‘60s live again, minus the LSD
IN 1967, Abbie Hoffman, his wife, Anita, and I took a work-vacation in Florida, renting a little house on stilts in Ramrod Key. We had planned to see “The Professionals.” “That’s my favorite movie,” Abbie said. “Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin develop this tight bond while they’re both fighting in the Mexican Revolution, then they drift apart.”
But it was playing too far away, and a hurricane was brewing, so instead we saw the Dino De Laurentiis version of “The Bible.” Driving home in the rain and wind, we debated the implications of Abraham being prepared to slay his son because God told him to. I dismissed this as blind obedience. Abbie praised it as revolutionary trust.
This was the week before Christmas. We had bought a small tree and spray-painted it with canned snow. Now, we were tripping on LSD as the hurricane reached full force. We watched Lyndon Johnson on a black-and-white TV set, although LBJ was purple and orange. His huge head was sculpted into Mount Rushmore. “I am not going to be so pudding-headed as to stop our half of the war,” he was saying, and the heads of the other presidents were all snickering and covering their mouths with their hands so they wouldn’t laugh out loud. This was the precise moment we acknowledged that we’d be going to the Democratic convention in August to protest the Vietnam War. I called Jerry Rubin in New York to arrange for a meeting.
On the afternoon of Dec. 31, several activist friends gathered at the Hoffmans’ Lower East Side apartment, smoking Colombian marijuana and planning for Chicago. Our fantasy was to counter the convention of death with a festival of life.
We needed a name to signify the radicalization of hippies, and I came up with Yippie as a label for a phenomenon that already existed, an organic coalition of psychedelic hippies and political activists. In the process of cross-fertilization at antiwar demonstrations, we had come to share an awareness that there was a linear connection between putting kids in prison for smoking pot in this country and burning them to death with napalm on the other side of the planet. Our nefarious scheme worked. After we held a press conference, the headline in the Chicago Sun-Times read, “Yipes! The Yippies Are Coming!” What would later happen at the convention led to the infamous trial for crossing state lines to foment riot. As an unindicted co-conspirator, I felt like a disc jockey who hadn’t been offered payola.
Flash ahead to 2005 and the chain of events that led me to this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
I got a call from director Brett Morgen (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”), who was working on a documentary about the 1960s antiwar movement. It would have no narrator and no talking heads, only archival footage and animated reenactments based on actual events and transcriptions of trial testimony. However, Allen Ginsberg levitating during meditation can be construed as cartoonic license. Brett invited me to write four specific animated scenes:
1. “Birth of the Yippies”: This would include the hurricane, the meeting and the press conference. Excerpt: "[T]he house is shaking mightily on its stilts. ABBIE, ANITA and PAUL are looking out the window through wildly waving curtains as the house feels like it will be swept away. ..ABBIE [screaming]: This whole house is gonna blow straight out to Cuba! [lightning strikes] We’re coming, Fidel! [sound of thunder] Sock it to us, God!’
2. “Got Permit?”: We meet with Chicago Deputy Mayor David Stahl, attempting to get a permit for the revolution ... oops, I mean permits to sleep in the park, set up a sound system and march to the convention center. Excerpt: “STAHL: C’mon, tell me, what do you guys REALLY plan to do in Chicago? PAUL: Did you ever see that movie “Wild in the Streets”? [A thought balloon shows the image of a group of teenagers dumping LSD into the water supply.] STAHL: We’ve seen “Battle of Algiers.”
(The Chicago Tribune later reported that Bob Pierson -- a police provocateur disguised as a biker and acting as Jerry’s bodyguard -- was “in the group which lowered an American flag” in Grant Park, the incident that set off what an official report would describe as “a police riot.” He admitted striking police with one or more weapons.”)
3. “Acid Testimony”: I decide to take a tab of LSD at lunch before testifying -- call me a sentimental fool. Abbie was furious and stopped speaking to me. Ten months later, I mailed him a movie ad for “The Professionals,” which resulted in a reconciliation.
4. “Women’s Liberation”: The purpose of this scene, taking place at the feminist protest of the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, is summed up by former Yippie Robin Morgan: “ROBIN: And so we say goodbye to the male-dominated peace movement. Women will no longer serve as their second-class comrades. No more working hard behind the scenes while the male superstars do all the grandstanding and get all the credit and achieve all the notoriety.”
Although Brett “loved, loved, loved” the scenes I wrote, the backers objected to the use of LSD, fearful of diverting attention from the main focus of the film. I was disappointed, if only for the sake of countercultural history. The CIA originally envisioned employing LSD as a means of control; instead, for millions of young people, LSD served as a vehicle to explore their own inner space, deprogramming themselves from mainstream culture.
Thus, the hurricane, which was originally going to open the film, has been omitted, but it’ll be on the DVD. My “threat” in the “Got Permit?” scene that the Yippies would pour LSD into the reservoir and the “Acid Testimony” scene are also out. Unfortunately, the “Women’s Liberation” scene isn’t included because of time restraints. I was supposed to do the voice for my own animated character, and Abbie’s son, Andrew, had auditioned to do his father’s voice. Though he sounds eerily like him, he couldn’t act, so it was decided to have actors including Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber to do all the voices.
In an interview during the trial, Abbie said, “We don’t wanna be martyrs. We wanna live to see the overthrow of the government. Be a great [bleepin’] movie.” Brett’s goal isn’t that ambitious, but when he called to tell me that “Chicago 10" had been selected to open the Sundance Film Festival, he said, “Wouldn’t it be great if Abbie’s legacy turns out to be that he helped to end the war in Iraq?”
I hadn’t seen any of the rough cuts and didn’t know what to expect at the festival screening. Well, I loved it. Brett got a standing ovation. Although he was born two months after the protests in Chicago, he has managed -- with the determination of a salmon swimming upstream to spawn, aided by 180 hours of film, 50 hours of video, 500 hours of audio and 23,000 pages of trial transcripts -- to reveal in this neodoc the horror and the humor, the rhetoric and the reality, of those events and their aftermath, in a style and rhythm calculated to resonate with -- and inspire -- contemporary youth.
Yippie organizer Jim Fouratt said it “excites the imagination.” Nick Nolte, who does the voice of prosecutor Thomas Foran, asked defendant Tom Hayden for his reaction. “I think that Brett authentically and brilliantly captured the experiences and the feelings of what we were going through,” Hayden replied. Then, turning to Brett, he added, “So thank you for the next generation from our generation.” Participant Productions is negotiating for a distributor and hopes to release the film this summer.
Structurally, the film alternates between the action in the streets and the progress of the trial, with the utterly shocking imagery of defendant Bobby Seale, national chairman of the Black Panther Party, being bound, gagged and shackled to his courtroom chair for insisting on his constitutional right to represent himself after being turned down by the Elmer Fudd-like Judge Julius Hoffman, voiced by Roy Scheider.
I would’ve liked to have seen Dick Gregory’s fervent recitation of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence at an unbirthday party for LBJ, but I’m grateful for the inclusion of defendant David Dellinger saying “The power of the people is our permit” at the start of the march from the bandstand to the amphitheater. And I would’ve liked to hear Phil Ochs’ song, “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore,” as the background music for that march, but I appreciate the use of Eminem’s rap “Mosh” as accompaniment instead.
In fact, Brett had wanted to call the film “Mosh,” but “Chicago 10" encompasses the eight defendants plus attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. Whatever the title, though Sundance may be a long way from Ramrod Key, the spirit of Yippie lingers on.
Krassner wrote “One Hand Jerking: Reports From an Investigative Satirist.”