"Bridgewater, like any maximum security prison, is not the kind of place you parachute into and hide in the hills and make forays into the cell blocks when nobody's looking.... It took a year for me to get permission to make Follies."  -- Frederick Wiseman, when asked about Bridgewater's accusations of clandestine filming.

Although American censorship of cinema has fluctuated with shifts in morality, only one film has ever been subjected to a court-ordered injunction for reasons other than obscenity and national security.  That film is Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies; or, as it came to be known for decades within the judiciary, Commonwealth v. Wiseman.  

Where is the line between social activism and exploitation for commercial gain? How does one balance the public's right to know with patient privacy, particularly when violation of the latter is justified, at least in the mind of the violators, as an altruistic campaign for more humane living conditions? And to what extent can one individual bend the law to serve what they perceive as the "greater good"?....

The setting is Bridgewater State Hospital, a Massachusetts correctional institution for the criminally insane. A young Boston University law professor who had recently turned to filmmaking approached the superintendent and began discussions on the possibility of filming a documentary inside the facility. Wiseman was no stranger to mental health: his mother was a prominent mental health advocate and philanthropist in Massachusetts for years, and Bridgewater had long been a case of controversy within the state for its primitive conditions, being part asylum, part prison, and funded by two separate state agencies with differing agendas. Consisting of 139 buildings over 1,500 acres, Bridgewater served several distinct populations: a hospital for the criminally insane; a prison for alcoholics; a facility for "defective delinquents suffering from gross retardation;" and a treatment center for the "sexually dangerous." (These differing populations, and the various levels of expectant patient privacy rights granted to each, would be a large part of the controversy when the case hit the courts.) Bridgewater was used as a threat, as bargaining leverage in job negotiations and to keep the state's mental health employees in line: "Do what you are told, or we will reassign you to Bridgewater." It was somewhat Soviet sounding and no doubt created the intended chilling effect on those who received it. Even more confusing was the merger of medical and penal. Security guards sometimes took orders from doctors but also directed them in certain situations. Conflicts of authority abounded; and patients were in the middle.

Follies is the textbook case of verbal contracts gone awry. On the surface, and from the reaction to the film afterwards by the agencies involved, it would appear to the casual observer that Wiseman used deceptive tactics to film inside the facility, that the administration was duped by a declaration of false intentions. But the official record shows that not to be the case at all. In fact, the superintendent with which he first initiated talks, Charles Gaughan, who held Harvard degrees in English and Psychiatric Sociology, was himself interested in bringing attention to the horrible conditions present at Bridgewater, in hopes of obtaining public support for additional funding. The meetings he held with Wiseman and his associates were extensive and involved detailed discussions on Wiseman's philosophical and social activist approach to documentary filmmaking, as well as Gaughan's explicit intentions. Wiseman was in no way undercover or clandestine in his actions, or even shooting where he was not supposed to: he was merely capturing average workdays, with average slightly-bored employees going through the motions, with average patients enduring treatment that was considered humane by state standards. When finished editing, he screened the film before Bridgewater's administration, per their agreement prior to filming. They provided their unanimous approval to move forward with release. There were plenty of moments where someone at Bridgewater could have second guessed the wisdom of such a decision, or pondered public reactions to forced tube-feeding and naked men wandering in stark corridors. But amazingly, no one did.

The hows and whys of the legal disaster that followed are way beyond the scope of what can be covered here. Suffice it to say that there was a good degree of back-pedaling by Bridgewater, at Gaughan's level and above, once the film premiered at the New York Film Festival and outraged reviews starting hitting the press (oddly, some critiques in the media focused on Wiseman's decision to show an old man nude, apparently not bothered by the old nude man being subjected to humiliation and mistreatment.) Ultimately, Bridgewater pulled the violation of patient rights card to get a court-ordered injunction to prevent release. It was shelved in 1969, the Supreme Court denying to hear the case. Thereafter, Wiseman could only show the film to mental health professionals and had to obtain full documentation from all present that they were licensed and able to attend under the terms imposed by law. Suits brought against the state of Massachusetts by the families of several who died from neglect at Bridgewater cited the suppression of Titicut Follies as a significant contributing factor in their deaths. The fight continued, and the case was not resolved until 1992, when the courts basically ruled that patient rights were no longer an issue for the film since many of them were now deceased. It was only then that Titicut Follies could be publicly shown.

Today, Titicut Follies stands as a stark reminder of how corrupt, entrenched, and indifferent some institutionalized systems can become if left to their own devices. Equally, it exemplifies the power of those from without (Wiseman) and within (Gaughan) to challenge these systems and bring them before public scrutiny. Wiseman went on to found Zipporah and has made countless films now considered classics of the cinema verite documentary form. Thus far, however, none have ended up the meandering ethical and legal saga of the long-banned film that kick started his career.

Jim Bunnelle
Lewis & Clark College


"I forget who the poet is, but a famous English poet said something like, 'There’s no sound more beautiful, whether it’s in the city or in the country, than the sound of a knocking on the door.' .... To that I would add, 'Unless it was a Bible salesman.'" -- Albert Maysles on Salesman

If brothers Albert & David Maysles excelled at one point in documentary filmmaking, it was finding the quiet drama in the seeming banality of the everyday. And while their other subjects--the Rolling Stones in Gimme Shelter and the eccentric Beales of Grey Gardens infamy to name but two--are often better known, it is Salesman that has always affected me the most. Maybe it's the simplicity, or rather, the complexity of something that on the surface seems so simple. After all, documenting Bible salesmen on their day-to-day peddling routes through suburban Boston could have been unbearably dull. But it isn't. In fact, I would argue that what is captured--and importantly, brilliantly edited together--exemplifies a sort of quintessential Americanism: a fusion of huckster commercialism, quasi-religiousness, human frailty, and a good dose of sales guilt, all stretched over the classic Horatio Alger myth of "working your way up from nothing."

Of course, this myth works out well for some, not so well for others. So it is here, where four men--all assigned animal names by the Maysles to describe their attitudes: The Rabbit, The Bull, The Badger, and The Gipper--have mixed success peddling overpriced Bibles to families that can ill afford their $50 price tag. Very early on, Paul Brennan, the Badger, is clearly different from the rest. Especially awkward are the scenes where all men are together talking about their day's work, Paul clearly not cut our for the task. Despite his rationale for why the sales aren't happening, and the caustic behind-the-scenes tone he takes on with regard to his clients, he seems almost too self-aware of the superfluousness of his job, of the fact that what he is doing is essentially meaningless and manipulative. The Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, their incredible editor, hone in on this pathos as the key to their narrative. They admitted later to developing a deep empathy for Paul and maintained a long relationship with him well beyond the filming. Paul is also Irish, and the Maysles, growing up in an antagonistic, anti-Irish Boston neighborhood and raised with those views themselves, saw this as an important peacemaking moment for them.

Today, Salesman could be seen as the film that introduced the term "cinema verite" to a wider audience. The term originates in the works of Soviet director Dziga Vertov and his idea of the "Kino Eye," as seen in his radically experimental The Man with the Movie Camera. The lens simply captures life as it unfolds, without any intervention or narrative artifice from the director. Later this was taken up by french filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch, who coined this term for "truthful cinema." Nevertheless, it came to embody certain aesthetic ideals and little else, philosophically speaking. At this point in the study of film and media theory, no sane person would argue that the "cinema verite" style is any more "truthful" than that given by someone like Michael Moore. Typically, it is now often shorthand for a documentary that lacks narration or any clear framing devices or contexts for the viewer. Today we really take this form for granted, but in the mid-1960s, almost all documentaries used the newsreel approach, with the omnipotent voice over bringing down the narrative like a sledgehammer, not only providing context but also compensating for the fact that often no microphones were present for the subjects being filmed, with most sound done post production. The Maysles's  "direct cinema" approach (both brothers hated the pomposity of the phrase "cinema verite") built upon earlier, more subtle traditions, like Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922) and the African documentaries of Rouch. The Maysles were "embedded" filmmakers--Albert on 16mm handheld camera, David on the mic and portable reel-to-reel--traveling with their subjects or, in the case of Grey Gardens, practically living in their homes. The Maysles's reasoning for this was at the very core of their artistic vision: gain their trust, and the rest will follow. The philosophy worked remarkably well for their three essential films, SalesmanGimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens.

But in today's "reality"-obsessed, media-savvy culture, Salesman is amazing for another reason: the lack of self-consciousness of its subjects. Somehow, no one seems to think it strange to have two men filming in their homes, nor do they think it appropriate to get the curlers from their hair, or put on an overshirt, or not smoke at the table with the baby present, or turn down the wobbly, blaring elevator music on the new hi-fi system. Granted, the brothers did work to get the trust of their main subjects, but there was no such trust with the working class families whose homes they entered; just a quick explanation of this being part of a "human interest story." After all, it's what the Maysles Brothers loved, getting at the realness of people in the moment, not in a mocking ironic sense, but in a humanistic and sincere way. And there is no film where this sincerity comes through stronger than Salesman.

(FYI, I was informed recently that David's daughter Celia is a Lewis & Clark graduate and documentary filmmaker.  A great interview with her is available here

Jim Bunnelle
Lewis & Clark College

"If we were someplace else I'd punch you in your goddamn nose."
 -- Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman to hotel manager

Although documentaries on music and musicians are numerous, most mainstream ones come across as promotional vehicles or linear overviews of careers that seem like 90-minute music videos. It's unfortunate, because things began quite differently. In fact, the 1960s saw some of the best music documentaries of all time, including Gimme ShelterMonterey Pop, and D. A. Pennebaker's venerated classic covering Bob Dylan's 1965 U.K. tour, Dont Look Back (sic).

The intro sequence alone, with "Subterranean Homesick Blues" playing and Bob Dylan dropping cue cards one at a time, has been copied and parodied so many times in popular culture that people have often seen the references before the referenced. It was originally conceived by Dylan as a sort of Scopitone movie, a French invention that was essentially a jukebox that played a 16mm film, the forerunner of the music video. Although by 1967, this song could almost be seen as Dylan nostalgia--so fast was his trajectory into, and through the other side, of the rock scene--at the time of shooting it was likely a sly dig at the folkies, flaunting his new noisy aesthetic that would come to define much of his middle career. The then-recently-released "Subterranean Homesick Blues" hangs heavy in the air throughout the entire film, a harbinger of what was to come. Teenage girls complain to him and Dylan shoots back with "Oh, you're that type, I get it," before kindly reframing with "But I like to play with my friends…You don't mind if my friends play on my record, do you?" Today, it is impossible for us to comprehend what an alien sounding and oddly structured song this was for fans accustomed to "Blowin' in the Wind" or "The Times They Are a-Changin'." Although these were recorded just a couple of years prior and can be heard on car radios throughout the film, promoting his concert appearances, Dylan is so clearly bored with these tunes while performing live that he flies through them at fast tempos. They feel like necessary obligations en route to the new introspection of "It's All Right, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," "Gates of Eden," and "Mr. Tambourine Man."  

Dylan is so canonized within American popular culture today, it is important to remember his place in music in 1965, when he continued the process of stepping away from a folk scene that he had outgrown creatively but which still clung to him as their conduit into the semi-mainstream. The first small step can be seen in 1964's Another Side of Bob Dylan, where he abandoned politics for poetics while keeping the acoustic aesthetic completely intact. At the time of this tour Bringing It All Back Home had just been released, which saw Dylan split literally in half: Side 1, electric; Side 2, acoustic. The next album, Highway 61 Revisited, would see him take the full electric plunge. It was a huge artistic gamble, tossing away an entire folk fanbase that loved and supported him for a rock scene that knew nothing of his music, only that he was some Woody Guthrie wannabe in a train conductor's hat. It's worth bearing in mind that Dylan could have very easily fallen on his face and ended up a mockery, rejected by both audiences.

Pennebaker's grainy, unpolished film captured a musician at work like no one had ever seen before: goading on reporters; playing Hank Williams in his hotel room; looking utterly exhausted. Some of the confrontation scenes themselves are now classics of rock pop culture, referred to in such shorthand as "The Science Student," "The High Sheriff's Lady," and "Who Threw the Glass in the Street?" It is incredible to think that by the time Dont Look Back saw its 1967 theatrical release, Dylan was done. He had conquered electric, inspired countless imitators, cut two more albums--one of them a double, Blonde on Blonde--and toured endlessly against hostile crowds with the Hawks (The Band) in tow. Pennebaker was there to film this too, through Europe in 1966. The final product, never officially released but known as Eat the Document by generations of bootleggers, was dark, depressing, and utterly unwatchable. In it, drastically underweight and strung-out, one sees very clearly the end that was fast approaching; and it's probably sheer luck that Bob Dylan didn't end up on the roster along with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Brian Jones. The eventual crash was both chemical and literal: amphetamines; heroin; vitamin-B12 injections; and the infamous (and still debated) July '66 motorcycle wreck that almost broke his neck. Dylan, barely 27 years old, went into hiding and started fresh, back to acoustics for the subdued John Wesley Harding LP, not touring again for nearly eight years. 

Jim Bunnelle
Lewis & Clark College


"For twelve centuries we fought against China. For 100 years we fought the French. Then came the American invasion--500,000 of them--and it became a war of genocide." -- Father Chan Tin

"The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is cheap in the Orient." -- General William Westmoreland

Throughout the late 70s-80s, Vietnam became the focal point for a broad range of films, some dealing with combat (Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War), some with aftermath (Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Born On the Fourth of July), others using it as a setting for adaptations (Apocalypse Now as Conrad's Heart of Darkness). Then there was the deluge of POW films from 1983-86, with even Gene Hackman getting on the solider-of-fortune vigilante bandwagon (the thankfully-forgotten Uncommon Valor). Within Reagan's creepy and bankrupt culture of nationalism, the Vietnam "Prisoner of War" movement went into high gear, fueled by a fervent anti-Communism that permeated the mass media of 1984, the year of Reagan's re-election. Newt Heisley's flag image, created in the early 1970s, was suddenly everywhere: flags, bumper stickers, coasters. In the midst of this, and perhaps as a reaction against it, new documentary forms were taking shape. These new filmmakers had no qualms about social activism and balked at the notion of a so-called "balance" which they were constantly being accused of lacking. The first was Rafferty-Loader's Atomic Cafe in 1982, an examination of Cold War hysteria told through an incredible collage of newsreels, educational films, and other "duck and cover" pop culture. The second was Michael Moore's Roger & Me in 1989, his swan song to Ford and Flint. But both owe much to an earlier, lesser-known 1974 film that Moore has called "not only the best documentary I have ever seen, but maybe the best movie ever." That film is Peter Davis's Hearts & Minds.

In some ways, I don't think I fully understood the Vietnam War until I saw Hearts & Minds for the first time many years ago. I knew the impact of the war itself on U.S. foreign policy: it (hopefully forever) made conscription unsustainable, drafted soldiers being too much of a liability both on the battlefield and once returned home; Reagan's administration realized indigenous mercenaries like the Contras could be financed, armed, and trained to terrorize their own pro-democratic activists without working-class American youth getting their hands dirty; and until the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, things went totally underground for the better part of a decade, public reaction to Vietnam being a prime reason for this shift in approach. But until coming across Hearts & Minds, I had never seen everyday Vietnamese villagers speaking passionately about what this war wasn't (a fight against Communism) and was (the apex of an ongoing Western colonial war of genocide against a people fighting for independence and national unification.) Nor had I heard the view articulated so well by former-Sgt. William Marshall, who lost an arm and a leg and was furious for what his country had drafted him to do in the name of nothing. In many ways, it reminds me of Studs Terkel's book "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II, which serves as a compendium of human experiences across the board, the quotations around "good war" quite intentionally ironic. In the same vein, Hearts & Minds could be nested in the same, this being the warm-and-cuddly Lyndon Johnson phrase used to discuss what needed to be done for victory: to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people (which "people" is subject to debate).

The film, shot just as the war was winding down, is a fast-paced compilation of interviews without narration. This was a very rare approach for a documentary on war. Newsreel style was still the norm; think the BBC's World at War series and Laurence Olivier's refined narration. By contrast, Hearts & Minds was honest and matter-of-fact, attempting to soften the conflict for no one. It reminds the viewer that war is also about human remembrances and raw emotional experience, not large tactical arrows outlining which division went where and why. The participants run the gamut to policy makers to people on the street, both in America and Vietnam. Infamous "hawks" like Kennedy-aide Walt Rostow openly belittle and insult Davis when he asks for an honest accounting of the conflict's origins, saying that rehashing that is "pretty goddamn pedestrian stuff at this stage of the game." He is but one of several who openly assume that their version of the war is the only one in existence, the only one that matters, the only one scholars need concern themselves with for the historical record. Luckily, there are interviews with Daniel Ellsberg (leaker of the Pentagon Papers), Barton Osborn (CIA agent who quit and blew the whistle on covert operations), and a host of others who tossed their bureaucratic careers aside to speak out against the injustice they'd helped to sustain in some way. Alongside these are the stories of two U.S. servicemen: Randy Floyd, an air force pilot who flew 98 bombing missions; and Lt. George Coker, a returning POW who had just spent the majority of the war in captivity. Through great editing, their own perspectives unfold gradually, scene by scene, as do those of dozens of others, like Detroit-born William Marshall in the clip above, and the budding peace activist Bobby Muller, who would go on to found the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Most intense, of course, are the scenes with the Vietnamese themselves, all of whom spoke up passionately despite grave dangers for doing so (the war was still going on during early filming.) There are the victims: the coffin maker, who looks over his shoulder while speaking; the two sisters, whose prolonged silence and sadness at the end of the scene pushes an intensity onto the viewer which is almost unbearable; the Catholic and the Buddhist, both aligned in their views on the Vietnamese struggle for independence; the angry, grieving father who demands an explanation of what he had ever done to Nixon for him to come there and murder his family; the man who says to a friend, after looking at the camera, "Look, they're focusing on us now. First they bomb as much as they please, then they film." Then, there is the lavish country club banquet of the South Vietnamese industrialists, the recipients of the billions in American foreign aid pouring in, one of which makes the incredible admission that "We saw that peace was coming, whether we liked it or not." The comment is astounding, delivered without a second thought, and really says it all. U.S. corporations can be seen encroaching throughout Saigon: Sprite trucks, Coca-Cola plants, toothpaste billboards with smiling Western women, even the ridiculously out of place Bank of America. CBS logos, intended to be a ubiquitous eye that is watching all, are ordered left on the bodies of corpses by soldiers in the field as an ominous calling card. 

In the end, what is so relevant and sad about Hearts & Minds today is the fact that how little has changed. The fabrications for foreign invasion by American policy makers continues. Consecutive administrations still lie to keep up some modicum of popular support. The jingoistic hysteria following 9/11 was nothing new, nor was the xenophobic nationalism that accompanied it. Even General Westmoreland's racist quote has now been uttered in a thousand variations over the past ten years, just replace "Oriental" with "Muslim." But perhaps most telling are the prescient closing words of ex-bomber pilot and activist Randy Floyd when asked what was learned from it all: "Nothing. The military doesn't realize that people fighting for their freedom are not going to be stopped by changing your tactics, by adding more sophisticated knowledge. Americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminality that their officials and their power makers have exhibited."

Jim Bunnelle
Lewis & Clark College


One of the most devastating and shameful developments of postwar American society was the war waged on organized labor by corporations, in collusion with the Reagan Administration, from 1980-88. To assign an end date is deceptive, of course, since we continue to feel the waves to this day. The era began appropriately enough, with Reagan acting as a "mediator" in the air traffic controllers' strike, where he "permanently replaced" 1,400 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controller's Organization. This sent a clear and unmistakable message to companies from coast to coast: "Clean house, we've got your back." They took it to heart too: Phelps Dodge in Arizona in 1983; Chicago Tribune in 1987; Caterpillar in 1989; and perhaps the most famous of all, Hormel in 1985, the subject of Baraba Kopple's Academy-Award winning documentary American Dream.

After the stagnation of the 1970s economy, the horrible recession that hit in 1982 provided corporations with the perfect pretext to crush labor, an opportunity that had not presented itself since the 1930s. This was the beginning of what would later be codified as globalization, and economists Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison outline the situation quite clearly in their 1982 book The Deindustrialization of America: Plant Closings, Community Abandonment, and the Dismantling of Basic Industry. In the quest to remain "globally competitive," companies were willing to do whatever it took, even destroying the very social fabric of communities that had devoted their entire working lives to the success of their firms.

It started in what is called the "Frostbelt" of the northeast, first with the steel mills, then spreading to other areas of manufacturing. Reagan's public relations team were brilliant propagandists, pushing patriotism and national pride, the myth of the "home team" and language designed to foster illusions of equality, community and collective struggle (see Barbara Ehrenreich's 1989 book Fear of Falling for a good discussion of this). Suddenly "union" became a dirty word.  Unions were un-American, greedy, out for themselves. That this view was even embraced by large portions of an increasingly-conservative working class that unions had supported for decades is a testament to the efficacy of the smear campaign. Concurrently, the management consultant industry boomed as corporations looked for ways to increase their profit margins by slashing wages, benefits, and pensions. Factories moved in droves to the south, the "Sunbelt," where labor was cheap and migrants plenty.

The packinghouse P-9 strike at Hormel in Austin, Minnesota showed how far manufacturing management was willing to go in this new era: they closed the old factory, built a new "hi-tech" one that resembled a prison (where worker injuries reached epidemic proportions), and demanded deep wage cuts. And this was during a string of double-digit record profits for Hormel, which was outstripping its competitors by huge margins. Several years earlier, at the behest of the United Food and Commercial Worker's (UFCW), P-9 had already reluctantly agreed to a set of concessions that dramatically increased management's power. So when a clause in this earlier agreement was invoked, demanding a unilateral 23% pay cut across the board, P-9 geared up for a fight. Tired of the UFCW selling them down the river, they brought in Ray Rogers of Corporate Campaign Inc., a consultant firm which specialized in high-profile media assaults on corporations, typically with boycotts and pressure strategies on banks and stakeholders. It galvanizes worker spirit but the impact on Hormel is minimal. As the months wear on, the International and UFCW withdraw all support and striker benefits, even encouraging P-9 members to be scabs and cross their own picket lines. Some choose to do so, burning bridges with their neighbors, their friends, their family members. Others block streets, get hit with teargas and arrested, refuse to give in. The destruction of the social fabric, as predicted.

On the bright side, American Dream highlights a new energy in labor, one that shows how out of touch the national labor leaders had become, with their exorbitant salaries and willingness to negotiate with unfair corporate demands. This new spirit is summed up well by one striker late in the film, when he realizes that the P-9 membership, even after months of pickets and civil disobedience, will ultimately have to pick between unfair concessions or unemployment: "Fuck 'em, we'll find something else," he says defiantly, walking away from the union hall mic.

Jim Bunnelle
Lewis & Clark College


Film history is rife with serendipitous discoveries, whether it's Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc being found in the janitor's closet of a mental institution or long-lost John Ford films found mothballed at the farthest New Zealand end of a silent-era distribution chain. And although the circumstances behind the discovery of what would later become The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is not quite as dramatic, it is nevertheless interesting. In the late 1960s, a group of radical Swedish filmmakers traveled to the United States to document the booming antiwar and black power movements. The raw source material they shot ended up neglected, unlabeled, and forgotten in a Swedish Public Television vault, untouched for thirty years.

There really is no single pivotal moment within the Civil Rights movement that led to its diffusion. It was a gradual process throughout the mid-to-late 60s, the culmination of increasing white violence in the face of black non-violence, including the murder of key figures MLK and Malcolm X under suspicious circumstances. Although government ties to each have long been debated, hard evidence is lacking, apart from admitted CIA surveillance activities and attempts to actively discredit King with smear tactics. Self-defense, empowerment, and black pride became the new rallying cry for those tired of the absolutism of non-violence.

But for the lesser-known figureheads, there is no such ambiguity. In 1971, the Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into the federal offices in Pennsylvania and raided file cabinets. The stolen documents they obtained revealed just how far the FBI was willing to go to infiltrate and destroy domestic organizations dedicated to issues of human rights and social justice. The action went by the name COINTELPRO (for Counter Intelligence Program), and its main target was the Black Panther Party (BPP), which it deemed a terrorist organization and a threat to national security. The FBI used false communications, agent provocateurs, and, with the aid of local law enforcement, outright assassinations to splinter and destroy the organization. The national leader of the BPP was Fred Hampton, a young and energized leader that drew large crowds in Chicago and--worse in the eyes of the FBI--motivated them. In the middle of the night, Chicago police surrounded the house and staged a classic "they fired first" scenario. Independent ballistics tests later confirmed the BPP's version of events, that the hundreds of rounds going into the house that night were coming from without, not within. Hampton, neither dressed nor armed, was murdered by the police, along with fellow BPP-member Mark Clark; Hampton's wife and child survived. The Chicago BPP never fully recovered from the blow. Other key Panthers, like Geronimo Pratt, would end up in jail on trumped up charges and falsely imprisoned for decades. It says volumes about America's political class system and the mainstream media's subservience to it that Watergate became the historic benchmark for the abuse of state power and not COINTELPRO. It seems the state-sanctioned murder of radical minorities always takes a backseat to hotel break-ins and tape recordings if the political elite are the ones being wiretapped.

The Black Power Mixtape, while not focusing on COINTELPRO in particular, nevertheless touches upon its impact. And although there is no smoking gun that verifies the oft-mentioned government conspiracy to keep poor black neighborhoods decimated with crack and heroin, enough is known about past FBI activities to place it well within the realm of possibility. Similar attacks have already been discovered against organizations like the American Indian Movement, well beyond the program's supposed discontinuance date.  Comments from contemporary artists, activists, and scholars is interspersed with interviews with Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, and other radicals and BPP members.  The Black Power Mixtape shows this key 20th-century grassroots political movement in full swing.
Jim Bunnelle
Lewis & Clark College

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