Loading...

Left-Footed 

Selling Noam Chomsky short

Thursday, Jan 23 2003
Comments

IF YOU ARE ALREADY A FAN OF Noam Chomsky, John Junkerman's new documentary, Power and Terror, offers an industrial-strength dose of the views and opinions of the septuagenarian political activist and MIT linguistics professor, rightfully described as America's leading dissident. But I'd hesitate to call this a movie, or even a film. Consisting only of a series of patched-together clips from Chomsky's public speeches following 9/11, interspersed with one interview shot in his Cambridge, Massachusetts, offices, the 74-minute doc plays more like a disjointed radio show with pictures.

It's a shame, really — and more than just in terms of its stylistic failings. Chomsky's rapier-sharp intelligence, his curmudgeonly wit, his goofy charisma — not to mention his considerable political acumen — are all but lost in this sometimes-lugubrious hodgepodge. The excerpts take way too much knowledge for granted, historical context is egregiously absent, and Chomsky holds forth on the complexities of the world totally unchallenged. His pronouncements would have 10 times more impact if the filmmakers had pitted him against some worthy challenger from the right — or, even better, from the left.

Chomsky, nevertheless, serves up his usual piercing review of American history, gleefully puncturing the myths, hypocrisies and shibboleths that undergird so many of our national narratives. His anarchist disdain for any and all who hold state power is a bracing antidote to the servility that infects so much of the contemporary media. But there are moments when Chomsky — as smart as the guy is — runs off the rails. Asserting that the U.S. is "one of the worst terrorist states in the world" comes across as simplistic hyperbole. (Compare the multifold sins of the U.S. with the Soviet gulag, the millions wiped out in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the more recent butcheries in the Balkans and Rwanda, and the American record comes out decidedly mixed.) Indeed, Chomsky's oft-repeated quip — again in reference to the U.S. — that the "easiest way to stop terrorism is to stop participating in it" evades reality by drawing a moral symmetry between the perpetrators of 9/11 and its victims. Yes, the U.S. is guilty of imperial aggression in numerous parts of the globe, but the 19 hijackers of September 11 didn't represent the wretched of the Earth. They were, rather, highly educated upper-middle-class religious fanatics in the employ of a Saudi billionaire, and they would have hated the U.S. even more if it were closer to being the sort of socialist society Chomsky advocates.

Related Stories

  • The Best Acts at Coachella Weren't Even on the Bill

    Nate Jackson GZA destroying bros with his lyrics at the Heineken House Special guests at Coachella are commonplace at this point. It's just something you expect when you set foot on the Polo Fields. But on Saturday night things went to another level; it was a fantastic evening due to...
  • Our Water Obsession

    "Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water." - Chinatown Countless documentaries are released into theaters every year, the majority of which are info dumps that take the talking-head structure as a given. There's rarely much thought given to form, which is sometimes fine - not every...
  • Becoming a Member of Lucent Dossier Is Not Easy

    Chris Victorio Jordan Wentz doing the splits, handling fire...just another day on the job. This year, Lucent Dossier celebrates its 10th anniversary at Coachella. Honestly, we couldn't imagine a festival season without them. For the uninitiated, this traveling tribe of dancers, aerialists, acrobats, clowns and carnival freaks are the heart...
  • Paint-Out & Sculpt-Out

    @ The Autry
  • Drugs and Bands Pairings 3

    Timothy Norris By Adam Lovinus Ever since sunshine acid saturated Woodstock back in 1969, music festivals and recreational pharmaceuticals have gone together. While we applaud those using Coachella as an opportunity to get sober, it's not for everyone, which is why below, we've recommended a fine list of musical acts and drugs...

IN ONE PARTICULARLY OFF-THE-wall moment, Chomsky argues that while we mourn the 3,000 who died in the twin towers, we pay no attention to the roughly equivalent number of civilians who perished when — he says — the U.S. bombed the Panamanian neighborhood of Chorillo during the American invasion of 1989. I was in that neighborhood mere days after it was razed, and Chomsky is just plain wrong: It wasn't bombed. It burned down after a firefight between U.S. and Panamanian troops. And as reprehensible as the U.S. invasion was, Panama's own human-rights commission claims that a total of maybe 400 people -- soldiers and civilians — died during the entire conflict.

But such nuances matter little to most people who will go to see this movie, and it's a pity. Noam Chomsky is clearly a humble and honest man, ready to debate and argue his ideas — which, like any other human being's, are fallible. The power of his intellect and message are poorly served when pigeonholed by the hagiography of some of his supporters.

POWER AND TERROR: Noam Chomsky in Our Times | Directed by JOHN JUNKERMAN Produced by TETSUJIRO YAMAGAMI Released by First Run Features | At the Nuar

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Tue 15
  2. Wed 16
  3. Thu 17
  4. Fri 18
  5. Sat 19
  6. Sun 20
  7. Mon 21

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • Nicolas Cage's 10 Best Movie Roles
    As video-on-demand continues to become the preferred route of distribution for a certain kind of independent film, much is being made of Nicolas Cage's willingness to slum for a paycheck, with recent examples including already-forgotten, small-screen-friendly items like Seeking Justice, Trespass, Stolen, and The Frozen Ground. (His character names in these projects -- Will Gerard, Kyle Miller, Will Montgomery, and Jack Halcombe -- are as interchangeable as the titles of the films.) Aside from citing the obvious appeal of doing work for money (a defense Cage himself brought up in a recent interview with The Guardian), it's also possible to back Cage by acknowledging the consistency with which he's taken on "serious" roles over the years.

    David Gordon Green's Joe, which hits limited release this weekend (more details on that here), marks the latest instance of this trend, with Cage giving a reportedly subdued performance as an ex-con named Joe Ransom. In that spirit, we've put together a rundown of some of the actor's finest performances, all of which serve as proof that, though his over-the-top inclinations may make for a side-splitting YouTube compilation, Cage has amassed a career that few contemporary actors can equal. This list is hardly airtight in its exclusivity, so a few honorable mentions ought to go out to a pair of Cage's deliriously uneven auteur collaborations (David Lynch's Wild at Heart, Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes), 1983's Valley Girl, 1987's Moonstruck, and Alex Proyas's Knowing (a favorite of the late Roger Ebert).

    --Danny King
  • Ten Enduring Conspiracy Thrillers
    With the approaching release this week of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, many critics, including L.A. Weekly’s own Amy Nicholson, have noted the film’s similarities (starting with the obvious: Robert Redford) to the string of conspiracy thrillers that dominated American cinema during the 1970s. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ten of the most enduring entries in the genre -- most of them coming from the ‘70s, but with a few early-‘80s holdouts added in for good measure. This is by no means an exclusive list, and more recent films like Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out (1987), Jacques Rivette’s Secret Defense (1998), Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State (1998), Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005), and Redford’s own The Company You Keep (2012) speak to how well the genre has sustained itself over time. Words by Danny King.
  • Behind the Scenes of Muppets Most Wanted
    "The endurance of the Muppets isn't just the result of the creative skills of Henson and collaborators like Frank Oz, or of smart business decisions, or of sheer dumb luck," writes this paper's film critic Stephanie Zacharek in her review of Muppets Most Wanted. "It's simply that the Muppets are just ever so slightly, or maybe even totally, mad. Man, woman, child: Who can resist them? Even TV-watching cats are drawn to their frisky hippety-hopping and flutey, gravely, squeaky, squawky voices." Go behind the scenes with the hippety-hopping Muppets with these images.

    Read our full Muppets Most Wanted movie review.

Movie Trailers

View all movie trailers >>

Now Trending