1971

1971 is a little uneven as a documentary, but well worth watching for its telling of the Media story as well as for its exploration of the world of white middle-class professionals active against the Vietnam war. The film blends archival footage with reenactment seamlessly, and delivers the blow-by-blow story of the break-in very well, although as an IMDb goof notes the dramatic device of the apartment manager watching television is anachronistic. While film goers will already be aware of the raid’s success, 1971 successfully delivers tension around its explanation of the planning, execution, and aftermath, with the audience made to feel participants’ fear of discovery, especially via the actions of the ninth member of the group.

I was especially taken with the movie’s examination of John and Bonnie’s concern for their children, and Bonnie’s statement that the couple refused to use their status as parents to absolve themselves of responsibility for crimes being conducted in their name. The post-Reagan era popular culture narrative of Vietnam resistance tends towards depiction of the anti-war movement as compromised of tie-dye wearers listening to The Doors, but a generation now in our 50s remembers our parents hiring dependable babysitters and then heading off down the Schuylkill to I-95 and a demonstration at the Pentagon. Philly had SANE, Women Strike for Peace, WILPF, AFSC, the Unitarian Peace Fellowship, and other organizations filled with responsible middle-class Americans sickened by the war.

The War. We talk today about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Syria, as CGI backgrounds for drone video games fought by air-conditioned kids in Nevada trailers. Whether the 1991 or 2003 invasion Iraq was never The War. In 1971 when you said The War everyone knew what you were talking about – the coffee table had Life Magazine’s spread on My Lai ditches filled with women and children’s corpses as a year later it would have Nick Ut’s photo of nine-year-old screaming Kim Phúc. If you were an educated responsible parent in 1971 you knelt down and looked your ten-year-old son in the eyes and told him you would do what you could to keep him, and Vietnamese children his age, from being butchered for your government’s lies, Dow’s profits.

Vietnam is a character largely missing from 1971. We hear Bob and Keith talk about the necessity for action, see footage of Jackson State bullet holes and Mary Ann Vecchio, but the film fails to evoke that feeling of the war having ground on for so long now despite all one’s actions to stop it. By 1971 Tonkin had been six years past, we’d lived through years of Johnson’s and now Nixon’s lies, nightly body-counts of dead Vietnamese, uncertainty whether the neighbor’s boy was going to be drafted. While 1971 delivers the story of how Media, I think it fails to fully communicate why.

1971 is a bit choppy in the aftermath of the break-in. McGovern’s rejection of and then capitalization on the Media documents was nicely referenced, reminding us of his and other liberal politicians’ actions that year in connection with Ellsberg and Russo’s cache. Camden seems kind of tacked on and without context. There was no mention of Harrisburg that I recall. In explaining Bob, Keith, and the Raines’ sense of exhaustion it might have been useful to communicate something of the burden of the various conspiracy trials and the work that went into their defense. I liked the explanation of Carl Stern’s exposure of Cointelpro. Reminiscences by the Raines’ kids and Bob’s musing on unintended consequences were interesting, but also telegraphed to me that at this point the film had lost focus. The Church Committee treatment seemed to me very incomplete. We were told of Media participants acting in the wake of MLK and RFK’s assassinations, but there was no mention of Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, other Panthers, Allende and other CIA targets. It’s true the viewer could easily become lost in a sea of references, but Media’s impact and legacy is intertwined with other revelations which were on the minds of contemporary political actors, and the film might have spent a few more minutes fleshing this out.

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