Bringing a Political Trial to Animated Life (Chicago 10)

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OUTSIDE, along broiling Main Street in Bridgehampton, N.Y., the summer traffic flow was controlled by Land Rovers and large dogs on leashes. Inside there was no traffic flow: the film director Brett Morgen and the actor Roy Scheider were jammed into a Buick-size sound booth, fashioning a vocal performance to accompany the animated sequences of Mr. Morgen’s new film.

Mr. Morgan — to whom the words mad scientist have occasionally been applied — seemed to be channeling strange voices, from a strange place and time.

“ ‘Will you please identify yourself for the record?’ ” he recited from a court transcript. “ ‘Of course I will, Len, my name is Abbie and I’m an orphan of America.’ ‘Your honor, will the record show that it is the defendant Hoffman who has taken the stand.’ ”

Picking up his cue, contempt dripping from his voice, Mr. Scheider said: “Well, it is rather important in this case. There’s a Hoffman up here, and one down there. I certainly wouldn’t want the jury to get confused.”

Mr. Scheider listened to the playback: “I sound like Lionel Barrymore.” But it’s just what Mr. Morgen wanted: the voice of Julius Hoffman, the presiding judge at the December 1969 trial of the Chicago Eight, accused of conspiracy to commit violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. (The defendants later became the Chicago Seven, when Bobby Seale’s trial was separated from the others’.)

Mr. Morgen, the co-director of the boxing film “On the Ropes” (1999) and the Robert Evans cine-memoir “The Kid Stays in the Picture” (2002), has been working on his latest documentary since 2001. In the process he has amassed what he says are 180 hours of 16-millimeter film, about 40 hours of video, 14,000 photographs, more than 200 hours of audio and a 23,000-page court transcript, and has come up with what may be a new kind of nonfiction film: a work of “experiential cinema,” as he chooses to call it, a third of which is animated....

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