November 11, 2003

Movie Documents 70s Weather Underground

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An internet search for “The Weather Underground” turns up two main results: an actual weather-reporting site; and sites related to a domestic radical group and its bombing campaign throughout the 70’s against domestic targets it deemed representative of American oppression.

It is predominantly the latter topic that Sam Green will discuss at a Cornell Cinema screening of his new documentary The Weather Underground at The Straight tonight at 7 p.m. But while Green won’t offer a prediction of snow, one of his concerns is the fact that probably more college-age students are familiar with the weather site than the terrorist group.

“Younger people get a kind of caricatured version of the 60s, and the protests against Vietnam,” Green said.

“They’re told, ‘everyone was a hippie, and the war was bad, and then they protested and it stopped, and then everyone got into disco.'”

The Weathermen (the name later took a non-gendered form) got their name from Bob Dylan’s 1965 song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” in which he sings that “you don’t need a weatherman / To know which way the wind blows.”

To the Weathermen, the inevitable world revolution was held up only by the U.S., which they saw as a racist nation involved in a murderous war in Vietnam. Dylan’s song gave a clever name to what they thought when they splintered off from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1969: militant, violent action alone would speed the winds and overcome a government that they believed had learned to ignore non-violent protestors.

Some books have touched on the Weathermen; Bill Ayer’s Fugitive Days, a memoir of his activities in the group, was reviewed in the Sept. 11th, 2001 edition of the New York Times. But Green’s work includes interviews with various old members, probes the problematic connections between the group and the Black Panthers, includes a member of the FBI involved in hunting the group, as well as notable critics of the Weathermen’s actions. Green is also attentive to historical context, both in the early phases of the Weathermen’s actions and in the aftermath.

“The more I learned about [the Weathermen], the more I began to appreciate the historical context — what they did didn’t seem perfectly right, or acceptable, but I started to see their side, and the complexities of the situation,” Green said.

To get at some of the complexities, the film includes a few scenes of domestic crisis, like the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the police shooting of Fred Hampton. Mixed in is an international focus, including protests in France and graphic clips from the war in the Vietnam.

“To actually see someone shot in the head is pretty devastating,” Green said of one of the film’s strong images, the rarely-seen footage of a South Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong officer in the streets of Saigon. Such images are necessary to “transcend the clich