Power and Terror

March 13th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

A Film By John Junkerman

It’s probably against everything he believes in (being a longtime critic of the modern corporate media), but one wonders if Noam Chomsky wouldn’t do better managing his own public image.

When watching the exhaustive number of documentaries about him, his words and ideas, you realise it’s been left up to liberal-leaning web geeks, b-grade doco makers and journalists who’ve never heard of him to bring his ideas to the mass media public.

But there are two things to remember about him. Unlike politicians who use every conceivable media and PR trick to appear to identify with the masses, Noam Chomsky is a career academic, and he’s never more comfortable than when speaking to a lecture hall or civic centre or publishing his staggering wisdom into book form. His approach allows anyone who sees or reads him to take away from it what they will (including dodgy documentary makers).

Secondly, the strength and reason behind the ideas of whom even the New York Times admits as being ‘the most important intellectual alive’ speak for themselves — and shine through whatever media you receive them.

In that regard, Power and Terror; Noam Chomsky in Our Times is the most important film you’ll see this year. Chomsky is as insightful as he is articulate, and again proves himself (after a thirty years-plus career of political dissidence) to be one of the few voices of liberal calm and reason in the American political arena amid escalating levels of hysterical rhetoric.

As a technical piece of filmmaking, Power and Terror is so shoddy that most family camcorder movies of baby’s first steps will look like Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones by comparison.

Hammered together entirely from a series of talks by Chomsky in early 2002 and an interview in his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there’s little rhyme or reason to the pacing or structure of the 74 minute running time.

It looks like Emmy award winning filmmaker John Junkerman (working in Japan in this case) intended on a structured commentary in the vein of Bowling for Columbine by interspersing footage of the interview, speeches and fans meeting and greeting the Professor.

Instead, it ends up a mishmash of badly edited and badly paced snippets as we snap between speeches and the office interview — at one point seeming to come to the film’s end as Chomsky leaves a particular appearance, then lurching back into the same rhythm for another fifteen minutes. This is all amid a soundtrack of cheesy 80’s synth-rock that sounds like it’s come from a Japanese hard core porn film.

If you want to learn anything about the power structures behind government and commercial interests in the world, you won’t be alone if Professor Chomsky’s statements and beliefs inspire you, but the magic here is the raw information, not the presentation. See the movie as a sort of Noam Chomsky primer, but you’ll get more detail out of his books.

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