The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971)
The Film Group’s The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971) was photochemically preserved in 2017 by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, using elements deposited in their archive soon after Mike Gray’s passing in 2013. In 2019, CFA, in cooperation with UCLA, produced another 35mm preservation print of this remarkable film, now housed in our collection.
Originally going into production with the working title Black Panther, the filmmakers intended to cover the rise of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter, with a focus on its charismatic leader, Fred Hampton. In the middle of production, the trajectory of the film pivoted quickly when, in the early dawn of December 4, 1969, at the direction of Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, officers raided Hampton’s apartment on Chicago’s west side, murdering Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark in their sleep. After Hampton was assassinated, the film suddenly became a two-part document of a stillborn revolutionary moment. The first half is an affecting portrait of Hampton; the leader is captured delivering speeches on social revolt and racism before large, rapturous crowds. The second part becomes an audacious piece of investigative journalism, making a compelling case that the police intentionally murdered Hampton, since they feared his oratorical power more than anything.
The Murder of Fred Hampton was in many ways a continuation of American Revolution 2 (1969), which focused on the nascent collaboration between the Panthers and the Young Patriots. Both productions were helmed by The Film Group’s Mike Gray and Howard Alk, two accomplished Chicago filmmakers. Gray conceived of and penned the prescient screenplay China Syndrome, and Alk was a central figure in Chicago’s art scene, as one of the founding members of Second City. Alk was a faithful documenter of the era’s most important figures: from the political such as Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers, to the cultural icons Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin. Alk’s later association with The Film Group gave direction to that company’s most renowned works. After a long battle with drug addiction, died in 1982 at the age of 52, cutting his career short.
The Murder of Fred Hampton, which includes glimpses of other important Panther members, such as Bobby Rush and Bobby Seale, is a deeply expressive and revealing portrait of the decade’s fiery political discourse. The film is “activist” oriented cinema at its best, presented with breathtaking immediacy.