I first saw the 2002 documentary The Weather Underground in 2004. At the time, I wrote:
It's a weird time to be watching The Weather Underground, a recent documentary about self-proclaimed Amerikan revolutionaries. It didn't make me want to go out and start a revolution ... But the film did bring to mind some parallels to American life in 2004.
These radicals felt completely alienated from mainstream America, and felt a need to act upon that alienation, in order to end the society they felt was causing such misery across the globe. Whether or not their political analysis was correct, their sense of themselves as separate was shared not just by bomb-throwing radicals but by many of us.
And many of us increasingly feel that way now. George Bush is a divider, not a uniter. And if he gets another four years, some of us are going to feel as alienated from mainstream America as the Weather Underground was in the past.
Well, George Bush did get another four years, and we survived somehow. Then in 2016, we found out there was something worse than Bush the Younger: Donald Trump became president. It's funny, because Trump wasn't quite the warmonger his predecessors had been, and while there has never been a worse president, war was far from the biggest issue.
But in The Weather Underground, various ex-members talked about how their movement petered out when the U.S. finally got out of Vietnam. The war had been the trigger for them, and without it, they were lost, and found themselves questioning what they were doing.
The film is an uneasy look back, using the benefit of hindsight to reject what the Weather Underground was doing. I got the feeling that the film makers wanted that rejection. It is balanced in some ways ... you do hear from members who would "do it again". But you also hear Mark Rudd, who admits to mixed feelings of guilt and shame. And the way Green and Siegel use Todd Gitlin upsets the so-called balance. Gitlin belongs in any study of the Weather Underground ... he had been a president of the Students for a Democratic Society, from which the Weather Underground came, and he is adamant that the Underground was ruinous for the Left. His points are well-taken at first, but he keeps popping up throughout the film, always insisting that the Underground was a bad thing. The way the film is constructed, it's as if Gitlin is called upon whenever the film makers want to take the Underground to task. The result is that the members of the Underground come across as spoiled kids who wouldn't listen to daddy. Which may even be an accurate description, but the use of Gitlin in the film means Green and Siegel side with daddy.
It is entirely possible I bring too much baggage to the film, and I may be unfair to Green and Siegel. Here is Green talking about the film in 2015: