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directed by  Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick
Australia//Finland/Norway/Canada 1992

 

The natural audience for this long but thoroughly engrossing documentary is North America, since it was made to give Chomsky and his radical ideas the kind of profile the US press and broadcast media routinely deny him. None the less, this is useful as an introduction to the man himself (his Depression childhood, his rise in linguistics, his radical activism) and even more valuable as an anthology of his political campaigns and major debating skirmishes. The film-makers avoid a 'voice-of-authority' commentary, allowing cutting and juxtapositions to carry the arguments and dialectics forward. More's the pity, then, that they sometimes fall back on tabloid-style gimmickry to get points across, none of which is necessary to bolster Chomsky's largely incontrovertible arguments. A decent, civilised piece of work.

Excerpt of review from Time Out located HERE

Theatrical Release: November 6th, 1992 (Australia)

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DVD Review: BFI - Region 2 - PAL

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Distribution

BFI

Region 2 - PAL

Runtime 2:40:30
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.70 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: BFI

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Interview with the directors (21:44)
• Interview with Chomsky (40:31)
• Chomsky v Buckley (29:43)
• Chomsky v Silber (16:48)
• Chomsky v Dershowitz (1;32;48)
• Necessary Illusions demo tape (16:00)
• Companion book to the film (266 pages-PDF)
• Nine page illustrated booklet

DVD Release Date: January 29th, 2009
Keep Case (Two Discs)

Chapters 24

 

Comments

Before watching "Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media", I was aware of Chomsky's political activism, but far more familiar with his groundbreaking work in linguistics and philosophy. Fortunately, even my modicum of knowledge of Chomsky's works isn't necessary to approach this documentary. As the directors explained in their interivew on the second disc, they decided to eschew all but the most basic biographical information (what is there focuses mainly on his intellectual development) on Chomsky, and instead spends most of it's nearly three hour run time examining his case against the corporate and political influences that ensnare almost all forms of the media. The film finds its rhythm early on, going from one example to the next of how instances of print and television media twisted the facts or selectively reported on stories in such a manner that they served corporate interests. While Chomsky's argument may sometimes take on conspiratorial tone (a label that he explicitly rejects), it is difficult to find too many faults with the examples that he and the directors present. Moreover, the film has an eerie prescience about it, given that it was released in the early 90s. Since then the internet has revolutionized the way that most Americans receive their news, but despite the open access that this can afford, right wing interests still seem to rule the online domain (see Drudge, et al.). Additionally, the ascendancy of Fox News, a network run by former GOP strategist Roger Ailes, only ensures that the the kind of offenses pointed out by Chomsky now have become a regular part of the American intellectual diet. Indeed, the press has gone so far as to create what can only be called an alternate reality in this country. Never mind that there was no link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, that there is ample evidence that Barrack Obama was born in Hawaii, or that as of 2009 the middle class is paying the lowest amount of taxes that it has in several decades, so long as the false mantras are repeated loudly and often enough by those in power (both politically and non-politically), those who follow only one kind of media will be forever fed lies, half truths, and outright omissions. I don't mean to sound as if I am giving the film itself an unreserved recommendation. As I previously noted, some of Chomsky's conclusions sound too far out there, but even here the filmmakers do their audience a service by presenting voices in defense of mainstream media and allowing them their say against Chomsky's argument. Even beyond this, at 167 minutes, the film is overly long and despite my enthusiasm and large agreement with Chomsky's case, by the last 30 minutes or so it felt as if it dragged on. These criticisms aside, this is a wonderful, if mildly dated, documentary and guide for anyone looking to see the corrupting influence that money and power have over the news business.

The film is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. As is commonly found with many contemporary documentaries (especially those of Michael Moore and his stylistic offspring), the film uses a variety of original material interspersed with stock footage and archival footage of Chomsky. Some of the images are fairly clear, but others are more muddled. This is clearly a result of their origins and not from the work of the documentarians or the BFI. While the film is interlaced, combing is never an issue and I didn't see anything that could be labeled damage (aside from what was inherent in the older footage assembled for the film) or artefacting.

The BFI used a competent, if unremarkable, Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track for this release. While the sound won't blow you away, that's not necessary for a film that is composed largely of talking heads. The audio is clear enough to distinctly hear what the speakers say and allow the music to sound decent. Anything beyond that would have been overkill. There's no instance of unwanted background noise that I could notice, and the subtitles were clear and unobtrusive.

The extras on disc two come as a very welcome surprise, as I doubt that I would have ever seen so many supplements in a package dedicated to the works of an academic. First, there's an interview with co-directors, Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick, in which they discuss the genesis of the film, getting enough funding for it, and its impact among other topics. Next, there's an interview with Chomsky recorded in 2007, in which he discusses and updates topics from the film 15 years hence. Third, there's a trio of debates between Chomsky and his conservative interlocutors. Included here is the infamous confrontation with William F. Buckley Jr., a debate over Contra funding with John Silber, and a recent exchange about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with law professor Alan Dershowitz that goes for over 90 minutes. Also included is a "behind the scenes" featurette entitled "Necessary Illusions Demo Tape 1989" and a downloadable PDF companion to the film (at a stunning 266 pages!) that I have yet to take a look at. Finally, there's also a nine page booklet with a review of the film from "Sight & Sound" and information on the directors.

While the film has its faults, it manages to avoid many of the hagiographical trappings of other intellectual biographies. For that alone it should be applauded. However, it's also an excellent primer to anyone interested in Chomsky's thought or the dangers of corporate media in general. Highly recommended.

 - Brian Montgomery

 



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DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

BFI

Region 2 - PAL

 




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