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The Weather Underground
The Weather Underground
Actor: n/a
Directors: Sam Green (II), Bill Siegel
Genres: Documentary
UR     2004     1hr 32min

This film tells the unbelievable story of the weathermen the group of 70s radicals who fueled by outrage over the vietnam war & racism in america went underground throughout much of the decade to wage a low-level war again...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: n/a
Directors: Sam Green (II), Bill Siegel
Genres: Documentary
Sub-Genres: History, Military & War, Politics
Studio: New Video
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 06/08/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 32min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English
Subtitles: Spanish

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Movie Reviews

Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 10/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"At the end of the 1960's, the various student youth movements took a sharp turn toward the far left. Frustrated by their failures to halt America's involvement in the Vietnam War, a growing minority of student activist leaders whole-heartedly embraced Marxist dogma and began agitating for the overthrow of the United States government. There were a few niggling problems to attend to first, such as taking over the leadership of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which they accomplished at the 1968 SDS national convention. An interesting thing to remember about extremists regardless of their political leanings is worth mentioning at this point: radicals can't get along with one another. Views and positions take on the rigidity of absolute, immutable truth, and anyone who opposes those views is the enemy--even if they're on your side to begin with. Thus SDS almost immediately disintegrated into squabbling factions of increasing irrelevancy. The most notable group to arise from the ashes of SDS were the Weathermen, an extreme far left organization devoted to bringing about a Marxist revolution in the United States. The name of the group, as you probably know if you're reading this, came from a Bob Dylan song.

The Weathermen, later known as the Weather Underground after the members went into hiding, utterly failed to achieve any of their objectives. Their first big action occurred in Chicago when the group launched their own version of Kristalnacht, called "The Days of Rage." The Weathermen and their associates roamed through the streets of Chicago, breaking windows, fighting with cops, and generally making a huge nuisance of themselves. Surprisingly, this little action failed to rouse the citizenry from their capitalist coma, a realization that seemed to shock this merry bunch of pranksters. Angered by this failure, the Weathermen decided to take up bomb making as a hobby. What followed were years of targeted bombings against such diverse targets as corporations, government institutions, universities, and other structures serving the "enemies of the people." The Weather Underground suffered setbacks, too, like the accidental detonation of a bomb that killed radicals Ted Gold, Diana Oughton, and Terry Robbins in a New York City townhouse on March 6, 1970. Still, the revolution must go on, so over the next several years the bombs continued to explode across the country as the Weather Underground continued to release written or tape recorded "communiqués" justifying their violent actions. By the early 1980s most of the members turned themselves into the authorities, exhausted from their years of living in hiding.

Why two paragraphs of tedious summary about an irrelevant political group long gone from the American landscape? Because this fascinating documentary, "The Weather Underground," covers most of this material in minute detail through a collection of vintage news reports, documents, film footage, recreations, and interviews. Made a couple of years ago and aired widely on PBS, which is where I saw part of it and wanted more, the documentary revisits many of the principal players more than two decades after the group dissolved. We get to see and hear Billy Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Mark Rudd, Naomi Jaffe, David Gilbert, Brian Flanagan, and Laura Whitehorn reminisce about their days as revolutionary fighters battling for the soul of America. Moreover, interviews with former SDS leader Todd Gitlin, former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver, and FBI agent Don Strickland provide a different point of view on the activities of the Weather Underground. By listening to these people recount their experiences, we learn more about how angry radicals became over the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, about how the group helped Timothy Leary escape from prison, and learn to marvel in awe at the massive comb over Mark Rudd sported as a young communist revolutionary.

It's not too difficult to see where the filmmakers' loyalties lie regarding the activities of the Weather Underground. Although careful not to make them look too cool, it's fairly obvious the presentation aims to present these characters as admirable figures. They placed a baseball bat in Billy Ayers's hands as he strolled down memory lane remembering the "Days of Rage" fiasco. While we could write off this stunt as sensationalism, it's more problematic to examine the questions put to the various members. Why did Kathy Boudin's name never come up in the film? Probably because Boudin, unlike many members we see here, did kill people in the name of a revolutionary cause. In the early 1980s, she joined the Black Liberation Army and took part in an armored car robbery that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and a security guard. The ghost of Boudin is apparently a problem the filmmakers wished to avoid, although I should credit them for interviewing David Gilbert, a man currently serving a life sentence for his involvement in the same crime. It just seems most of the questions don't dig too deeply into the questionable practices of the Weather revolution. Then again, maybe they don't need to; several of the former members appear as though they're having problems coming to terms with their past behavior. That's a hopeful sign.

Although I've had rough words in the past about these people and their despicable actions, I had a tough time disliking them in the film. A few of them, primarily Mark Rudd and Brian Flanagan, seem like people you could sit down with for a few hours and have an interesting conversation about any topic. The commentary track with Ayers and Dohrn is well worth a listen primarily for the realization that even stolid commies have a self-deprecating sense of humor. But you also discover that several of these people aren't quite ready to repudiate their former positions. I think it was Laura Whitehorn who said she would do it all over again if given the chance, a view that is hardly encouraging. Give this one a watch, though. It's mesmerizing.
Insightful look at American 60s radicals
Lleu Christopher | Hudson Valley, NY | 06/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"In some ways, the group known as the Weather Underground (originally the Weathermen, an offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society) were more a symbol of 1960s radical idealism than a real revolutionary movement. Although they planted many bombs during a decade-long period, they never did anything that seriously threatened the government or power structure. Their goal, of course, was to spark a mass movement and inspire others to follow their example, but they remained essentially marginalized. The film, The Weather Underground does a good job at letting members of this group explain their motives and, in some cases, misgivings about their foray into revolution. Directors Bill Siegel and Sam Green seem to be sympathetic with the movement, and most of the material is told from the point of view of members. Leaders of the group Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers have retained their radical views and are anything but apologetic about their past actions. Most members of the group, despite the bombings, were committed to not harming people. This brings up a rather blatant omission in the film -Kathy Boudin, perhaps the group's most notorious member (for her participation in a robbery where a man was killed) is not mentioned at all. This was an unfortunate decision, apparently done to portray the Weathermen as essentially nonviolent. To leave out such a well known chapter in the group's history leaves a gaping hole. Still, the parts that are included are fascinating and give a glimpse into the idealism and naivete of these leftist radicals. In retrospect, it is (at least from one perspective) a little sad to see how little long term effect the 1960s counterculture had on society. It seems that they were no match for the propaganda machine of the government and mass media. This film, of course, employs propaganda methods of its own, as when brutal footage from the Vietnam war is shown. Propaganda it may be, but it does serve to almost trivialize the violence committed by the Weathermen compared with that perpetrated by the government it was opposing. The other side to this argument is that the fact that these radicals are still alive and that a film like this has been allowed to be made is proof that America is not as oppressive as some would have us believe. Yet, this is only true to some extent; as the film explains, the FBI made a concerted (and mainly illegal) effort to destroy radical movements. There is also evidence that the government murdered members of the Black Panthers. How you react to The Weather Underground depends on your political and cultural perspective. Regardless of this, this film is a compelling study of a radical group and gives us a glimpse into their world."
It was "like a children's crusade gone mad"...
Dave | Tennessee United States | 04/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This compelling documentary chronicles the little-known group of young American radicals called "The Weathermen" (later "The Weather Underground"), who from the late 1960's through the mid-1970's waged a "declared war" against the U.S. government. They, like many young Americans of that period, were outraged by the Vietnam War as well as the racism in America, but protesting was only the beginning for these determined youths. Over time they convinced both the public and the governemt that they meant business. They attacked police in the streets of Chicago, and for a decade bombed many government and law enforcement buildings, including the U.S. Capitol.

As the former members reveal in interviews, they took great lengths to make sure that no people were injured in these carefully planned bombings, which were supposed to bring the U.S. government to its knees. They even helped Timothy Leary escape from prison. The real effect these criminal activities had is clearly arguable, and some of the fomer members clearly are ashamed in their involvement in The Weather Underground, while others say they would "do it all again". The documentary raises some important questions, like just how influential, if at all, were the American protesters in ending the Vietnam War, and how far should protesters go to get their message heard?

Sam Green and Bill Siegel created a gripping and very important documentary, using incredible and disturbing footage. Parents should be cautioned that some of the footage is very graphic and should be viewed by adults only. The dvd is really superb and is packed with great bonus features, including complete, original audio recordings made by a Weathermen member, commentary by former Weathermen Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, commentary by the filmmakers, a 28 minute interview with former Weatherman David Gilbert, an exerpt from the 1975 Emile de Antonio film "Underground", in which Weathermen (with faces concealed) are interviewed, and more. For anyone wanting to learn more about this violent and tragic period in American history, this documentary is highly recommended."
Should have won the 2003 Oscar, hands down!!!
Mike Sobocinski | Lansing, MI | 03/22/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a sophisticated treatment of a controversial subject, and is absolutely captivating in its presentation!! Whether you know about the zeitgeist of the 60s and 70s or not, this film will immerse you in the radical half of it. An outstanding presentation of the range of disturbing events and issues that made activists and radicals so impassioned, the film also includes such topics as Vietnam, the Black Panthers and the Cointelpro papers... This is a MUST-SEE and should be useful for college instructors and students for a long time to come!"