October 18, 2021

‘Attica’ Review: A Stirring, Devastating, and Definitive Documentary Account of the 1971 Prison Uprising

Back in the age when what we used to call the press was first discovering itself as “media,” there were unprecedented events — standoffs and uprisings, mass gatherings and cataclysms — that the new media world, transmitting and shaping the reality of those events, wound up making even more unprecedented. George Wallace, in 1963, standing in a schoolhouse doorway at the University of Alabama to block desegregation. The Chicago demonstrations of 1968. The Munich Olympics massacre. The Patty Hearst kidnapping and its nuttier-than-fiction heiress-on-the-run aftermath. The hijackings. Woodstock and Jonestown.

It’s no wonder that a lot of Americans thought the country was falling apart — and in many ways it was, because it needed to. Old systems and corruptions were cracking up. The dam of American conformity and obedience had burst, and what came pouring through was an unruly blend of freedom and violence and exaltation and chaos.

“Attica,” Stanley Nelson’s stirring, scalding documentary about the 1971 Attica prison uprising, is an essential film that can now stand as a definitive vision of that epochal event. Drawing from a staggering array of footage that has never been seen before, Nelson puts the event together, moment by moment, day by day, with a clarifying view of its place in history and an empathy that extends to every person onscreen: prisoners and guards, officials and relatives, politicians and observers, the reporters who came and recorded it all. We see every point-of-view; the presentation isn’t so much “incendiary” as novelistic. And in interviews with close to a dozen of the surviving prisoners today, Nelson nails down an extraordinary oral history of rage, fear, brotherhood, humiliation, yearning, and tragedy. The movie pulls us into the heart of an American revolt that turned into an American calamity.

Read more at Variety.

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