How Aaron Sorkin Preserved the Disorder of Chicago’s 1969 Courtroom ‘Circus’Breaking News
tags: 1968, Chicago 7
The chant echoed through Grant Park and the downtown canyons of Chicago and eventually reverberated around the planet via television and radio newscasts: “The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching …”
The whole world was watching when Chicago police clashed with antiwar protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention — and the whole world was watching in 1969 when the U.S. government brought charges of inciting a riot, among other felonies, against protest leaders. That case is the subject of writer-director Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which has been playing in limited theatrical release the last three weeks and will be debuting on Netflix this Friday.
I recently sat down for a video chat interview with Sorkin, who has written one of the best courtroom dramas of all time in “A Few Good Men” and has had great success adapting and fictionalizing true-life stories, from “The Social Network” (for which he won an Oscar), “Moneyball,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Molly’s Game.”
Sorkin told me the origins of the movie date back nearly 15 years.
“This all started in 2006, when I was asked to come to Steven Spielberg’s house on a Saturday morning. To be clear, that is not common, I don’t hang out with Steven Spielberg. He told me that he wanted to direct, and he wanted me to write, about the riots in 1968 and the conspiracy trial that followed. I said, ‘Count me in.’
“I left his house, called my father and said, ‘What happened in Chicago in 1968, do you know anything about a conspiracy trial?’ I had only a vague sense of what Steven was talking about.”
“In a courtroom drama, you’re going to make it crackle a little more than a real trial,” said Sorkin. “But when it came to moments like Bobby Seale’s objections or the judge’s response, and the moment when he had [Seale] bound and gagged, I wasn’t going to touch any of that. That was right out of the trial transcript.
“There was more circus in that courtroom than I show in the movie. The scene where Sacha Baron Cohen [as Abbie Hoffman] and Jeremy Strong [as Jerry Rubin] enter the court wearing judges’ robes and then take them off with police shirts underneath — that really happened, but I decided to take it out of the movie, and it took Sacha and Jeremy lobbying me to put that back in. They persuaded me, and they were right.”
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