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'Steal This Movie'

Abbie Hoffman drama arrives in heat of new protests

Friday, August 25, 2000

By David Germain, The Associated Press

Abbie Hoffman is gone, but the Yippie prankster's spirit lingers.

'Steal This Movie'

Where: Melwood Screening Room, Oakland.

When: Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $5-$10 (seating limited); 412-682-4111.


Three decades after the Chicago Seven trial and 11 years after Abbie Hoffman's death, the scene outside this summer's Democratic gathering at times curiously resembled the giddy anarchy in which Hoffman played a leading role during the 1968 convention.

Police in riot gear, rubber bullets fired at protesters, officers on horseback chasing off demonstrators. Protesters on bicycles, demonstrators carrying puppets, musical statements by Rage Against the Machine and Bonnie Raitt.

"Abbie would be joyous," said Robert Greenwald, producer and director of "Steal This Movie," whose title was borrowed from Hoffman's book "Steal This Book."

"He would have been dancing down the street, rocking and rolling with Rage Against the Machine, singing backup to Bonnie Raitt, making the puppets. ... He stood for changing the world but having fun while doing it. Making love and still making a revolution," said Greenwald, who got to know Hoffman while the activist was on the run from cocaine charges in the 1970s.

"Steal This Movie," the new movie tracing Hoffman's 1960s activism, odd romantic life and years as a fugitive, opened nationally last week but is not yet scheduled for a Pittsburgh run. It will get its local premiere Sunday night at the Melwood Screening Room as a benefit for the Duncan & Porter House, a shelter for men on the North Side. "Steal This Movie" stars Vincent D'Onofrio as Hoffman, Janeane Garofalo as his wife, Anita, and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his common-law wife, Johanna Lawrenson.

One of the movie's links to the past is Troy Garity, who plays his father Tom Hayden, one of Hoffman's Chicago Seven co-defendants. (Garity was actually struck by a rubber bullet outside this week's convention, sustaining a welt on his wrist.)

Garity said he happened to see the movie's script on his father's dining room table a few years ago and decided he wanted to be involved.

"I thought it would be fun to re-enact that," Garity said. "It's an important story to be told, and I felt very fortunate, as an actor, to be a part of that."

"Steal This Movie" traces Hoffman's beginnings as a buttoned-down campus activist whose clean-cut look prompts a student to call him a narc. The film follows his development into a wild-haired social trickster who organized the "levitation" of the Pentagon by anti-war protesters and tossed dollar bills on the floor of the stock exchange to send brokers scrambling for the cash.

The movie depicts the circus-like Chicago Seven trial, when Hoffman, Hayden, Jerry Rubin and others were accused of conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale was chained and gagged during the trial, while other defendants donned judicial robes to mock the court.

The real focus of the movie is Hoffman's private life: the love triangle among him, Anita Hoffman and Lawrenson; and a persecution complex that stemmed from federal surveillance and manic depression.

"I didn't see this as a biopic," D'Onofrio said. "I see it as a drama. It's about the emotional life of the man. I think a lot of people know what he stood for, but I don't think many knew about all these things that went on in his private life."

Hoffman's death at 52 in 1989 was ruled a suicide.

In his spirit, the filmmakers have been lending "Steal This Movie" for screenings to benefit Planned Parenthood, Refuse & Resist and other social groups.

Near the movie's end, an older, more reserved Hoffman speaks to jurors at a trial of student activists. He begins by addressing jurors, then turns to the courtroom crowd and finally speaks directly into the camera, delivering an exhortation to filmgoers to act on their beliefs.

"We wanted him reaching out beyond the courtroom, to the people beyond the camera," Greenwald said. "Through that, through the benefit screenings, the movie is trying to do what Abby did his whole life. He made protesting for social change interesting, he made it exciting. He had an enormous gift to entertain and motivate."

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