The Weather Underground

Without the proper context, it's easy to snicker at the Weather Underground, a group of middle- and upper-middle class white kids who adopted the poses and rhetoric of the Black Panthers and Ho Chi Minh, vowing to smash racist/imperialist America through a people's revolution. Context is everything when it comes to the anti-war movement of the 1960s and...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Without the proper context, it's easy to snicker at the Weather Underground, a group of middle- and upper-middle class white kids who adopted the poses and rhetoric of the Black Panthers and Ho Chi Minh, vowing to smash racist/imperialist America through a people's revolution. Context is everything when it comes to the anti-war movement of the 1960s and '70s, and while Sam Green and Bill Siegel's informative documentary is far from sympathetic to the WU's terrorist tactics, the background the film provides helps make the group's motivations somewhat comprehensible. Taking their name from Bob Dylan's epochal "Subterranean Homesick Blues" ("You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows") the WU sprang from the more radical element of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which was splintered by ideological infighting by the end of the 1960s. Inspired by other "Third-World revolutionary struggles" — particularly that of the North Vietnamese — and frustrated by the escalating body count in Vietnam, racism at home and the apparent ineffectiveness of the protest movement, the WU broke ranks with the crumbling SDS. Renouncing the SDS commitment to non-violence, WU members presented themselves as a revolutionary fighting force that would bring the war home to the streets of American cities through armed struggle. Conflicts with police and a series of bombings across the country — including one at the Capitol in Washington — followed, and many Weathermen spent much of the 1970s underground. Through archival news footage and interviews with such WU figures as Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd and Brian Flanagan, the film traces key moments the WU's short history: The so-called "Days of Rage" in Chicago, 1969; the accidental explosion of a homemade bomb in a Greenwich Village townhouse in 1970 that killed three Weathermen; the group's role in breaking Timothy Leary out of prison; and the numerous bombings that, if nothing else, landed the WU members on the FBI's wanted list and isolated from much of the Left. Green and Siegel are more interested in the personalities involved than the group's politics (check Emile de Antonio's 1976 UNDERGROUND for a first-hand overview of what the group was thinking), but the film does an excellent job of capturing the pervasive violence that rocked the era, from Vietnam to Altamont. It's curious, though, that the filmmakers choose to end the story without reporting on Weatherwoman Kathy Boudin's involvement in an ill-fated 1981 robbery of a Brinks truck in New York State. The attempt left four people dead, and Boudin's conviction revived memories of the Weather Underground each time she applied for parole, which was eventually granted in August, 2003.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Without the proper context, it's easy to snicker at the Weather Underground, a group of middle- and upper-middle class white kids who adopted the poses and rhetoric of the Black Panthers and Ho Chi Minh, vowing to smash racist/imperialist America through a… (more)

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