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American Revolution 2
Even in a year that witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the violence that erupted in 1968 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago managed to shock the world. It was a watershed moment for a decade that did not lack for watershed moments, and it is at the center of the 1969 documentary, American Revolution 2.
The Film Group, a Chicago-based production company, was working on a Kentucky Fried Chicken television commercial when the crew found themselves in the middle of chaos. At the direction of Mayor Richard Daley, nightstick-wielding police were let loose on thousands of antiwar protesters gathered on the city. Film Group directors Mike Gray and Howard Alk wisely trained their cameras on the drama unfolding around them.
But the makers of American Revolution 2 focused on events in Chicago that followed the convention. The documentary delves into the ghettoes of the Windy City, exploring the frustration and rage of an African-American community that had long endured police repression. "Everyone gets uptight when a few honkies get their heads beat. What did they do when we was getting our heads beat?" asks a young black woman. The camera pulls away to reveal that she is clutching a rifle. The woman continues: "I'm here, motherfucker, to get what's mine."
Most of the motion picture chronicles the curious alliance of the Black Panthers and a group of disaffected southern white youths dubbed the Young Patriots. We hear from organizers of both groups, although the most interesting of the bunch is Bobby Lee, a slim, energetic spokesman for the Panthers.
While the film boasts some compelling moments, they are few and far between. Too much of American Revolution 2 lacks context for an audience now nearly 40 years removed from the world of '68. The filmmakers even assume that viewers have a working knowledge of the demographics of Chicago neighborhoods.
At the time of the doc's release, a young Chicago Sun-Times movie critic named Roger Ebert gushed that it "shows this much clearly: that in the aftermath of the Democratic convention, a group of formerly voiceless, even opinion-less Uptown whites became galvanized into a community that was fed up."
The years have not been kind to the musings of the Patriots and Panthers, much of which sounds like sophomoric blather. ("The rich man all the time gotta have a dog to kick" -- whoah, heavy). A quintessential example of cinema verite, the film simply plop us into the simmering cauldron of a post-convention Windy City where police brutality has united Black Panthers and Appalachian militants who rally behind the Confederate flag as their symbol.
The naturalistic aesthetic has not aged particularly well. The camera zooms in and out with seeming arbitrariness. Most of the speakers presented here are not identified, and there is precious little explanation for the town-hall meetings we see.
In full-frame 1.33:1, the black-and-white film is grainy, scratchy and saddled with stark light/dark contrasts. The rough quality works to the doc's advantage, augmenting its sense of immediacy.
As befits most cinema-verite documentaries of its time, American Revolution 2 occasionally suffers from muffled audio. Dialogue is not clear, but the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is generally understandable.
For a fuller appreciation of the film, it is worth reading 1968: Facets Cine-Notes, a collectible booklet packaged with the DVD. The text tells how American Revolution 2 came to be and includes a timeline of the events before and following the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
The disc also boasts The Organizer (13:56), a 2007 documentary that updates us on Bobby Lee. Several years after the events of American Revolution 2 took place, Lee moved to Texas and went on to build a political machine that culminated with the election of his brother, El Franco Lee, to the Harris County Commission in Houston.
I wish I could recommend American Revolution 2, but far too much of this documentary simply plods along. It can be dull stuff -- and that's something the Sixties you can't really say about that decade.