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,"
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.
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.
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
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
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.