Weatherpeople at home

by Thomas Waugh

from Jump Cut, no. 12/13, 1976, pp. 11-13
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1976, 2004

UNDERGROUND has surfaced at last. When the much heralded film on the Weather Underground by Emile de Antonio, Mary Lampson, and Haskell Wexler finally opened early in May, it was a relief to see that it had all been worth it.

It was almost a year since the federal subpoenas on the film-in-progress had blown the cover of the most delicate film operation this side of Uruguay. The subpoenas had led to a brouhaha of no small dimensions, with a whole array of liberal editorialists and Hollywood luminaries rushing to the defense of the First Amendment. Now the result of all this commotion has quietly appeared. Although the ripples it has set off are nothing compared to those of HEARTS AND MINDS a few seasons back, UNDERGROUND is still a major film, by no means an anti-climax to the cloak and dagger, cat-and-mouse maneuvers and the civil liberties outcry that preceded it. By any standard, UNDERGROUND is an important intervention into the debate about the course of the Left in post-Vietnam United States.

The word on the grapevine for weeks before the opening had been that the film was excruciatingly boring, admittedly a potential liability for any feature-length interview with five faceless militants in a closed-in space. But people feared that worse than boring, the film would be a serious embarrassment to the radical community as well. A widely publicized film endorsing such questionable politics as those of the Weatherpeople could only be a weapon in the hands of the status quo, just as the media circus around the Symbionese Liberation Army had proven to be.

There has also been considerable impatience among some radicals with de Antonio himself. Since his 1963 denunciation of Joseph McCarthy with POINT OF ORDER, he has been the most widely distributed and probably the most accomplished of U.S. filmmakers on the left. However, there has been some uneasiness about the occasional ideological ambivalence of his work, especially that of PAINTERS PAINTING, his last film before UNDERGROUND, an examination of New York avant-garde painting since the war. There have also been complaints about his undeniably individualist presence and his allegedly divisive behavior within the radical community. It was uncertain whether the veteran documentarist’s fascination with the Weatherpeople stemmed from a legitimate political interest or from either radical chic or encroaching senility.

The other possibility was that the contradictions that had been latent in his films since the very beginning had finally come to the fore. Basically some criticized the futility of his reliance on the commercial circuit of the liberal, “prestige” documentary as a forum for addressing the issue of social change in the United States. However justifiable such reservations about de Antonio might have been in the past, they must now be tabled indefinitely in the face of this solid new work.

UNDERGROUND has confronted the project’s detractors by being both decidedly watchable in filmic terms, indeed compelling, and in political terms, a document of unassailable relevance. Only those radicals can afford to dismiss the film who reject out of hand the importance of continuing dialogue within that urban liberal and campus audience that the film will certainly reach. Such a dialogue, to be sure, must be a complement to more concrete agitation and organization among working people and minorities. But in itself this dialogue has an undeniable role within the context of a heterogeneous and nonsectarian Left. In the U.S. situation, such a left presence must surely be nourished by the consciences of intellectual and liberal groups as well as by the revolutionary consciousness of the oppressed.

It is perhaps the film’s very emergence as an underground film that is at first most compelling. It is an underground film in the real sense, a kind of U.S. samizdat if you will, subversive as the innocuous Soho stuff they used to call underground never was. As viwers see the film, they confront the backs of the fugitives’ heads or the gauze scrim that occasionally shields their faces from us (four or five different such setups are alternated, for visual variety, I assume). The audience hears a Weatherman interrupt the discussion to ask Wexler, the cameraperson, with almost panic insistence if the camera had not just accidentally caught his face. We may marvel at the bravado of the street interviews by two Weatherpeople at the film’s end or catch ourselves trying to make cut the details of a profile or a hairstyle. All these moments constantly remind us of the other similar underground documents of film history, those stirring but rare representatives of perhaps the most select genre of them all.

One is reminded, for example, of Joris Ivens’ BORINAGE (1933) or his INDONESIA CALLING (1946), the former a record of a Belgian miners’ strike. That strike was filmed literally one step ahead of the police with the filmmakers often saving the camera with its precious contents by throwing it from hand to hand or by hiding equipment from police informers. One thinks as well of the virtually forgotten tradition of U.S. labor newsreels of the interwar years that stayed alive despite red scares and goon squads. Or one thinks of the rare documents of racial oppression that have been smuggled out of South Africa over the years. There is also ON EST AU COTON, the legendary treatment of the Quebec textile industry that the National Film Board commissioned from Denys Arcand in 1970 but hastily suppressed as soon as they caught onto its subversive content. In this case, a pirated video edition began its permanent circulation through the Montreal radical subcultures immediately thereafter.

No doubt UNDERGROUND is most reminiscent of those countless underground films from Latin America in the last decade. The most notable is, of course, Fernando Solanas’ HOUR Or THE FURNACES, the four-and-a-half hour epic of the Argentine struggle, filmed clandestinely over a period of years and later distributed underground in super8—to this day, I hope. The most exact parallel is with the Uruguayan short TUPAMAROS, like UNDERGROUND based on interviews with fugitive revolutionaries, masked like the Weatherpeople from public identification because of the very real danger which doesn't take Costa-Gavras to help us imagine.

It is the aura of danger and the presence of courage that give such films their dramatic intensity, quite apart from any purely aesthetic qualities they may have. Indeed, the unavoidable roughness of the truly underground film adds to its impact; our response to it as film per se is always tempered by a special dispensation. In this light, it is curious that technically UNDERGROUND suffers none of the shortcomings one expects from an underground film. It had a healthy budget of $55,000, of which de Antonio and Wexler each put up $5,000. The rest was raised from apparently well-heeled radicals. It also had a professional crew and a leisurely post-shooting schedule, all of which have guaranteed a film of considerable polish. Surely it is only in a civilization based on repressive desublimation that an underground film could look so good, not to mention have a gala benefit premier a block from Lincoln Center. Nevertheless, the aura of risk and sacrifice is still present, and my admiration for these courageous artists cannot be withheld. It is not every U.S. filmmaker who risks imprisonment for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury.

The history of the film is already well known, thanks to articles and editorials in Rolling Stone and a good many newspapers at the time of the subpoenas last summer. No doubt the initial publicity had something to do with the embarrassed withdrawal of the subpoenas a short time later. The feds saw that they had more face to lose in the outcry than faces to gain in the footage, presumably long since well sanitized. The harassment is not over apparently. Mysterious circumstances surrounding the last minute elimination of the film from the running at Cannes seems to be another link in the chain.

In any case, the film is based on several days of interviews by the three filmmakers in a “safe” California house with the five best known members of the Weather Underground Organization—Bill Ayers, Kathy Boudin, Bernadine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, Cathy Wilkerson. That organization was the offspring of SDS in the early sixties of people who went underground in 1970 after an explosion killed three of their members in their Greenwich Village basement bomb factory that year.

The organization had electrified the U.S. Left by the clandestine publication in July 1974 of Prairie Fire, a manifesto of their political principles. Ever since, the group have been putting but a quarterly paper called Osawatomie, named after an 1856 battle of John Brown and his abolitionist followers against slave owners. The press on which the organization personally prints their publications is shown in the film, together with stills of their gloved hands compiling Prairie Fire.

The group also claims responsibility for what they call “armed propaganda,” to date a series of 24 symbolic bombings of political targets, which, as de Antonio repeatedly points out, are always executed with professional polish and no casualties. UNDERGROUND can in one way be seen merely as a filmic extension of Prairie Fire. But the film is ultimately much more than a podium for the group’s views. The filmmakers have used the interview format as a departure point for an historical analysis of the past 15 years of radical action and an assessment of current and future strategies for the Left.

Actually, the burst of harassment, and the subsequent spotlight that surprised the filmmakers last summer, have in the long run had a salutary effect on the film, and not only in providing priceless free media exposure and the ad copy: “The FBI doesn't want you to see UNDERGROUND.” The surveillance began just after the crew had completed filming the astonishing person-on-the-street interviews that climax the film, so there was no interference with the actual shooting. It was in the editing stage that the film really evolved, under the publicity and paranoia, with the interview material serving as the base for the complex collage that slowly developed. Once the enterprise was put in the open, the filmmakers were free to search aggressively for the stock footage they needed to illustrate and complete the oral history that had emerged from their conversations. And their search paid off in one of the most vivid collections of filmic documentation from that period that has been compiled.

Although the original conception included the extensive use of stock material, as might be expected in a de Antonio project, it is difficult to imagine how it could have been achieved without letting the cat out of the bag. As it stands, the film’s contributors now include many of the most prominent radical filmmakers of the last decade. In addition the film includes the usual efficient contributions from network camera persons who are customary but rarely acknowledged in such projects. The film benefits greatly from consequent expansion of its range of focu.: It becomes not only a study of the origins and development of the Weather movement but also a history of the entire U.S. Left over the past 15 years.

UNDERGROUND’s achievement as a work of historical investigation is of course part of the continuity of de Antonio’s career. He has consistently confirmed history as a crucial concern of U.S. radicals. And he has inevitably relied on collage as the most expressive and rigorous means of pursuing this concern on the screen. Topical issues have repeatedly served de Antonio throughout his career as pretexts for such projects. With UNDERGROUND, the growth of the New Left is traced from its roots in the civil rights struggles of the early 60’s right through the South Boston anti-busing riots of 1975. Hence, UNDERGROUND is not only a perspective of one particular group of survivors of that period, although, as such it is a valuable companion piece to MILESTONES—which, however much we might object to Kramer’s and Douglas’s object and angle of focus, is also a suggestive evocation of a specific group of castaways from the New Left. More importantly, UNDERGROUND offers a contemplation of the history of an entire generation. The answer to de Antonio’s blunt question put to the group early in the film—“What the hell is essentially a white, middle-class, revolutionary group doing in America in the year 1975?—is an exploration of what it meant for all radicals to grow up in the 60’s and come of age in the 70’s.

A viewer no doubt feels considerable interest in the details of underground living, in the drama of narrow escapes and constant fear, and in the schizophrenic ambience of normality and paranoia that radiates from the screen. But the filmmakers and their subjects wisely downplay this automatic element of fascination, providing only a few cloak-and-dagger anecdotes to appease the Hollywood-whetted palate. Happily, the job is seen to be more serious than the production of a documentary thriller.

Among the autobiographies that are more or less sketched in during the course of the discussion, only those of Dohrn and Boudin go into personal detail at length. This is regrettable insofar as the distinct outlines of the five personae and their backgrounds are blurred. A heightened personalization of the five might have made the film more palatable for a general audience without compromising the film’s analytic task. I personally couldn't keep the three women and two men apart, although my friend, the ex-SDSer, had no trouble whatsoever.

In any case, the group’s collective reminiscences link virtually all of the causes that have enlisted the Left in a meaningful continuity over the last 15 years. It is striking to see a medium more often attracted to topicality than history and more often employed for synchronic analysis rather than diachronic used in such a way. An entire succession of struggles over the years are described as reactions to facets of a single system. These include the struggle for rights for blacks and other third world groups, anti-war mobilization, Native Peoples’ and Puerto Rican nationalist movements, protests against the current crises of unemployment and urban decay, and, perhaps most important in terms of the Weatherpeople’s internal functioning, the feminist movement. (There is no reference to the related agitation for the liberation of sexual minorities, an unfortunate lacuna, I think, in view of various alternate modes of sexual community the Weatherpeople are said to have experimented with.)

The film’s sense of the monolithic coherence of the System is articulated with often startling perceptiveness. For example, lavish camera movements of gleaming hotel complexes in Puerto Rico are abruptly transformed into tracking shots along the devastated street fronts of the South Bronx, while a Puerto Rican poet, Miguel Algarin, recites a stunning indictment of the U.S. presence in his hometown. Such a juxtaposition is a brilliantly succinct statement of the contradictions of our society. At one point there is even a reference to the McCarthyite problem of the 50s and the implication of this particular root of the New Left: Dohrn’s first memory of politics is of watching the televised Army-McCarthy hearings of the mid-50s, an event that ironically provided de Antonio with the raw material for his debut as a radical filmmaker ten years later.

Excerpts from vintage news footage purchased by de Antonio and Lampson document much of the history described. Their budget for stock acquisitions was only $10,000, almost a fifth of their budget, and such material is prohibitively expensive. This factor alone explains why radical film historiography of this scope is seldom attempted. However, in this case, the bulk of the stock material in the film, especially from the later years of the period in question, was donated by various filmmaker friends of the three filmmakers. As a result, passages from many of the major radical documentaries of the last decade have found their way into the film, including a number of the original Newsreel productions and such obvious choices as Gray and Alk’s THE MURDER OF FRED HAMPTON, Chris Marker’s film on the Armies of the Night Pentagon demonstrations, Cinda Firestone’s ATTICA, Wexler-Fonda-Hayden’s INTRODUCTION TO THE ENEMY, Peter Biskind’s DON'T BANK ON AMERIKA, and, of course, de Antonio’s own IN THE YEAR OF THE PIG.

As the collage unfolds, we see one by one the various strategies of opposition over that time period being tested and analyzed. The actions go from non-violent resistance at Maryland lunch counters and demonstrations in Selma to Martin Luther King’s confrontation marches through white Chicago neighborhoods not long before his death, to the armed resistance at Wounded Knee a few years back. They move from the peaceful antiwar rallies and draft card burnings of the early Vietnam years to the guerilla theatre of the Vietnam Veterans against the War and the outbursts of spontaneous anger of the famous 1969 Days of Rage in Chicago, or the Santa Barbara burning of the Bank of America. Ultimately the Weatherpeople’s 1970 decision to take the struggle underground and the tragic explosion that instigated that decision are presented and analyzed. Then the succession of symbolic political bombings that followed are enumerated and discussed.

One can also trace the development of revolutionary practice on the microcosmic personal level in terms of the group’s internal dynamics. Here again it is regrettable that the group resisted the filmmakers’ urge to go even more deeply into this particular area. The evidence of personal and collective growth since the late 60s—as shown by some striking period footage of Dohrn, Ayers, and Jones—is one of the important revelations of the film. Highly suggestive is the contrast between the glaring, haughty radicals of those years, confronting cameras and reporters and haranguing their followers, and the subdued patient manner of conversing in the present interview.

One unfortunate gap in the film’s history of the Weather Organization seems partly the result of the conditions of the production—that is, an explicit analysis of the group’s current tactics. No doubt security considerations forestalled any serious exploration of the group’s present interaction with any particular constituency other than their propaganda efforts. There are no real answers provided to the crucial questions of whether the group is working in romantic isolation, or whether their revolutionary practice is rooted in relations with working class or radical communities. One senses that the group attempted to address this absence by their decision to take the camera out onto the streets and into an L.A. unemployment center (not to mention the visit to the hospital strike at which the FBI finally discovered that something was cooking). The two Weatherpeople’s chats with a number of working people are impressive on their own terms—a middle-aged white woman talks of lack of opportunities, a welfare mother complains of how little her check will buy, a Chicano speaks in Spanish of the economic crisis, However, such brief interviews do not provide any sense of the Weather Underground’s contact with such people other than through their media-oriented theatrics and their publication.

One of the major insights of the group during their years underground has apparently been the importance of self-criticism. The five have clearly had a lot of time over the last five years to evaluate their own past strategies. And as such, self-criticism becomes a major current of the film, a continuation of a similar vein in Prairie Fire. Not only are the radical tactics of the entire period of the New Left evaluated, but the group members’ involvement in such tactics also comes up for analysis. “We were arrogant,” they admit, and then talk about the importance of challenging their audience without condescending to it, of real dialogue.

No doubt they do not go far enough in this direction. They can probably be faulted for occasionally slipping dexterously, by a few obvious pretexts for self-criticism, in the course of the interview. For example, when Mary Lampson forthrightly asks whether the charges of adventurism and terrorism against the group had ever been warranted, Dohrn neatly sidesteps the question:

We believe in self-criticism. We believe it’s a major way in which the revolution moves forward. We have a responsibility to have a strategy that takes into account the ups and downs that it’s going to go through, and doesn't see only in the down an endless down, or only in the up an endless up. It’s doing to be a struggle that peaks, and then rests, and gathers back its strength, and learns from violence that’s embedded in the system. So the mistake was not taking into account the long road—the whole thing—and understanding how much work was going to have to go into organizing the people through every form of struggle, and every form of resistance, and every form of fighting back—and focusing in on the one means of the struggle...”

Unfortunately, the filmmakers themselves occasionally indulge such reticence. For example, a discussion of the group’s single most glaring error, the Timothy Leary prison break fiasco, mentioned in Peter Biskind and Marc Weiss’s article in Rolling Stone, has been edited out of the finished film. Nonetheless, this tendency toward evasion is more the exception than the rule: The overall spirit of the group’s self analysis is sincere and hard-headed.

This self-critical tone of the discourse infects the entire filmic project as well. Hence we are spared the embarrassment of an unmediated endorsement of Weather politics by a constant reference to and analysis of the meaning and purpose of the filmmaking enterprise itself. (De Antonio’s public pronouncements on the Weather Organization usually lack this self-reflective posture.) “What is the best way for us to make a film that moves other people, that moves many people to feel that they can make a revolution in this country?” This question, posed by Boudin at one point, is a recurring preoccupation of the conversation. Self-interrogation is the basic posture of the filmic discourse.

At one point, the Weatherpeople initiate a tense exchange about the goals and the conditions of the filming by complaining of the discomfort and artificiality of the setup. The position of a fugitive from the FBI complaining of his leg falling asleep does more than set off nervous laughter among the crew. It is a vivid reminder of the artifice of the filmic situation and of the conditions of its address. At another point, a similar discussion includes a recognition of the ambivalent political meaning of the project and the film medium itself. Here is an admission that the overwhelming array of equipment surrounding the five could possibly be used by either the ruling class or the revolutionary class. Such frank self-questioning subverts any tendency towards mystification. And it stops short romanticizing the figure of the revolutionary that less restrained filmmakers might have catered to.

Perhaps it is Lampson’s influence that has been responsible for mediating de Antonio’s enthusiasm for the Weatherpeople. Both she and Wexler had serious reservations about the Underground’s politics and about the project itself. It is uncertain what effect her collaboration with de Antonio has had on the film or will have in the future. (Lampson was de Antonio’s editor on three of his previous films and worked on ATTICA as well. Whether she will continue to express her undeniable talent in collaboration or independently will be interesting to see. It is not the first time that a silent and efficient woman assistant of the 60s is claiming an equitable share of the top billing in the 70s, and the process is not yet complete.)

The Village Voice effected a particularly vicious use of that form of prior restraint that the Constitution permits New York film critics (and which the FBI would do well to emulate, although on second thought the critics do the feds’ job better and more subtly than they themselves could). Its review declared, with a flash of typically devastating wit, that UNDERGROUND was a “bomb” before it even opened and “of very limited interest as cinema.” Whether there is any connection between this ex cathedra pronouncement and the fact that the film had to be yanked from its New York showplace after two weeks is hardly a taxing question (in those cities in which it has been doing well, UNDERGROUND was well received by the liberal press). In any case, contrary to the Voice’s assessment, the Weatherpeople’s discussion is neither “boring,” nor is Wexler’s photography “static.” Instead, the filmed interview material is austerely absorbing, contemplative, and demanding. Perhaps the visual style of the interview, with its tendency to emphasize random details and surface textures, teapots, and wristwatches, is Bressonian (as the Rolling Stone article suggested in a turn of phrase that must have made many readers switch channels). However, the directness of its address and the relentlessness of its scrutiny are surely evocative of late Godard or of Straub.

The details of the curious minimalism of the mise en scene are fascinating on their own terms. When we see the head-on faces of the filmmakers, Wexler is poised and cool, but the other two are anxiously and self-consciously engrossed in their subjects’ words. Silhouetted in the frame’s foreground are rear view of the Weatherpeople’s heads (seen in a mirrored reverse-shot arrangement which the filmmakers rely on most). A fascinating detail among the spare, bright furnishings of the room is a huge, quilted wall hanging behind the crew whose inscription is only gradually revealed in the course of the film, “The future will be what the people struggle to make it.” (The quilt was the Underground’s present to the filmmakers at the end of the shooting.)

The filmmakers seem to have discovered, like Godard and Straub in their distinct ways, how to employ visual bareness as a means of underlying the auditory component of a scene. For, above all, UNDERGROUND is a film to be listened to. The film derives much of its pace from the slow, deliberate style of dialogue that the Weatherpeople have evolved in their five years of underground communal living. As such, the work relies less than any other de Antonio film on the dynamics of visual momentum or editorial collision for its impact. At several points the film even pauses while members of the group recite poems they have written—on the 1970 explosion, on the hatred aroused by the events in South Boston.

Near the end, the screen is even blacked out while a Weatherwoman recites her poem dedicated to Assata Shakur (the Black Liberation Army heroine currently on trial), a poem about the loneliness and sacrifice involved in being underground. It is a digression of unusual power (if the concept of digression is permissible within that of collage). In any case, there is no question but that the spectator must listen attentively to the deliberate but leisurely unfolding of the conversation. In fact, spectators must listen even more attentively than has been demanded by de Antonio’s films in the past, films always notable for their discursive composition in the first place. Such films as HEARTS AND MINDS rely on a node of address distinctly different from this, their structural affinities to UNDERGROUND notwithstanding, propelled solely through their visual energy. With UNDERGROUND, voices and ideas are integrated with the images in a dialectic momentum that is forceful and articulate.

In one sense, the austere visual style of the interviews provides a perfect setting for the interpolated stock material. The structural opposition of the interview passages with the archival passages can be well imagined by those familiar with the work of de Antonio and his imitators. The interviews, with their slow, deliberate, analytic rhythm and their contemplative tone, have the effect of sharply setting off the inserts. And the visual inserts have a black and white dramatic intensity and their connotations of the turbulence and passion of that already thoroughly mythologized period.

There seem to be a few deficiencies the three filmmakers betray as filmmakers. That is, there might have been more dynamic interplay between the groups on either side of the camera and less feeling of intimidation on the part of the filmmakers. However, such deficiencies are abundantly compensated for by de Antonio and Lampson’s brilliance as editors. Again and again, a point is made or a feeling explored by a masterful juxtaposition or superimposition of contrasting filmic materials, visual and auditory, present and past. One outstanding example is centered on the group’s discussion of their coming to grips with the problem of sexism, both in terms of their interior collective functioning and their outward political stance. It is conducted as a voice over carried above late 60s footage showing Jones and Ayers addressing a demonstration. Their masculinist posturing and strutting behind the podium provide vivid flashback evidence here for the voice-over critique, with its affirmation of the necessity of strength and gentleness at the same time.

Elsewhere, a savagely brilliant montage evokes the ending of the Vietnam war. It does so by using excerpts from films such as YEAR OF THE PIG and INTRODUCTION TO THE ENEMY, as well as other footage from network and official sources assembled by the editors. The sequence is introduced to the tune of Phil Ochs’ “The War Is Over.” We see splendid Navy footage showing a disabled U.S. helicopter plummeting from the deck of an aircraft-carrier and floundering in the water. The progression of images that follows includes rare, almost hagiographic footage of Ho Chi Minh, a confident interview with Mme. Binh, a glimpse of smiling women militia, and then a MILLHOUSE-style montage of Agnew and Kissinger giving identical goodbye waves from airliner ramps, as Ochs resurges on the soundtrack. The topical and structural center of the sequence then appears. We hear a Presidential announcement by Ford that the war is over and a sharp contradiction by a Weather woman’s voice over: “We are not going to let the war be over.” The discussion that ensues, an affirmation of the priority of people over technology, of people as the subject of history, continues over long eerie slow-motion movements from a U.S. bomber showing jungle landscapes bursting into flames, their colors distilled with surreal brittleness. More MILLHOUSE rhetoric is next. A collage follows of the Saigon branches of U.S. multinationals and some footage of the Nixons deplaning, all smiles and waves, at a Saigon airbase. At the same time, the Dylan song that gave the Weather Organization its name provides the musical coda to the sequence. De Antonio has lost none of his passionate anger, his caustic wit, nor his acute political insight in the years since THE YEAR OF THE PIG.

The film’s appeal, then, as will be clear from this passage, is by no means solely intellectual. Its predominantly analytic approach is often balanced by a rhetoric that is as gut-level as the declamatory and emotional Vietnam sequence. The Dylan and Ochs songs, for instance, are not the only use of music in this direction. Elsewhere, snatches of the same music, as well as of Nine Simone’s “There’s a New World Coming” capture the flavor of the era the film is trying to evoke. The Simone song, for example, is played climactically over the concluding shots of Native People activists at Wounded Knee, contemplated in stoic, silhouetted close up, rifle at the ready. As a kind of theme music for the film, these songs impart a tone of stirring optimism to the project as a whole. This tone, stemming in no small way from the confident pragmatism of the Weatherpeople themselves, is reinforced, it is true, by a sense of nostalgia for the days when a revolution did seem to be going on in the streets. And such nostalgia will no doubt be inferred from much of the film’s stock footage—in the almost beatific aura of the clips of black martyrs, Malcolm X, King, and Fred Hampton, for example. But this enthralling, almost innocent optimism is also a product of a hard-headed materialist analysis. It is inspired by the Vietnamese victory against all odds, and by the growing base of the movement for change in the United States, not by any deluded estimation of the impact of underground resistance within the fortress of monopoly capitalism itself. As Dohrn puts it in the film:

The lessons of the war are subversive... If you understand what happened in the Vietnamese war and why the Vietnamese defeated the U.S., it makes the possibility and the inevitability of revolution in the United States very clear. The United States government is not invincible. It didn't exist for all time, and it’s not going to exist for all time.”

It is a lesson Peter Davis had neither the courage nor the insight to induce in HEARTS AND MINDS, nor Emile de Antonio in any previous films in an unequivocal way, for that matter. But here it is repeated with contagious confidence.

If de Antonio, Lampson and Wexler now succeed in bringing this message to a substantial audience along with the crucial questions that are part of that message, it will be of utmost importance for the U.S. Left. At this point plans for a TV sales pitch are being formed but are still provisional upon the theatrical showing. But even within the liberal and campus constituency for such a film, if the stereotype of the committed revolutionary as a lunatic terrorist has been demystified by the image of these earnest, dedicated, tea-drinking people; if the media theme of the failure of the New Left has been subverted; if the possibility of negative discourse has been extended; then UNDERGROUND is a film for which we cannot but be grateful.