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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Power and Terror - Noam Chomsky in Our Times
Power and Terror - Noam Chomsky in Our Times
First Run Features // Unrated // June 17, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted July 8, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: Documentaries on leftist political activists are generally pretty boring to most people, myself included. The same holds true for documentaries on their right wing counterparts. Even when such people have a valid point to make, they layer their words in a form of "double-speak" that would have the long dead Orwell spinning over in his grave. The other problem such activists have is that they generally are speaking to supportive audiences who question their heroes just as little as they claim the masses question "the man". Such is the case with the Japanese made Power And Terror: Noam Chomsky In Our Times.

Mr. Chomsky is on the far left of most political scales by all accounts. He's an MIT professor in linguistics who routinely travels around the world to denounce the hypocritical actions of the US government, and to a lesser extent, other Western countries. In a sense, he's a champion to all those protesters in search of a cause, any cause, just so long as they don't have to get a job to support themselves. Seriously though, the main thrust of his body of work deals with the media, multi-national corporations, and Western power over the rest of the world. To sum it up, perhaps unfairly, he preaches that the media are consistently negligent in their duties to show how those in power are more worried about property than people; that the mega-corporations are essentially the soulless evil doers of the day; and that the West will do anything and everything in its power to keep a lions share of world resources, regardless of the consequences.

The focus of Power And Terror is the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. In his speeches and discussions, Mr. Chomsky places the majority of the blame on the United States, for fostering dissent throughout the world, via dictatorships and aggressive military actions. Rather than provide a specific analysis on the ones who actually did the deed, he's okay with suggesting that it's our fault for all the misdeeds of the past. The problem I have with that line of thinking is that unless the guy actually has some means of determining who was behind it (he's gone on record as saying that "it's entirely possible" that Bin Laden didn't know about the attacks), he's not really providing any evidence to support his claim. In Academia, such theories are generally published with extensive supporting data but just try to point out the fast and loose style of this guy and you'll find yourself besieged by his throngs of supporters.

Anyway, the dvd alternates between the guy speaking in front of audiences and in a more private setting of a classroom office (books and blackboard behind him) as he discusses such related topics as Latin America, the Middle East, the Kurds, Capitalism, Vietnam, and political change. That he acknowledges the amount of freedom we have in the US sets him apart from many other leftists, most of whom claim we have little or none, and that didn't hurt his message. I only wish he was so amazingly insulated from mainstream life (such as when he claims to have seen more protests towards the Gulf War than any other, including the Vietnam War in which he protested himself). Since the documentary is about his message, those interested in it will definitely want to get his books as they provide a far better (and in depth) version than the glossed over content of the 72 minute dvd.

I've read enough of his work to appreciate some of what he says. I think questioning the government on issues important to us is not only a right we have but a responsibility. That said, it's important that any such questioning should also take place internally to ourselves since "we the people" are the government here. Until the majority of us are willing to give up much of what we take for granted, particularly relating to food, energy, waste and consumption, it's more than a little hypocritical of us, Chomsky included, to rail against the system that provides it for us. Just as pure capitalism is a myth, so to is a working system of anarchism such as he would promote, unless most of us are willing to live as farmers, without all those nasty modern conveniences.

To sum up the dvd: This is not the best introduction to Chomsky's works, whether you love him or hate him. The documentary doesn't provide more than a little bit of background information, nor does it give the viewer any credible bibliography in which to verify facts (Chomsky's critics have pointed out some major problems with his lack of fact checking over the decades). Since the documentary is not a biography of the guy, it doesn't give the viewer anything by which to establish his credentials either other than a few references to how popular he is on the lecture circuit. I'm sure that's a validator for some people but not me (that's like claiming ratings of trailer trash TV are somehow connected to the validity of it's content). If you're already well versed in Chomsky's works, this documentary won't provide you with anything new, nor will someone without a clue as to who he is get much out of it-that's why I suggest reading his stuff, and then affording yourself the luxury of reading what his critics say about his theories. For all its limitations, I rate this one as a Rent It.

Picture: The picture is presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame as it was shot. The sources vary but most of the time, it looked crisp and clear with no compression artifacts. The picture and sound weren't the selling points here though-the message was.

Sound: The sound was presented in mono and was also clear with few problems. The music was irritating but not on long enough to cause me to scan through it.

Extras: The best extras were excerpts from some of Chomsky's speeches including one on 3/19/02 at UC-Berkeley about US and Iraq/the American political system, 3/22/02 at Palo Alto about Globalization, and on 5/25/02 in the Bronx, New York on the Freedom of Information (Act). In each, he provided some discussion about the limitations of our system as well as some of the merits we have versus other places. There were profiles of Noam Chomsky and the technical staff as well as trailers to other First Run features and a commercial about the companion book to the show.

Final Thoughts: For a better view into Chomsky, one would do well to check out Manufacturing Consent and to read his books. While I disagree with much of what he says, he does give one pause to think about the bigger picture of global issues and how they relate to us. I just wish the documentary would've been fleshed out more and provided him with a bit more room to elaborate on his message.

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