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November 13, 2011

Thoughts about "Disturbing the Universe" or other future film options

WilliamKunstlerDTU_FilmStill1_WilliamKunstler_byMaddyMiller_t600I hope many of you enjoyed last week's movie about William Kunstler's remarkable life as a lawyer and activist.  I welcome comments about any aspects of the movie (including whether the picture reprinted here is conclusive proof of child abuse -- by both Bill Kunstler and whomever snapped this picture).  I especially encourage everyone to spend some time exploring the full stories of the many (in)famous cases and causes in which Kunstler was involved.  Of particular concern and interest for the themes of this class is the full story of the Attica Prison riot, which this Wikipedia entry summarizes this way:

The Attica Prison Riot occurred at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York, United States in 1971. The riot was based in part upon prisoners' demands for better living conditions. On September 9, 1971, responding, in part, to the death of prisoner George Jackson, a black radical activist prisoner who had been shot to death by corrections officers in California's San Quentin Prison on August 21, about 1,000 of the Attica prison's approximately 2,200 inmates rebelled and seized control of the prison, taking 33 staff hostage. During the following four days of negotiations, authorities agreed to 28 of the prisoners' demands, but would not agree to demands for complete amnesty from criminal prosecution for the prison takeover or for the removal of Attica's superintendent. On the order of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, state police took back control of the prison. When the uprising was over, at least 39 people were dead, including ten correctional officers and civilian employees.

Though there are a number of films and documentaries about Attica, I feel we have already had our share of prison-oriented movie experiences.  Consequently, I also want students in the comments to consider making recommendations or suggestions for other movie options for any future class showings.  (There is always Justice Scalia's favorite movie, "My Cousin Vinny," but I suspect and hope most of you have already seen that one.)

November 13, 2011 in Class activities, Film | Permalink


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I really enjoyed the documentary. While it started a little slow, it was nice to hear from a perspective other than the lawyer's. I don't think that people often consider how a lawyer's choice of clients can impact his or her family, and I thought the narration and seemingly candid and honest interviews were well done. Plus, until watching the documentary, I knew very little about Attica and Wounded Knee, and I had never heard the various, shocking details of the Chicago Seven trial. Overall, I thought the documentary was really interesting.

As far as other movies go, imdb has a list of crime documentaries: http://www.imdb.com/search/title?genres=crime&sort=user_rating&title_type=documentary

They're rated, but I'm not familiar with any of them. Maybe one about an Ohio prison would be good?

Posted by: Allison S. | Nov 14, 2011 6:01:15 PM

Into the Abyss just came out last Friday - but not in any theaters near us. It's a documentary by Werner Herzog (of Grizzly Man fame) about the death penalty. He specifically focuses on the case of a Texas triple homicide where one offender is on death row (days away from execution at the time of filming) and another is serving LWOP. They interview townspeople including a pastor and an executioner. I think it sounds really cool and would address a lot of our discussion points from a few weeks ago.

In terms of actually seeing it, it looks like if you get IFC on Demand it could be available: http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/into-the-abyss or maybe it will come to Drexel or another Columbus theater soon.

Along with all of those leafy award graphics on their site, it's certified fresh: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/into_the_abyss_2011/

Posted by: Colin P | Nov 14, 2011 9:03:21 PM

Whoops, meant to comment on the movie we actually watched. I found Kuntsler's story pretty inspirational. Sometimes I get lost in all the doctrinal stuff or trying to figure out what consideration is and forget why I originally wanted to come to law school. I've always admired the way the law can protect people's rights, whether it's from the government or other citizens. Those anecdotes from former clients hit home what Kuntsler's work meant to them as individuals, which for me a big motivating factor in wanting to practice law.

Posted by: Colin P | Nov 14, 2011 9:09:20 PM

I thought the movie was interesting. I liked how Kunstler took on cases no one else probably would have touched with a 10’ pole. He reminded me of Atticus Finch in the beginning. Unfortunately, however, my perspective of him changed as the film progressed. He went from making sure all defendants had their day in court and were adequately represented to a man who was hungry for fame. It just didn’t sit well with me.

Nonetheless, here are a few films I think would be worthwhile for class:

1) Angry Men (1957)… I hear it’s a good film.
2) “Beyond Conviction” is a documentary where victims confront their perpetrators.
Clip: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15550836/ns/msnbc_tv-documentaries/t/victims-struggle-heal-beyond-conviction/#.TsHUi1Z76EY
3) “The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer” and “The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman” are both documentaries about Richard Kuklinski’s life as a hitman for the Gambino family.
Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ0Q37--5XI&feature=player_embedded#!
Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErNrZ6ttPuI
4) “Cocaine Cowboys,” “Pablo Escobar: King of Cocaine,” and “Cocaine War-Columbia” are all documentaries on the rise and use of cocaine.
Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sJiBoqH1Yg
Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUvptQLEkjg
Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4qd5j8Sd78
5) “Witch Hunt” is a documentary about dozens of people who were wrongly convicted for sexual crimes against children.
Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0C2aQprdIM&feature=player_embedded#!
6) There’s always Dexter, too!

Posted by: Isabella | Nov 14, 2011 10:28:09 PM

These documentaries look interesting:
"Juvies" - The lives of 12 juveniles who have been tried as adults http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412886/

"American Chain Gangs" - Taking a hard look at a punitive practice that's been making a comeback since its abolishment in the 1950s and '60s, Irving imparts a balanced but sobering message about forced labor.

Posted by: Melissa W | Nov 15, 2011 1:14:24 AM

I am not quite certain what the criteria for a good in-class movie is; are we looking for Frontline-esque documentaries? Or would something more Hollywood be acceptable?

For the Frontline: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/death-by-fire/ This one is about Cameron Todd Willingham or http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/the-confessions/ (False Confessions) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/released/ (Mentally ill Offenders that are released back into society)

More Hollywood: Shawshank Redemption (Possible Field Trip to Mansfield?), or Anatomy of a Murder.

Posted by: Olivia Bumb | Nov 15, 2011 10:31:17 AM

More Hollywood: The Life of David Gale. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0289992/

Posted by: Shawna | Nov 15, 2011 1:00:42 PM

How about a documentary about life and culture within prison? Since we're the #1 country to imprison people, we may as well get an idea about the place we're sending people into. MSNBC aired a documentary called "Lockup Raw" on this topic. The whole 2 hour documentary can be viewed on Youtube. Even if we don't get a chance to watch it in class, everyone can check it out at the link below:


Posted by: Biru C. | Nov 16, 2011 10:52:55 PM

I enjoyed the movie also. The speech at the end on the myth of organized society was really well articulated. I also had a chance to listen to Kunstler's argument in Texas v. Johnson, part of which was in the film, and I would encourage anyone interested to look it up on Oyez, etc. It's about 20 minutes, and there's a good exchange between Kunstler and Rehnquist on whether flag-burning as conduct is protected under the 1st Amendment.

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