numbered approximately 700 to 1,000 people.

"We want to thank all the donors," Braun said.

"I want to thank you," Brode said.

"I want to thank you, Karen," Braun said.

"OK," Brode said. "After this there'll be food. "

Executive producer Max A. Keller came on to say, "Tonight is a special event for us and my wife." (Micheline Keller is also an executive producer). "We started this project in 1978. It's been a long haul. We're fortunate in that we have a brilliant person to work with in Jeremy Kagan. It's been a labor of love."

Then Kagan, writer-director and co-producer, said, "When art takes its inspiration from history, it can range from bawdy folk tales to legend, but it acts in the present moment. We hope we've made something that's not just an echo of the past, but a reflection of the present. . . . I hope what you're about to see stimulates your mind and your spirit."

The Chicago Conspiracy trial of 1969 wasn't just eight young men charged with conspiracy to incite riot in the 1968 Democratic National Convention: It was the decade itself held up for review, in which the young were at odds with the old, hippies (or, in this case, Yippies) faced the Establishment, druggies and straights disdained each other, a new aesthetic labored extravagantly to outshine officialdom in all its forms, and most of America's institutions were forced into an uncharacteristic introspection. The politics of assassination and the war in Vietnam left no one untouched, and rock 'n' roll became a social dialectic.

Lights out. The movie began. The words "Everything you are about to see and hear actually happened." Then came scenes of jet planes dropping bombs, and urban riot police clubbing civilians with night sticks like uniformed laborers in helmets hacking sugar cane.

And the courtroom scene: The case is called "The U.S. Government vs. David Dellinger et al.," and is announced by Judge Julius Hoffman (played by David Opatoshu). The cast of the Chicago 8 sits around the defendants' table. The lighting is somewhat murky, as in a Soviet courtroom. Cameo squares of the defendants in current real life are inserted in the scene.

"We said 'No' to prime-time culture," the real Abbie Hoffman said. "It's boring and spiritually unrewarding."

The Real Rubin

"I wanted to inspire people to think for themselves and for a new society," the real Jerry Rubin said.

The rest of the defendants are introduced: Lee Weiner, John Froines, Hayden, Dellinger, Rennie Davis--and their attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. The real Bobby Seale in an insert describes himself as a founder of the Black Panthers, while a film clip from the real Democratic Convention shows an astonishingly young-looking (now that we see him presiding daily over the Senate's Iran- contra hearings) Daniel Inouye exclaiming from a podium, "Angry voices are heard throughout the land crying for freedom and justice."

"Before you is a classic example of the government against the people," says Kunstler, played by Robert Loggia.

The crowd laughed at Hoffman's inability to pronounce Dellinger's name, then his almost prissy insistence that a prosecutor's witness get it right. It was the first of a number of touches that sets the judge off as a schoolmarmish old crank.

Laughter Rang True

There was laughter too when the judge said to Hayden, "You'd do very well in this system." ("Maybe they laughed because it turned out to be true," Hayden, now a state assemblyman, said later.)

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