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The Weather Underground
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  • underground with the weatherpeople
    This film changed my view about a the weathermen and women, and it moved me deeply. You come to understand why they did what they did, and if you are my age of 50, you remember your own urgent and desperate feelings of being responsible to make a difference with the war in Vietnam and the horrible pain it caused for millions of innocent people. The Weathermen were part of a huge movement all over the world, and they chose the way of militant action, which was a dead end lane in many countries, especially here in Europe. Their way was special though, they had the courage to stop their plans to kill right in the beginning - after a shocking blast that killed three of themselves - and expressed their protest against the murdering war by destroying buildings, but without hurting anybody.
    I was impressed and touched by the honesty and self-awareness of the 5 people of the former Weather Underground, who shared their thoughts and fears and insecurities about that decade and their actions. Dealing with your own history and impact with care and respect for the person you were, accepting different views today without discrediting your past as foolish or stupid; taking another stand in the world today without getting rid of your ideals of a better world with freedom and dignity for every living being - that's what I took with me from this film. Thank you for the good work. Annette Schiffmann in Heidelberg, Germany...more info
  • window into the radical mindset and the nature of power
    for me, this is not a cautionary tale about "entering unwinnable wars" or a demonstration of how "important" revolutionary/anarchist activities are to our society. this is an amazing document showing the nature of radicalization. it can happen to anyone if they fall into the right mindset. any culture, or any marginalized group of any kind.... these people were college educated, middle/upper class kids. the film gives a real insight into fundamentalist thought of all kinds. when you push a group so far into the margins of society, they either submit, fall off (go crazy), or fight back. the ones that fight back not only wield the power of indiscriminent violence, but also the power of becoming "leaders" for others who feel the same way. they become the people who give "power" to others in the margins.... i would bet that the teenage suicide bombers in the middle east are not much different from these 60's radicals. its just that their socio-economic institutions are not strong enough to thwart it. their culture and religion is too deeply rooted i guess. this is a great and thought provoking film, it came on at midnight on my PBS station, and i stayed up way past my bedtime, absolutely glued to it....more info
  • A kind of violence
    A fine documentary about an extraordinary group of people.

    The Weather Underground grew out of SDS, and in its early days reflected the inchoate yearning for authenticity, combined with sex and drugs, characteristic of its generation.

    Then the group became more radical. BRING THE WAR HOME was their slogan. They planned to blow up a military dress ball, killing as many people as possible.

    But when three of their members were killed in an accidental detonation in New York, they called a time out and reviewed their whole philosophy. They decided that they would never hurt anyone in any of their bombings. And in this they were successful.

    They bombed public buildings, corporate headquarters, even the Capitol Building in Washington, without hurting anyone. They protested our coup in Chile, the Vietnam War, the murder of George Jackson -- things that were more than deserving of protest.

    In middle age they express regret over their conviction that they had "the moral high ground," they compare themselves to fanatics like Hitler, Stalin, Mao. But this regret should concern only their youthful impulse, not their acts. They hurt no one, and they destroyed property in a good cause, the cause of justice. We certainly could have used them during George Bush's presidency, when the only sign that Americans saw anything at all wrong with the war in Iraq was Bush's lowered approval rating. One of the members says correctly, "If your government is murdering people and you stay at home and do nothing about it, your very inaction is a kind of violence."

    That kind of insight is rare and valuable....more info
  • It was "like a children's crusade gone mad"...
    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....more info
  • Pretty good first step
    A good reason to buy this DVD is that the two commentaries - the director's and that of two of the principals - taken together with the film itself makes a far more provocative body of work than is offered by the film alone. The latter is the work of a Gen-Xer who exhibits the best and the worst of his cohorts. His curiousity is there - I am grateful that he had the patience and perserverence to get these people in front of the camera - and his heart is there, too - there is some kind of great fondness for his subject. But instead of committing that heart to the subject, he backs off and decides that he only loves "the images," the sights and sounds, the graininess of the old footage or the lilt of the narrator's voice. In the end I felt that he did not give the (former?) members of the Weather Underground their full say or due.

    Perhaps it is simply not possible to do so in these times or via that medium. Perhaps the central thesis of these activists - that to do nothing is worse than to do something, almost anything, when faced with multilayered deceit and brutality - is somehow no longer meaningful to the citizens of this country. I used to hear such arguments regularly through the 80s (remember "silence = death" and "no compromise in defense of mother earth"?) - what happened? (I too am a Gen-Xer - and appreciated the director's inclusion of an image of Reagan and all that that implied about the future of the Weathermens' battle!)

    A few striking points:
    This particular movement was simply incredibly successful. I wonder why they would even be considered controversial, particularly. They limited themselves to property destruction. They communicated clearly. They didn't get caught. There is actually a long and widespread tradition of this. Perhaps that tradition has gone into such abeyance at this point, in this country, that people could watch this film (and the director could direct this film) with the idea that these actions are controversial. Of course they are illegal. But at an ethical level, controversial? While we blithely accept the casualties of so many state-sponsored actions as uncontroversial - as "neccessary"? At the same time, it was important to hear the activists reflect on their work with a good sense of self-criticism.

    Back to the director:(...) there was a lot of footage that was just all about the director enjoying his own aesthetic. This could have been a slightly more serious documentary. And as for winning awards, that could only be because of the content; there was nothing really outstanding or original in his formal choices. I do hope he continues in this vein, however.

    Last, a question. I was left wondering how much of the Weather Underground's activity was motivated particularly by the Vietnam War and by Black activism, as the film strongly contextualizes the movement, and how much by a devotion to something even larger - I have in mind Communist longings and theory - which I caught whiffs of throughout the film but which was never really fleshed out.

    Another reason to buy this DVD: To begin educating yourself, your neighbors, family, and so on. A pretty good first step....more info

  • Great documentary
    This is a great documentary that starts with the SDS and how some of there members formed the weather underground movement. It is not a one sided story glorifying the movement which you can get with many films that deal with subjects like this. It actually made me sad because a lot of these people had good intentions but just did not get it together. This definitely broadened my understanding of the weathermen...more info
  • Wonderful
    This is a gem of a film. For a time period and group I knew little about, this film was a concise exploration of the whole movement. What is really interesting is seeing what has happened to these people over the years. Interestingly, most of them are teachers and are still active in political movements - just not dangerous ones. Well worth the time to see this....more info
  • Sick Fantasy Ideologists
    I gave this 5 stars not because I agree with them but thought at the time, and this documentary confirms my belief, that these people, like all terrorists, are sick. They engaged in what Prof. Lee Harris calls "fantasy ideology".

    " . . . It is a common human weakness to wish to make more of our contribution to the world than the world is prepared to acknowledge, and it is our fantasy world that allows us to fill this gap. But normally, for most of us at least, this fantasy world stays relatively hidden. Indeed, a common criterion of our mental health is the extent to which we are able to keep our fantasies firmly under our watchful control . . . Yet clearly there are individuals for whom this control is, at best, intermittent, resulting in behavior that ranges from the merely obnoxious to the clinically psychotic. The man who insists on being taken more seriously than his advantages warrant falls into the former category; the maniac who murders an utter stranger because God - or his neighbor's dog - commanded him to do so belongs to the latter."

    "Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology", By Lee Harris

    In his article, he relates a "personal recollection" of first encountering this type of fantasy while having an argument with his college roommate over how to conduct their anti-Vietnam War protest. It is somewhat long, but worth the read.
    ...more info
  • Thuggery on the Left
    This documentary traces the history, activities and current lives of the Weathermen Underground, from about 1969, when they broke off from SDS, to today. Most of the old familiar faces are represented: Bernardine Dohrn, Mark Rudd, Bill Ayers, David Gilbert, Laura Whitehorn, Naomi Jaffe, Kathleen Cleaver, etc. They started as a holier-than-thou faction dedicated to "direct action," beginning with the "Days of Rage" in Chicago in which their "revolutionary acts" consisted of breaking windows of upscale stores. They then graduated to setting off bombs in public buildings. They also formed communes in which anything smacking of civilized behavior was regarded as "bourgeois," and all conventions were to be abandoned, including monogamous and heterosexual sex.
    The level of sanctimony, arrogance and sheer, unadulterated stupidity overwhelmed me, as they issued manifestos in which they loftily decreed that anyone enjoying a Thanksgiving or Xmas dinner in the face of the Vietnam genocide, oppression of blacks, etc., was an enemy and was complicit, yadda-yadda. After the famous Village townhouse blast, they went underground, and as the Vietnam war ground down and other movements rose (feminism, gay rights, etc.), they eventually gave themselves up.
    Their "movement" was a study in futility, never accomplished anything, died of inanition. It was also dangerous. They seemed to be motivated by nothing more than delayed adolescent rebellion, guilt over their (mostly) overprivileged backgrounds, desperation to "prove themselves" to the Black Panthers, who alternately scorned them, ripped them off and (correctly, IMO) saw them as a threat--mindless Weathermen violence brought big heat down on the Panthers, who were shot and killed by police while the all-white Weathermen walked.
    The modern interviews are interesting. Most of them look befuddled and sound regretful. In fact, only a few of the white-skins served any time in jail, despite their admitted violence, because the legal system that they hated ruled that the FBI had violated their rights via break-ins and other illegal "Cointelpro" tactics used against them. The FBI Director was indicted, not most of the Weathermen. Some of them try to justify their violence by claiming that the war in Vietnam made them "crazy," and hasten to point out that they timed their bombings to avoid hurting people. But David Gilbert is serving a 75-year sentence in Attica for his part in the famous 1980 Brinks robbery that left three cops (including a black man) dead. ...more info
  • You say you want a revolution
    Something of a `Where are they now?' documentary profiling members of the radical group the Weather Underground three decades on. A splinter group of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society,) the Weatherman, as one interviewee notes, `stole' the student left from SDS at an acrimonious convention held in the late 1960s. Affirming an affinity with liberation movements across the globe - revolution was `in' back then, - identifying strongly with the Black Panthers, and in violent opposition to the Vietnam War, the Weathermen preached active resistance against America's `white imperialist' actions at home and abroad.

    Although director Bill Siegel must have sympathized with the subject, the graying radicals, neither the film nor his commentary track betrays an overbearing bias. The film moves, sometimes confusingly, from the SDS convention to the Days of Rage in Chicago in 1969, the Weathermen's first public protest that degenerated into a bat-wielding riot. Then it's on to a townhouse bombing where three Weathermen were killed when a bomb they were building to use at a military dance exploded prematurely. More bombing followed the townhouse bombing, although the ex-members, who went underground at that point, stress often that the bombings were symbolic actions only. No one was killed, they claim, and targets were carefully chosen. Police stations when a Black Panther was killed, State Department buildings in response to atrocities in Vietnam. Siegel strings together archive film, old newscasts, and the like to tell the story. Interspersed are talking-head interviews with surviving Weather Underground members. Visually it's all a little static. I've watched this film three times in the last week or so. There are two commentary tracks, one with director Siegel, the other with original Weather Underground members Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. I don't think it could have been cut much better, but with so many talking heads and footage shot from the inside of a moving car at an anonymous landscape, well, the eye starts to starve a bit.

    THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND confronts us with an issue that is still with us and probably always will be. What are your responsibilities when confronted with what you believe is injustice? Is, as one ex-member asks at one point in the movie, doing nothing in the face of violence an act of violence itself? The brilliant thing about this movie is that it is open to many valid responses - you can view the Weathermen as committed idealists willing to risk their lives for social justice, or young, white children of privilege intoxicated with their own sense of moral righteousness and willing to bomb themselves, along with the whole anti-war movement, to the margins with their outrageous behavior. Some documentaries invite you to stroll down Memory Lane. THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND marches you through a nightmare battleground. The questions it raises about social action and responsibility are as valid now as they were thirty plus years ago.
    ...more info
  • The Weather Underground
    I was in law enforcement during this period of time. This documentary seems to be very well done, factual and accurate in all matters.

    I am very excited to witness how our nation will change (my hope is for the better) during the next four years under the leadership of Barack Obama.

    However, it is my hope that our "President-Elect", Barack Obama will distance himself from all former Weathermen members, especially William (Bill) Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn.

    R. Greenleaf - Utah...more info
  • Would you do it again?
    It's amazing and not surprising that some of the remaining members of the Weathermen and Weather Underground would say that they would do what they did again. I'm surprised, with all of the underground groups and militias in the United States, that history has not repeated itself.

    While I don't fully condone what these people did, I am supportive of their stance against the war in Vietnam, and I'm sure they feel the same way about our present war with Iraq. I would not have been a member of a local non-violent anti-War group if I didn't.

    If you really want to learn about a part of history that your high school history teacher will never go into during a discussion of the Vietnam War, then pick up this documentary; if you are a teacher, this documentary should be used as a supplemental aid to your lesson plan on the counterculture and Vietnam discussions....more info
  • A fine documentary
    Perhaps the best documentary I have ever seen. I was reminded of the words of Jack Palance as Jesus Raza in the wonderful film, 'The Professionals [Blu-ray]', as he mused on the revolution:

    "La Revolucion is like a great love affair. In the beginning, she is a goddess. A holy cause. But... every love affair has a terrible enemy: time. We see her as she is. La Revolucion is not a goddess but a whore. She was never pure, never saintly, never perfect. And we run away, find another lover, another cause. Quick, sordid affairs. Lust, but no love. Passion, but no compassion. Without love, without a cause, we are... nothing! We stay because we believe. We leave because we are disillusioned. We come back because we are lost. We die because we are committed."...more info
  • a great documentary that with todays world should be watched
    in light of othe events taking place worldwide today, this is a great documentary to take in. the govt will always be challenged to a certain degree within the u.s. for policies overseas, but what a noble event in the late 60s early 70s when the weather underground and black panthers, and other groups took a serious stand against the treatment of minorities. superb footage shown, and some of the former members are recounting their roles and their opinions of events going on at this time, that made the uprising so important. particularly the vietnam war, which received much criticism anyway. this is really a great documentary and well put together, with nice footage, great interviews, and some extras on the dvd. ...more info
  • History That was Almost Gone Like today's Weather Itself!
    This is a Fascinating Documentary about The Radical Protest Movement/Group that sprang forth from the Students for a Democratic Society: SDS, in the Late Sixties. I was Very Pleased (& Shocked) that it was Nominated for Best Doc. in the 2003 Academy Awards! Excellent & Riviting use of New Interviews with Principal figures of the Time, including Law Enforcement, News Footage, Photographs & Personal Letters & Writings. All Put to Good use to explain a Much Misunderstood Time in American History. History Repeats & This Should be a Warning about Going into Unwinable Wars. Fugazi Provides the Excellent & fitting Score.
    Radicalism Is Shown As an Instrument for Change Not some Fad to Put on & then Discard after fashions "change"...more info
  • This Is Necessary
    I cannot recommend this movie strongly enough. Whether you are American or whatever other lines used to seperate us, this is necessary. The capitalist mindset is never going to change without Revolutionaries doing this work. The fact that the Weather Underground carried out these attacks without murdering anyone (unlike the past seven [at least] White House administrations) is a testament to their scale of commitment FOR this country. We have the potential to be the greatest country in the history of mankind. Power to the People....more info
  • They were nuts, and here's why ...
    Still wide-eyed and bushy-tailed in 2004 as they were in the 60s and 70s when they bombed the establishment, these '60s burnouts tell their tale effectively in this documentary with nice stock footage of the era and a good soundtrack featuring the likes of '60s jazzer Gil Scott Heron. Though similarities to today's climate are argued in the commentary track, the idea of overthrowing the government seems as unlikely now as it did 40 years ago. Kids today don't get this earnest, and crazy. The human waste of David Gilbert, in prison for 75 years, is one of the film's most powerful images. He is clear and precise and could have been a great contributor to society. Were they all crazy? No, but the things they did seem so quaint and futile and misdirected today, just as they did then. Great film....more info