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Film / The Weather Underground

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The Weather Underground is a 2002 documentary feature directed by Sam Green and Bill Siegel.

It is an account of the eponymous Weather Underground, aka Weathermen, a leftist terrorist organization active in the 1960s and 1970s. The Weather Underground is born out of the Students for a Democratic Society, a non-violent student activist group formed to work for civil rights and against The Vietnam War. As the '60s drag on and the violence in Vietnam continues unabated, the radical faction within the SDS comes to believe that more direct action is necessary.

Matters come to a head at the 1969 convention of the SDS, where the radicals split off from the main SDS movement. As the revolution fails to happen and the Vietnam War fails to end, one faction, calling itself the Weathermen/Weather Underground, resolves to take the violence of Vietnam home to America. Thus begins a campaign of bombing and terrorism. Compare Guerrilla: The Taking Of Patty Hearst, a similar film about the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), their kidnapping of the Hearst heiress, and her joining them.

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  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The Weather Underground, bombing the Capitol, bombing the Department of State building, conducting a campaign of domestic terrorism. Actually they were Marxist-Leninist however.
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: The Weather Underground breaks up in the late 1970s after the end of the Vietnam War robbed the group of its purpose. One interviewee, Naomi Jaffe, recounts how her involvement ended in the most anticlimactic fashion: she showed up for a scheduled meeting and no one else did, and with no way to contact the others, she was done.
  • Film the Hand: The hostility of the SDS and its left-wing elements to the press is demonstrated by a clip from the 1969 convention where a student puts a hand over the camera and says "That's enough."
  • Gorn: Real Life Gorn meant to illustrate the violence and disorder of the late 1960s. Photos of the My Lai massacre, uncensored photos of the victims of the Tate-La Bianca murders.
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  • Jitter Cam: Seen in stock footage, namely a clip from the 1969 "Days of Rage" as a news camera films a couple hundred SDS activists swarming a police barricade in Chicago, starting an epic street brawl.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used for many still photos, like some zooms out from photos of the chaotic 1969 SDS convention, or a zoom in on a photo of Brian Flanagan being arrested, before Flanagan is interviewed on camera.
  • Narrator: Used rather sparingly, as much of the story is told either from the Talking Heads or from dramatic readings, but Lili Taylor does pitch in from time to time with narration.
  • Repeat Cut: The film includes a Stock Footage clip of an American soldier holding the hair of a Vietnamese girl who is kneeling on the ground. He knees her in the back of the head. This clip is then repeated twice more in a repeat cut, as the narration speaks about the Weather Underground getting more radical.
  • Shout-Out: The name of the group comes from a lyric in Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues": "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
  • Stock Footage: Lots, most of the movie. Vietnam War combat footage, American news coverage of the Weather Underground.
  • Talking Heads: Many of the principals of the Weather Underground are interviewed, including leaders like Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, and David Gilbert, interviewed from prison where he's serving a 75-year sentence for a 1981 bank robbery and murder. Also interviewed are people who had dealings with the Weather Underground such as Kathleen Cleaver of the Black Panthers, as well as Don Strickland, an FBI agent who was part of the task force assigned to investigate the Weather Underground.
  • Undercrank: Used for a scene meant to demonstrate the process of planting a bomb in the Ferry Building in San Francisco in 1970.
  • Western Terrorists: The Weather Underground, privileged white American college students becoming left-wing terrorists.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: For all the Weather Underground interviewees. Brian Flanagan won $23,000 on Jeopardy!.
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