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Review: Restored version of 1979 documentary 'The War at Home' shows necessity of protest

Review: Restored version of 1979 documentary 'The War at Home' shows necessity of protest
Archival photograph from the 1979 documentary "The War at Home," about the antiwar movement in Madison, Wis., during the Vietnam era. (Cartilage)

How does protest go from talk to action, from peaceful to violent, from local story to nationwide issue? In the case of the student antiwar movement of the 1960s, aimed at ending America’s military engagement in Vietnam, the reflective narrative offered by the 1979 documentary “The War at Home” — about the charged, escalating battleground that was the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison — is an invaluable one. Never more so than today, when our political climate resembles a gathering storm of outrage, confusion and scattered reaction.

Given a 4K restoration, Glenn Silber and Barry Alexander Brown’s Academy Award-nominated nonfiction classic offers a timeline of flowering activism as remembered by interviewed organizers, participants and eyewitnesses (including campus authorities and politicized veterans). It is punctuated by riveting archival footage, as calmer news coverage of hearings and strikes in the early ’60s gave way to the bloodiest confrontations between police and protesters, ending with the 1973 Paris peace agreement.

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As a chronicle of consciousness-raising resistance methods, “The War at Home” is illuminating — in Madison, antiwar students evolved from signs and shouting to jam-packed building sit-ins and eventually, protests that targeted napalm-producing Dow Chemical’s campus recruitment efforts and secretive work conducted at the niversity’s Army Math Research Center. Though the center’s building was bombed in 1970, killing a student, it didn’t stop Ernest Gruening, a former U.S. senator from Alaska and a World War I veteran, from saying of the antiwar movement, it was “the duty of every American to protest.”

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‘The War at Home’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 2, Landmark Nuart, West L.A.

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