In the late 1960s and early 1970s polarization of American political situation was becoming acute, with the Vietnam War abroad and civil rights at home being the most pressing issues. For the youth political movement, seemingly ineffectual methods of peaceful protest and resistance led to the rise of a faction that wanted a more extreme approach that the government could not ignore. One particular group, the Weather Underground, attempted to team up with the Black Panthers to violently confront the US government. They began with participation in street riots, and escalated their efforts to include the bombing of specific targets associated with the government or local power structures. Through archival footage and interviews of participants on both sides of this conflict, this film covers the Weather Underground's campaign of violence through this period, the FBI's strategies and tactics to apprehend them (including some deemed unethical or illegal), until changing times and ...Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
In the segment about the accidental explosion of the Greenwich Village townhouse at 18 West 11th Street, Dustin Hoffman can be seen standing next to a fire truck observing the scene. He was living in the townhouse next door with his wife at the time, Anne Byrne. See more »
The calm after the storm, and the myriad lessons drawn.
A friend of mine wrote:
"I have a very sparse knowledge of (The Weather Underground's) particular historical context. My interest here is more in terms of how the film was put together, what the archival footage and interviews with former Weathermen members NOW reveals to us about their sentiments, their motivations, their actions."
My sentiments exactly. Like the above well put thought piece, I foresee others more eloquent than myself will lavish raves (or rants) on The Weather Underground. Love it or hate it, you decide. That said, I shall post here, my expanded take.
There is an incredibly balanced portrayal of these people in The Weather Underground. Though objectivity is arguably frown upon in documentaries, this film worked for me. For it allowed me to understand the information presented (Yes, I am just as ignorant about 60s/70s American history) and it helped me in making my own conclusion.
This documentary shed interesting light on its subjects. The Weathermen failed in their radical movement. However turbulent that time and place might have been, the corresponding violence initiated by this splinter group did not contribute as much to the winding down of the Vietnam War, as did the natural progression of other events. Ironically, the continual pacifistic action from "the rest" arguably effected more of a shift in that period's socio politics (albeit gradually) than these radicals could ever accomplish.
One telling line from Mark Rudd, one of the movement's members said:
"I cherished my hate as a badge of moral superiority"
Therein lies the danger.
When smart, idealistic (more often than not, good intentioned as well) individuals share this belief that they stand on a higher moral ground, that they have a greater, grander purpose in their "calling", they'd willingly go to any lengths in pursuit of their causes. As a result, as one other interviewee put it, extreme violent actions would be considered. Ordinary human lives would ultimately become dispensable. Ergo, the seeds for terrorism has been planted. Mass Murderers are borne out of this ideological conceit.
This cinematic thesis also suggested the generalised "hippie" movement of the 60's/ 70's slapped the faces of the Left real hard. It torn apart the fabric of the nation. Its unachieveable idealism when intermingled with the "violent" dynamics of that turbulent period (Vietnam, Drugs, Hedonism, Multiple Assassinations of Cult of Personalities, Watergate etc) brought about disenchantment and despair. As a result, the pendulum swung and many people ran towards the Right for comfort, denial, escapism and a combination of these mixed feelings.... It gave us Olivia Newton John, Rambo, Ronald Reagan and Jane Fonda - The 80's (yikes).
I am actually quite glad the film ended on an optimistic note. These arguably misguided Weathermen brought with them enormous personal baggages all these years. Yet throughout this film, they were candid about their ideology and reflective about their frailties. Contrary to our natural expectations, these "failures" did not become jaded human beings. They moved on from this checkered past. They continued living their lives. One of them even won Jeopardy (Don't ask).
All in, their humanity shone through.
The Weathermen fought Da Man, and lost. Their strategies might not have been better thought out. Their continuous radical activities might have played into the hands of sophisticated government spin doctors. They might have lost steam due to gradually realising their movement's futility. Yes, their follies were explored abundantly in this movie. But their thoughts and actions were guided by the confusion of those turbulent times (however ironic this last sentence might have sounded). All in, their hearts were in the right place.
On the other hand, if we look beyond the talking heads and read between the lines, we would realise that the questions raised in The Weather Underground are just as relevant today. About 50000 American Soldiers died in the Vietnam War, millions more Vietnamese perished. Who holds more destructive powers? The Weathermen or their "enemy"? Who then were the mass murderers? Look at Iraq today, Afghanistan the day before and Bosnia before that.
Who then are the mass murderers?
In closing, I guess all should know that History is written by the victors. This cinematic document about the "losers" is hence IMO, a most important piece of work. It demands a wider audience and need be accorded higher archival priority than something as insidiously engineered and time wasting as The Fog of War.
For we have much more to learn from this Oscar losing flick.
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