WHEN MILD-MANNERED, lantern-jawed community-college teacher Mark Rudd's students ask what he did in the '60s, he ruefully replies, "Well, I helped found an organization whose goal was the violent overthrow of the government of the United States." He tells us, "My students will look at me as if I'm from another planet!" He was, and this Sam Green/Bill Siegel documentary (on disc May 25) helps explain what that planet was like. Setting the tone with grainy, grim period footage of Vietnam War atrocities, student demonstrations, and "monogamy-smashing" sex orgies, they mainly just let the former youth radicals explain themselves.
Opinions differ. Radical-turned- historian (and SW contributor) Todd Gitlin bitterly says that Rudd's tiny, terrorist Weather faction illicitly seized control of the 100,000-member Students for a Democratic Society in 1969. Fiery former terror-babe and Charles Manson fan Bernadine Dohrn keeps the radical faith; Weatherman-turned-Jeopardy-winner Brian Flanagan shakes his head over the terrible things youth and righteousness can make one do. The most interesting witness on this Oscar- nominated doc is David Gilbert, doing life for the 1981 bank robbery that left an innocent man dead. His sad, knowing eyes both defend the ignorant idealism of the era and convict his younger self of ignorance, self-absorption, and the need to be cooler than thou.
The Weathermen were definitely the coolest kids in my youth, albeit high-IQ-moronic, vain, and evil. Even Fred Hampton, the Black Panther leader who could've been bigger than Malcolm X (had the FBI not murdered him in his bed), thought the Weather kids were loony, self-destructive "Custerites." This movie is their real last stand, filled with the insights of age.
ALSO OUT MAY 25, Ray Romano battles Gene Hackman in Welcome to Mooseport; Bill Pullman acts stoned in Club Dread; and Bruce Campbell thinks he's the King in Bubba Ho-Tep. Fans of depressing Belgian cinema will dig The Son, from the Dardenne brothers. Documentary fans will appreciate the Full Frame Documentary Shorts Collection Vol. 2. Fresh from Van Helsing, Kate Beckinsale stars as a vampire in Underworld. Save your money for the Christmas-season release of LOTR III instead of springing for the two-disc version being released this week. Speaking of wizardry, Ralph Bashki's 1978 Wizards is also out; we'll review that June 16 and Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse next week.