During a press conference on October 14, 1969, Tom Hayden, one of the defendants in the trial of the Chicago Seven, offers his view on prosecutor Thomas Foran's most recent accusations. The Chicago Seven—Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner—were charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot for their participation in the Vietnam War protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
But he didn't have to be. In this story the charges aren't connected to anything of concrete culpability but rather what these men symbolized. It wasn't about what they did but what and how they thought.
Sorkin's film is constructed to draw neon-bright parallels between this famous abuse of the justice system and the rampant inequities in our time.
Movies about pivotal cases in American history tend to be earnest showcases that pander more to the performer's abilities than the audience's interest. By inserting this 1969 court case into a cinematic genre that swings, Sorkin elevates the profiles of the eight civil rights activists railroaded by a government to the status of all-stars, as if to flip off the ghosts Richard Nixon and his Attorney General John Mitchell, two men who were eager to make examples of all the anti-war protesters making the administration look bad.
That said, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is also quite plainly an actors' showcase &ndash specifically for Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays the activist Hoffman, and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, although Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is unforgettable as Seale, spitting fire in the scene leading up to the judge ordering Seale to be gagged, chained and humiliated in full view of the jury and courtroom onlookers.
This is a repugnant moment in history begs to be recreated with the appropriate menace and depravity, and Abdul-Mateen II, along with Frank Langella's vicious presiding Judge Julius Hoffman, do it justice. (Originally Seale was part of the eight men grouped together on the conspiracy charge but, following that travesty, his case was separated from the other seven.)
Sorkin writes passionate exchanges for each of the ensemble's principal characters, underlining the real history inspiring each scene by interspersing archival footage of the actual riots and public figures connected to the case between dramatized frames at appropriate turns. But his most effective narrative ploy is to use Hoffman and Hayden as a case study of what happens when diametrically opposed styles of civil disobedience attempt to work toward the same goal.
Redmayne's Hayden is clean-cut, respectful of process and willing to appease authority up to a point while Hoffman and his compatriot Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) wear their anti-establishment shagginess proudly and without apology. Together, they personify the central problems plaguing liberals to this day &ndash that of an incomplete cohesiveness due to disagreements over conformity and propriety, of being so caught up in arguing over whether it's better to push change from the outside or work from within that they risk seeing opportunities for victory right in front of them.
Sorkin speaks to this notion through Hayden when he berates Hoffman, saying that thanks to hippie burnouts like him history will view the Vietnam-ear antiwar protests not as organized and righteous by a coalition of strategists, but as a mess of long-haired burnouts nattering on about flower power.
In that moment the filmmaker announces what he's seeking to avoid in case we haven't already noticed the effort. To Sorkin's credit, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" neither gets mired in any trappings of tie-dye and patchouli, nor does it collapse under the ballast of its own sense of seriousness.
By amplifying the crooked spirit of the injustice as it was served here as opposed to straining to accurately recreate the case blow-by-blow as dictated by courtroom transcripts, the uninitiated viewer can easily draw the lines from this story to present day government's efforts to curtail our First Amendment rights to protest.
Even those who aren't seeking out those thematic connections will no doubt enjoy Sacha Baron Cohen's effortless and lively portrayal of Hoffman and appreciate his effort to nail the real-life figure's Boston accent, along with John Carroll Lynch's take on Dellinger, a stalwart peacekeeper who can't help but break at one key moment when the circus-like proceedings devolve from ludicrous to dangerously unequal.
Langella channels the energy of a graphic novel supervillain as Justice Hoffman, a man tightly bound to etiquette and lawful propriety and who is obviously ready to render his guilty verdict long before the trial begins. The list of recognizable stars doing solid work here is lengthy, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as do-gooder young federal prosecutor Richard Schultz and, in a memorable cameo, Michael Keaton as the previous administration's far more honest attorney general. People who enjoy watching Strong's work in "Succession" will be entertained by his hazy and passionate take on Rubin.
Together the actors make quite the watchable crew, companions and adversaries alike. And if "The Trial of the Chicago 7" doesn't quite come together as neatly as a viewer might expect of a story about a landmark case such as this, maybe that's in its favor. It may be messy, but it's fleet-footed and it means well, and in the way of any good caper flick it extols the virtue of breaking the law for all the right reasons, come what may.
'The Trial of the Chicago 7': Who was the real Richard Schultz? How film whitewashes government's 'pit bull'
Aaron Sorkin's 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' — which is now streaming on Netflix — is arguably one of the best films of the year. Based on the historical Chicago conspiracy trial of 1969, Sorkin's film features the infamous trial of the seven defendants — Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Lee Weiner — in addition to Bobby Seale, the eighth defendant for whom a mistrial was declared. The eight people has been charged under the Rap Brown Law aka the Anti-Riot Act with the intent to incite a riot during the protests in Chicago when the Democratic National Convention of 1968 was going on.
'The Trial of the Chicago 7' is brilliant except for that it features the usual Sorkinism where certain events and people are romanticized to the point of not agreeing with fiction. One instance of that was the creation of the undercover FBI agent Daphne O'Connor (Caitlin FitzGerald) perhaps in a misguided attempt to introduce more women to the story. In reality, there were three undercover police officers, all of them male, and none of them sympathetic towards the defendants.
Another instance is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal of the prosecutor, Richard Schultz, who was assisting lead prosecutor Tom Foran (J C MacKenzie). Both Schultz and Foran represented the US Attorney's office, with Schultz being a bright, ambitious young lawyer. However, in the film, Foran — Schultz's boss — is relegated to the background as Schultz takes on all the arguments and the statements. At certain points, we are also shown Schultz being more levelheaded than his fellow prosecutor and Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella).
He is shown to be looking uncomfortable when Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is brought to the courtroom bound and gagged under Judge Hoffman's orders and later recommending Seale's case be declared a mistrial. In reality, the suggestion came from the US Attorney's office. In another instance, Gordon-Levitt's Schultz is shown to be standing in respect for fallen US troops when Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) recites the names of nearly 5,000 soldiers who had died in Vietnam since the trial started — this final scene is again a fabrication of Sorkin's mind for cinematic purposes.
In reality, however, Richard Schultz was convinced that the defendants traveled to Chicago with the intent to destroy the government. According to late journalist, J Anthony Lukas's trial account, 'The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities', Schultz was the government's pit bull as opposed to the composed professional that Tom Foran was. Lukas described how Schultz's "thick lips would twist into a snarl and he would leap toward the lectern denouncing the defendants or their attorneys for some unspeakable new crime".
Prior to signing on as Assistant US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois (a job he left shortly after the Chicago Seven Trial) in 1964, Schultz had attended DePaul Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review. He later turned to private practice and worked in the firm of Foran & Schultz, which was founded by Tom Foran. In 2000, following Foran's death, he joined Schwartz Cooper Greenberger & Krauss. His clients included Bally's, Coca Cola, and the Chicago Transit Authority.
'The Trial of the Chicago 7' is now streaming on Netflix.
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Hoffman was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Bertha (Weisberg) and Aaron Hoffman.   His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants.    Hoffman attended the Lewis Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) and then received a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from Northwestern University in 1912. He received a Bachelor of Laws from Northwestern University School of Law in 1915.
Hoffman worked in the private practice of law in Chicago with the law firm of White and Hawxhurst from 1915 to 1936 and with the law firm of Markheim, Hoffman, Hungerford & Sollo from 1944 to 1947. He was general counsel for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company from 1936 to 1944. He was a Judge of the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois from 1947 to 1953.  
Federal judicial service Edit
Hoffman was nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 27, 1953, to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, to a new seat created by 64 Stat. 443. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 13, 1953, and received commission the next day. He assumed senior status on February 3, 1972. He served until his death on July 1, 1983 in Chicago. 
Notable cases Edit
Over the course of his career as a judge, Hoffman presided over numerous important cases, including a tax evasion case against Tony Accardo, an obscenity case against Lenny Bruce, a deportation suit against alleged Nazi war criminal Frank Walus, and several desegregation suits. 
Chicago Seven Edit
Hoffman's most notable case was the trial from April 9, 1969, to February 20, 1970, that involved charges against protesters arrested during the 1968 Democratic Convention,  originally known as the "Chicago Eight". During the course of the Chicago Eight trial, Hoffman refused to allow the defendant Bobby Seale to represent himself after Seale's original attorney became ill. This prompted conflicts with Seale that led to Hoffman ordering Seale to be gagged and shackled in the courtroom and eventually jailed for contempt. Finally, Hoffman removed Seale from the trial, leaving the case with only seven defendants, at which point the trial became known as the "Chicago Seven" trial. Because of this, and his non-objective attitude,   Hoffman became the favorite courtroom target of the Chicago Seven defendants, who often openly insulted the judge.  Abbie Hoffman (no relation) told Judge Hoffman "you are a shande far dee Goyim" ["a disgrace to the Jewish community in front of the Gentiles" in Yiddish] and that "[y]ou would have served Hitler better." He later added that "your idea of justice is the only obscenity in the room."  Both Rennie Davis and Jerry Rubin told the judge, "This court is bullshit."
All seven were found by a jury to be not guilty of conspiracy, but five of the defendants were found guilty of inciting a riot, and Hoffman sentenced each of the five to the maximum penalty: five years in prison and a fine of $5,000, plus court costs. In addition, Hoffman sentenced all eight defendants and both of their lawyers (William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass) to lengthy jail terms for contempt of court. 
On May 11, 1972, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated all of the contempt convictions, and on November 21, 1972, reversed all of the substantive convictions on a number of grounds. Among other things, the appeals court found that Hoffman had not sufficiently measured the biases of the jury and that he had exhibited a "deprecatory and often antagonistic attitude toward the defense." 
In 1974, author Joseph Goulden wrote a book called The Benchwarmers, which was an exposé of the powerful and often private world of federal judges. Goulden conducted an in-depth investigation of Judge Hoffman and pointed out that he had an abrasive reputation among Chicago lawyers even before his most famous case. Goulden mentioned a survey that had been done among Chicago attorneys who had recently appeared before the judge and 78% had an unfavorable opinion of him. They responded overwhelmingly negatively to the questions, "Does he display an impartial attitude?" and "Is he courteous to both the prosecution and defense?" 
In 1982, the Executive Committee of the United States District Court ordered that Hoffman not be assigned any new cases because of his age and complaints that he was acting erratically and abusively from the bench. However, he continued to preside over his ongoing cases until his death from natural causes the next year, a week before his 88th birthday. 
‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ turns a history lesson into an unexpectedly electrifying portrayal of a movement
The opening montage of “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is indicative of what the audience can expect of the next two hours — dynamic dialogue, a myriad of characters and an overload of information. While the high-powered conversations are so quick and witty that, at times, they are hard to catch on to, writer and director Aaron Sorkin is clearly onto something the film perfectly reflects the ever changing, fiery 1960s and the various political players in the spotlight of the notorious 1969 court trial. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is an excellent dramatization of an already dramatic trial that manages to seamlessly incorporate the stories of radically progressive groups with history about the tumult created by the Vietnam War.
Three groups, the Youth International Party (known at the time as the Yippies), the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (the Mobe) and the Black Panther Party, are all put on the stand against the government of the United States with charges to conspire to cause the riots that had erupted at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In a mix of reality and fiction, the audience sees the accused eight stand before the seemingly senile Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) in an effort to defend themselves in a case that they seem to have lost from the start. Intercepting the scenes of the trial are scenes of the “Chicago 7” as they prepare for the protest and attend other demonstrations these scenes are particularly powerful when the Chicago Police Department is present and offer a jarring reflection of the brutal policing happening even today. Although the cinematography and the setting of the film is exceedingly simple, the storyline and dialogue are not. It is fast paced, dynamic and interesting, as if it is trying to cram in all of the details the audience needs to know about the historical period and its political players before it moves on to another layer of the story — and the film is chock full of layers.
One of those said layers is based on the disgusting treatment of Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party, by the judge. Seale, more than the other defendants, was unfairly charged with conspiracy despite the fact that he had not met the other defendants prior to the trial and had only been in Chicago for several hours before flying back to Oakland. Throughout, Seale protests against the assumption that he was in cahoots with the group and is eventually bound and gagged to a chair in the courtroom. Abdul-Mateen II is compelling in his short appearance as the notorious figure who was the co-founder of the Black Panther Party and helps emphasize the pervasive racism that existed during such a “progressive” era. With the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. just months prior to the trial, Black America was in a state of grief, which Sorkin makes sure to point out. One of the only flaws of the film is that after Seale’s case is finally declared a mistrial, the racism issue essentially disintegrates. It is no longer addressed in the film or by the characters, which makes it feel a bit like the screen time was wasted.
All of the actors, however, make the most of their screen time. Eddie Redmayne, in particular, who plays Thomas Hayden, is one of the charismatic founders of the SDS that manages to win the hearts of the audience along with his best friend, Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), just as he managed to win the hearts of the jury in real life. He delivers one more heart wrenching speech against the judge at the final moments of the movie that is sure to drive audience members to tears. Beside them, Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) offer some much needed comic relief. On the opposing side, the iconic Joseph Gordon-Levitt humanizes the prosecutor, Richard Schultz, with his troubled expressions and soft voice. Although Sorkin has come under fire for the over romanticization of the prosecutorial side, Gordon-Levitt lights up the screen in a way that feels genuine but still manages to allow the flaws of the system and the embedded corruption to bleed through.
Overall, the film keeps its cinematography and soundtrack subdued to allow the dialogue and acting performances to shine, which is definitely the correct decision. By focusing on the historical significance of the moment and its uncommon players, the film results in an entertaining and enjoyable history lesson on the impact the Vietnam War had on a generation.
Verdict: “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is a fast paced film with dynamic dialogue and eccentric characters that managed to encapsulate the turmoil of the 1960s superbly. The acting performances are top-notch, but most importantly, it is one of few films that deftly gives the audience a history lesson on a war that is mostly ignored in the movie industry.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 Review – A Timely History Lesson
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote from George Santayana is something Aaron Sorkin took to heart as he was creating his new film, The Trial of the Chicago 7. The political issues may be different (anti-Vietnam War protests as opposed to the unjust killing of black people) — but Sorkin’s imagery of police shooting tear gas towards outraged protestors seems strangely familiar to what’s happening nowadays.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 follows the 1969 trial of eight men accused of conspiring to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. These eight men are “Yippies” Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Students for Democratic Society founder Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), pacifist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp).
Aaron Sorkin has been trying to create a film adaptation of the Chicago 7 for over a decade now, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Using this one intimate event to explore the social unrest of the 1960s scarily parallels what’s happening today. The script, performances, and drama are brim with Sorkin’s panache for deft conversations, but the ridiculousness of the trial is not lost on Sorkin either. The humor plays a big part in the film, almost to the point of it being satirical.
Yet his writing is so distinct that he’s become synonymous with smart and entertaining dialogue. Through his words, everyone in this dynamic cast gets to showcase their acting ability to the fullest extent. The biggest surprise is Sacha Baron Cohen, who is delightful as Abbie Hoffman. His energetic performance and his exchange with Jeremy Strong steals the show every time. Not to be outdone, Eddie Redmayne is also very solid as Tom Hayden. Yet it’s Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Frank Langella that elevates the film into award status. Their performances are all award-worthy, and it’s going to be difficult to choose which actor to nominate.
Yet Sorkin uses his cast to passionately showcase that America is not the land of the free. There are so many times that you’ll shake your head at the failure of the American justice system. This is where The Trial of the Chicago 7 mostly plays to Sorkin’s strengths as a writer and sees him making great strides as a director following his debut film, Molly’s Game.
Like Molly’s Game before it, Sorkin’s direction goes at a breathless pace with equally rapid-fire editing by Alan Baumgarten. The adaptation could’ve easily been a stage play. After all, stage plays consist of only a handful of locations. Despite being set mostly in the courtroom and the seven’s collective office, the film’s often thrilling precise cuts intertwining to the characters’ words are what keeps The Trial of the Chicago 7 from a stage play.
Overall, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a scarily relevant film that’s anchored by Sorkin’s script and the strong performances of his powerful cast. History has proven that the case of the Chicago 7 was little more than a show trial, enacted as a way to suppress the freedoms of those fighting for social justice. Sorkin reveals the true nature of the trial — an unwavering abandonment of the core principles of justice and freedom. Sorkin may have taken over a decade to make this film, but he made it at just the right time. After all, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Rating: 4.5/5 atoms
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now playing in select theaters and hits Netflix on October 16.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 Is Based on This Infamous Court Case
Image Source: Netflix
Director Aaron Sorkin is hopping back on the political drama train with Netflix's The Trial of the Chicago 7. Based on a true story, the period film follows the infamous case of the seven men — really eight — who were indicted for inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The demonstrations drew an estimate of 10,000 participants, many of who faced police brutality at the frontlines. Sorkin's movie spotlights the notoriously chaotic and controversial trial that followed. Its cast is stacked — the powerhouse team includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, and more. Before you add The Trial of the Chicago 7 to your queue, here's the backstory that you should know from this turbulent year in American history.
To understand how the situation unfolded, we need to look at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, which followed the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. People arrived in Chicago to demonstrate against poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War. Groups that came out included Students For a Democratic Society and the National Mobilization Committee to End War in Vietnam. For months, demonstrators organized and requested permits from the city of Chicago.
But instead of granting them permission, Mayor Richard Daley deployed 12,000 police officers, 5,000 National Guardsmen, and 7,500 regular Army troops. Daley infamously gave police permission to "shoot to kill any arsonist," as well as "to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores." On the field, violence quickly broke out for four days. Police clubbed people with batons and set off tear gas to control crowds. The protests ended on Aug. 29 with over 650 people arrested and over 1,100 injured.
Eight men were accused of inciting the riots at the convention: David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale. In March 1969, a grand jury indicted the eight on charges related to violence. The men were accused of violating the Rap Brown law, which was put into the Civil Rights Bill by conservative senators. This law made it illegal to cross state lines to riot or conspire to use interstate commerce to incite rioting.
So, why was it the Chicago Seven instead of the Chicago Eight? Seale, the cofounder of the Black Panther Party, spoke at the demonstrations and faced charges of intent to cause a riot. The judge on the case, Julius Hoffman, had Seale bound and gagged to prevent him from speaking out during the trial. Eventually, Seale was severed from the case and sentenced to four years in jail for contempt. However, both the contempt and conspiracy charges against him were dropped after a federal appeals court overturned Hoffman's contempt finding.
The Chicago Seven and their lawyer, William Kunstler, disrupted the trial because they saw the proceedings as unjust. They didn't observe court decorum – one day, two defendants appeared in black judges' robes. When asked to remove them, they took off the robes to reveal Chicago police uniforms underneath. Some men even appeared in court while high. People read poetry and chanted Hare Krishna. The defendants even brought in folk star Judy Collins to sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" at the trial.
By 1970, all seven defendants were acquitted from charges of conspiracy. Froines and Weiner were acquitted of all charges. The five other men were convicted of enacting a riot, each man sentenced to five years in jail and fined $5,000. Each of the seven, plus two defense lawyers, faced jail sentences for contempt of court. All of the convictions were later overturned later because of judicial bias and problems with jury selection. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals later noted that the "demeanor of the judge and the prosecutors would require reversal."
Without a doubt, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a timely reminder of how history echoes in our political landscape today.
T he T ufts D aily
‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ melds history, present
As the straightforward title would suggest, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (2020) wastes no time diving into the centerpiece of its plot. Faithfully based on the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots and the infamous criminal trial that followed , the film uses the courtroom as a springboard to explore the ethos of ‘60s revolutionary politics — with eerily familiar themes.
The film features an ensemble cast: seven defendants , multiple defense attorneys, prosecutors, FBI agents and a contemptible judge played by Frank Langella , the ostensible antagonist for much of the story. The conflict between the defendants is represented in the film by the conflict of two, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen). Representing different factions of leftist thought during the late ‘60s, the strained allegiance between the two drives the drama.
The story is told in a nonlinear way, with legal depositions interlaced with flashbacks — sometimes even interlaced further with historical footage. The editing in this movie is effective and the fast-paced cuts keep up with Aaron Sorkin ’s unrelenting screenplay.
Sorkin’s writing — and to a lesser extent his directing — sets the tone for the movie. The movie is heavily dialogue-driven , and although the cinematography is more than serviceable, there are few shots in this movie that are very memorable. Likewise, the actors succeed in bringing Sorkin’s quips and dramatic monologues to life — but few manage to stand out among the ensemble.
That being said, the narrative remains incredibly compelling, never stagnating. Although the film doesn’t extensively portray the actual riots , it uses vignettes to capture their energy on a smaller scale. Another great series of short scenes takes place at the cheekily-named “ conspiracy office, ” a hangout spot for the seven defendants that perfectly captures the aesthetics of the counterculture with ironic posters and joints being passed to the defense attorney.
The political themes are also well developed. Going against trumped-up charges of conspiracy and incitement to riot, the defendants argue in defense of democratic institutions, due process and free speech, criticizing the Vietnam War and cultural hegemony. As would be expected, a recurring theme is police brutality and the police state in general. With numerous graphic scenes and inadvertent mirroring of current events , this topic is the most impactful upon watching. This holds especially true for the tragic plotline of Bobby Seale and Fred Hampton , members of the Black Panther Party who face a much more sinister kind of discrimination. Written years ago, the images and themes of the film provide commentary on the difficulty of effecting lasting change.
The movie ends on a more sentimental note, but throughout the runtime the film never tries to push a certain ideology. The defendants are likable, but each also has clear flaws. Rather than trying to paint a good vs. evil characterization, the film presents a surprisingly nuanced representation of a polarizing time — even if some of the radical views of the defendants are tamped down.
Sorkin is one of the more predictable writers in Hollywood, but in “ The Trial of the Chicago 7″ he doesn’t fall into the usual traps. The characters provide good laughs, but are not overly quippy to the point of being unbelievable. There’s optimism, but not so much as to be blind to the sobering realities of oppression. If you’re looking for a film where every shot could be a painting, this is not the film for you. However, if you’re looking for a film that challenges your assumptions about American history and humanizes a not-too-distant past, you just might be interested in hearing what these seven misfits have to say.
Driven by its script and ensemble cast, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" challenges audiences to think more about the historical moment it's capturing--and how that moment isn't too distant from our current world.
After Chicago 7 Trial, Mrs. Jean Fritz Helped Change the Course of History
Fritz was a juror in the Chicago 7 trial, which is back in the news thanks to Aaron Sorkin&rsquos movie, &ldquoThe Trial of the Chicago 7,&rdquo which debuted Friday on Netflix. It&rsquos a story that has been told many times, typically with the focus on the men accused of coming to Chicago in 1968 to incite a riot during the Democratic National Convention.
You may know some of their names. Abbie Hoffman. Tom Hayden. Jerry Rubin. But Mrs. Jean Fritz? That name, as she was often referred to back then, is less familiar. She was one of the so-called ordinary people chosen to sit in judgment of those famous men.
I wrote a long story on Fritz a couple of years ago, based on the journals she kept while on the jury. They&rsquore a remarkable record of a woman and of the times, and of how the times changed her. When the trial started, in September 1969, Fritz was what the press referred to as a &ldquohousewife.&rdquo In truth, she also worked alongside her husband at their Western Auto store in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines. She was 51, had three daughters, wore her hair in the bouffant style and taught Methodist Sunday school. She considered herself politically moderate, but in the 1960 election voted for the Republican, Richard Nixon, who lost to the Democrat, John F. Kennedy.
By the time of the trial, during Nixon&rsquos eventual presidency, the country was driven by fear and anger, a state of division and disarray that was remarkably like today&rsquos, yet different. The news back then was of war in Vietnam, the fight for civil rights, street riots and rebellions, political assassinations, cries for law and order, a clash of generations.
A common conservative view of the era was reflected in a Chicago Tribune opinion piece that characterized Woodstock, the 1969 summer music festival, as &ldquoa Saturnalia attended by hundreds of thousands of frenzied aberrants of the human species.&rdquo
Fritz was not conservative in that way, but she expressed a conventional attitude when, early in her trial journals, she noted her fear that young people didn&rsquot share her appreciation for &ldquothe most wonderful country in the world.&rdquo
&ldquoHave always had a great love for my country,&rdquo she wrote. &ldquoAlways get chills when I see a parade and the flag goes by. What is happening today?&rdquo
But as the trial went on, as she heard how protesters were mistreated by police and deceived by government informants, her mind opened and her fears shifted.
Chicago 7 prosecutor: ‘They were going to try to destroy our trial. And they did a damn good job.’
Even five decades later, former federal prosecutor Dick Schultz has a pretty good idea of when the legendary Chicago 7 trial started to go off the rails: during the testimony of the very first witness.
That day in September 1969, U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman halted the trial after he was informed that a juror had received a threatening letter purportedly sent from the Black Panthers. Hoffman, famous for his ironclad control of his courtroom, told attorneys from both sides to keep the information to themselves so he could question the juror in private, Schultz told the Chicago Tribune in an interview.
Instead, the defendants held a lunchtime news conference stating the threatening letter had actually been sent by the government as part of a “plot” to taint the panel. An irate Hoffman ordered the jurors sequestered for the rest of the five-month trial.
The next morning, defense attorney William Kunstler asked for an emergency hearing into the letter’s origin, seeking the testimony of none other than FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General John Mitchell, Schultz said.
“That sort of gave me an idea where we were going,” Schultz said. “And it went downhill from there.”
Schultz, 82, is the last living attorney from either side of the Chicago 7 trial, in which political activists were accused of conspiring to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
The Chicago 7 case drew national attention and exposed the depths of the country’s divisions over the Vietnam War and civil rights as well as the fairness of the criminal justice system. Among the high-profile defendants were “Yippies” founder Abbie Hoffman, counterculture icon Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale, one of the co-founders of the Black Panther Party.
The circuslike atmosphere of the trial — which included frequent courtroom fisticuffs, outbursts of singing and chanting, and, perhaps most famously, the judge’s order to have Seale bound and gagged at the defense table — has been given big-budget movie treatment in “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and now streaming on Netflix.
Schultz, who is portrayed in the film by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, says he enjoyed some aspects of Sorkin’s Hollywood take, but that it ultimately “didn’t touch on what really happened.”
“Everything was so exaggerated, you would think the judge was conducting a trial in the Soviet Union,” he said. He also thought that he was falsely portrayed as somehow embarrassed by the whole prosecution when in reality, “it was precisely the opposite.”
Schultz also took issue with the film’s climactic scene, when he is portrayed rising to his feet while defendant Tom Hayden reads the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam as the group is being sentenced.
“That never happened. It was a total fantasy for Hollywood, and that’s fine,” Schultz said. The film moment was entertaining, he added, but one other thing: “I never told the attorney general of the United States that we didn’t have a case.”
“We knew that we had more than enough evidence to convict,” Schultz said, speaking of his co-counsel, U.S. Attorney Thomas Foran, who died in 2000. “The only question was could we ever get to a verdict.”
As a young prosecutor, Schultz was head of the U.S. attorney’s office’s criminal division when the riots broke out in August 1968. He was at the Chicago Hilton and out on the streets of Lincoln Park and the Loop watching the violence unfold between police and protesters.
“I saw it all,” Schultz said in a telephone interview last week from his home in Glenview. “I was trying to do what I could, but didn’t accomplish anything.”
Later, he helped lead a grand jury inquiry into the unrest, resulting in not only criminal charges against eight protesters but also a number of indictments against police officers — all of whom were eventually acquitted.
Schultz said his office was acutely aware that the trial of Hoffman and his co-defendants was going to be used as a platform for their beliefs and to stick a fork in the eye of what they perceived was a racist and unjust legal system.
Before the trial even began, Schultz said, the defendants announced to their followers that “people should come to this trial and fight the pigs in Chicago just like they did a year ago.”
“We were not surprised by any of it,” he said. “They were revolutionaries, and they were going to try to destroy our trial. And they did a damn good job of it.”
Schultz said that he and his team, which refrained from public comment throughout the trial, lost the public-relations battle from the outset. Every day, the news depicted throngs of protesters outside the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on South Dearborn Street and relayed the antics from the courtroom, where Hoffman often clashed with the defendants and their attorneys and struggled to maintain control.
“The spectators in the courtroom were totally uninhibited," Schultz recalled. “They lined up every day to get in, would scream obscenities and disrupt the proceedings.”
If things started to get out of hand, a deputy U.S. marshal would eventually have to try to wade through the rows of spectators to remove the offender from the courtroom. The person would often fight back, and as soon as they did, others would come to their aid and “go after the marshals,” who would be forced to call for backup, Schultz said.
What often ensued reminded Schultz of a barroom brawl scene from an old Western film.
“I used to love those movies, with people being thrown over the bar and chairs being smashed over peoples' heads,” Schultz said. “When I was standing in the courtroom watching all this, it was just like what I saw when I was a kid. It was really exciting. But it was painful too.”
In part due to the daily disruptions, the trial slogged on for nearly five months, featuring a total of 160 witnesses. Schultz was told by federal law enforcement agencies that his life could be in danger and received 24-hour police protection at his house. He said it began to wear on him and his partner, Foran, but they were determined to see it through.
“Every morning, Tom and I would take a private elevator to the 23rd floor. We’d stand there in silence for a minute or two and just look at each other,” Schultz said. “There wasn’t much to say."
He said Foran would sometimes just drop his head and say, “I’d rather be going to the dentist.”
“And I felt the same way,” Schultz said. “It was like walking into a circus every morning.”
There were also moments of levity. At some point in the middle of the trial, Schultz’s wife brought their then-10 year-old daughter to see the testimony of a witness who was known for singing protest songs. After defense lawyers asked the witness if he could pick up his guitar and sing a few bars, Schultz sprang to his feet and objected.
From the back of the courtroom, Schultz heard his daughter’s voice cry out, “Aw, Daddy, let him sing!”
Schultz also said he believes the trial’s most infamous moment is one of its most misunderstood. When Hoffman ordered Seale bound and gagged in October 1969, Schultz said, it was the culmination of a carefully orchestrated series of events in which the Black Panther leader’s attorneys either withdrew from the case or refused to participate in his defense. Seale, meanwhile, argued loudly at every turn that he was being denied his rights to a defense.
When Hoffman denied Kunstler’s motion to withdraw — which Schultz said he was bound to do under the law — Seale erupted in court, telling the judge, "Listen, old man, you keep on denying me my constitutional rights and you’re going to be exposed. . You’re a racist, fascist bigot!” according to Schultz’s recollection.
Schultz said that at the time everyone, including Kunstler and Seale, was aware of a ruling from Chicago’s federal appeals court just months earlier saying that unruly defendants could not be removed from their own trial, even if they had to be restrained.
That Hoffman would eventually order that remedy for Seale seemed at the time like an unstoppable train, Schultz said.
“The whole thing was a setup, a way to get Seale bound and gagged so they could demonstrate to the world that the federal courts were racist,” Schultz said. "They played it to the hilt. There was nothing we could do.”
When the jury stepped into the box and saw Seale restrained at the table, they looked shocked, Schultz said. “One of them was crying. It was sad to watch.”
The Tribune’s story in the next day’s newspaper described how Seale tried to rise for the jury and “rattled his chains and manacles against his metal chair,” his mouth covered in a cloth and several pieces of white tape.
The account said the last straw for Hoffman appeared to be when Seale had tried to lunge at Schultz during a courtroom outburst earlier that day.
Seale was ultimately severed from the trial and sentenced by Hoffman to four years for criminal contempt, a term later reversed by the appellate court. The government chose not to retry him on the conspiracy charges.
On Feb. 18, 1970, the jury acquitted each of the seven remaining defendants of the conspiracy charge. Five, including Abbie Hoffman, were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot and later sentenced to five years in prison, but those convictions were also overturned, as were sentences for contempt handed down by Hoffman.
Schultz, meanwhile, left the U.S. attorney’s office soon after the case was over and built a career in private practice. Despite all the renewed attention on the events of the trial, he said the story has always seemed skewed, depending on who’s doing the telling.
“We were renounced and laughed at,” he said. “They (the defendants) appeared to be caring, lovable people who were being oppressed. Every night I’d watch the TV news and think, ‘Were we in the same courtroom?’"