STEAL THIS MOVIE (2000)

Last year, a film came out called STEAL THIS MOVIE. It was out for about two seconds, and then went to DVD – which is a shame, because it was a really good film. It makes an even better DVD, though, because of the fabulous extras included on it.

First the story. Abbie Hoffman, for the uninitiated, was one of the greatest practitioners of guerrilla theater ever. He happened to be practicing during the sixties, the heyday of the American protest movement against Vietnam. A yippie, one of the Chicago Seven and a diagnosed manic-depressive, Abbie Hoffman was an amazing guy. Convinced he was under surveillance by the FBI for most of his adult life, he went underground to flee his sentence on a drug charge. Most people thought he was paranoid…until the Freedom of Information Act made his case for him.

Hoffman cared about Freedom with a capital F, and his distrust of the government was legendary. He once called out thousands of people to surround the Pentagon, levitate it and cast out its evil spirits. Thousands showed up. So did a great number of American military, who wanted to ensure everything stayed well grounded. But this was Abbie’s greatest skill…to have fun in the name of protecting freedom and annoying the bad guys. His speeches, drawn from innumerable courtroom appearances, are riveting, eloquent and make one long for a really good political scholar to sing the praises of democracy (unlike our current President).

In STEAL THIS MOVIE, Vincent D’Onofrio turns in an amazing performance as Hoffman (though nothing will beat his role as Robert E. Howard in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, currently available only on video). there is plenty of actual footage of Hoffman and it’s obvious that D’Onofrio has done much painstaking research on this role. He more than effectively brings the passion and insanity of Hoffman’s goals and his dreams, as well as his shortcomings, to life on the screen.

Hoffman believed in freedom and democracy to the exclusion of bureaucracy, and to that end wrote a book entitled STEAL THIS BOOK. It’s a fabulous read and while some of his methods for living ‘free’ financially in a ‘free’ world are outdated (how to steal long-distance time from dial phones, for example), the book is, over-all, a testament to his commitment to his beliefs. The sheer amount of work required to collect all of his information and publish it must have been monumental, particularly in the time before computers. Book sellers weren’t especially happy with the title, and Hoffman probably didn’t care. This is probably his largest shortcoming…while it would have been good to live in a world where free food and free love reigned, there was no manna from heaven. Someone had to produce the stuff that leaves enough to steal in the first place. Hoffman should probably have been a writer of modern American philosophy (living on the estate of a rich widow, no doubt).