See This Movie

When I saw Steal This Movie in Boulder, Colorado with Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, he told me that he was envious of the Yippies because the Hollywood film made about them was "so good and accurate." He compared it to Panther, another Hollywood effort that he judged to be execrable. It was also in Boulder that Ellen Maslow, a cofounder with Abbie Hoffman of "Liberty House," told me how much her kids loved the film. Ellen felt that for the first time, her sons finally understood "what we were doing back then." So what am I to make of my old friend Paul Krassner's savaging of the film in his In These Times review ("Steal This Review," October 2)?

Paul makes no political criticisms of Steal This Movie. How could he? The film is pro-Abbie, pro-Yippie and pro-movement. What's more, as the reader can tell even from Paul's review, it portrays much of what the Yippies really did. We are shown throwing money at millionaire stock brokers, running a pig for president, levitating and sitting in at the Pentagon, trying to negotiate permits for our Chicago demonstrations, mailing pot to strangers, and getting indicted for our efforts. And these events take place before a completely sympathetic camera. Clearly this is not just an unusual Hollywood movie--it is a cinematic miracle.

So of course, I like it. I really did a lot of what is shown in the movie (in which I am portrayed by Donal Logue) and so did Paul (unfortunately, he is not portrayed) and so did some of the best people I have ever known. Steal This Movie is a tribute to their efforts, bravery and imagination. I decline to judge the movie by the standards of documentary or scholarship. It is a larger-than-life effort, filled with composite characters and scenes and, yes, some things are thrown in for dramatic effect. I don't care.

I also want to say something about Robert Greenwald. He decided to make a pro-radical movie, knowing full well the odds against making a buck out of it or even winning praise from the left. He is the first of his profession to make a film of this political stripe. Robert is worthy of some support. So I think Paul's aspersions on the more than 30 fundraising benefits that were held before and after the film's commercial release are unfortunate. The idea of doing benefits was not thought up by Robert, but rather by my wife, Judy Gumbo Albert (who is portrayed in the film by Ingrid Veninger). She came to the idea while we were in Toronto, watching the film being made. She saw a great opportunity for the film to be not just a tribute to the past, but a weapon to help progressive groups in the present. Robert loved the idea, and so did many of the actors in the film. I'm sure it had to be sold to the distributor on the basis of its marketing possibilities, but the people who thought it up and made it happen--and raised all that money--had politics and not business at the front of their agenda.

One last word. Paul informs us that Walli and Sam Leff claim that Anita Hoffman described the film as "mediocre." Judy and I saw Anita after the Leffs and after Paul. We were the last of the non-caregivers and non-family members to see her alive. She could not have made a judgment about the movie because she hadn't seen it. None of us had. I know she was very pleased that Janeane Garofalo was playing her--and in fact had just made a visit to her bedside. At that point we were all nervous about how Steal This Movie would come out. The script was fine, but what would get lost on the cutting room floor? None of us, including Anita, was then in a position to make a judgment about the film.

I feel that the perfectionist Anita Hoffman would have been very gratified with Steal This Movie, and she would believe that her faith in Robert Greenwald was justified.

Stew Albert
Portland, Oregon

Paul Krassner replies: Since art, or the lack of art, is always a matter of subjective perception, I will comment only on the factual matters in Stew Albert's letter.

It was Robert Greenwald himself, producer-director of Steal This Movie, who informed me that Anita Hoffman "saw significant parts of the film, dailies and sequences in Toronto when she visited, and sections I sent her for her pleasure."

According to the Leffs, Anita told them on her deathbed that--based on what she had seen--she thought the movie would be "mediocre." She told me the same.

Presumed Guilty

With regard to Linda Lutton's article on the growing movement to end capital punishment ("The End of Executions?" October 30), there is a serious side-effect of the death penalty that has been largely ignored. This is the way that the right to a fair trial is destroyed by the very existence of the death penalty.

How does this happen? At jury selection.

During this process in most jurisdictions, with the blessings of the Supreme Court, prosecutors are permitted to reject "for cause" any prospective jurors who, for whatever reason, say they cannot vote to sentence anyone to death. While defense attorneys might use one of their limited peremptory challenges to remove some gung-ho "hang-'em-high" juror from hearing a case, prosecutors save their valuable peremptories for other things, like preventing minorities from sitting on a trial.

The perverse effect of this unfair and unequal situation is that juries in death penalty cases are uniquely skewed toward people who have a pro-police, pro-prosecution, law-and-order perspective. For it is undeniable that those who favor the death penalty tend to be more conservative, more trusting of police, and less concerned with such legal niceties as Miranda warnings, due process and prosecutorial integrity.

Clearly there should be a call for an end to the right of prosecutors to bar jurors simply on the basis of their opposition to the death penalty. That might well mean some soulless killers will escape the needle, but it will also mean a lot fewer wrongful convictions and executions.

Dave Lindorff


Due to an editing error in "East Timor: Up from Ground Zero" (October 16), it was reported that one international peacekeeper had been killed there last summer. In fact, two peacekeepers--one from New Zealand in July, and one from Nepal in August--were killed. Also, international troops first entered East Timor in late September, not October 25 as written in the article.

In "A Few Good Candidates" (November 13) Washington Senate hopeful Maria Cantwell's wealth was wrongly attributed to her employment at Microsoft. She worked at RealNetworks.

We regret these errors.