For a movie with such hifalutin’ intents, it sure does engage in some rank cliche. In one scene, Achbar and Wintonick quote the interminable Noam Chomsky talking about media coverage of the Gulf War, and sync it to footage of Patriot missiles firing off. They have overdubbed a video game noise – “Beeoo! Beeoo!” – because, you know, CNN was war porn and treated the war like a video game, &c, &c, ad infinitum.
What struck me while watching this highly-acclaimed exploration of Chomsky’s life and work was, indeed, how banal some of his ideas are, and how thoroughly some of his debate partners are able to punk him. I liked one 1969 interview with William F. Buckley, jr., on “Firing Line.”
BUCKLEY: You start your line of discussion at a moment that is historically useful for you.
CHOMSKY: … that’s what I’m saying, you can pick, you pick the beginning …
BUCKLEY: The fact of the post-war world is that the Communist imperialists, by the use of terrorism, by deprivation of freedom, have contributed to the continuing bloodshed, and the sad thing about it is not just the bloodshed, but the fact it seems to disposses you of the power of rational observation.
CHOMSKY: May I say something?
CHOMSKY: I think that’s about 5 percent true, or maybe 10 percent, it certainly …
BUCKLEY: Why do you give that?
CHOMSKY: May I complete a sentence?
CHOMSKY: It’s perfectly true that there were areas of the world, particularly Eastern Europe, where Stalinist imperialism very brutally took control and still maintains control. But there are also very vast areas of the world where we were doing the same thing. And there’s quite an interplay in the cold war. What you described is, I believe, a mythology about the cold war, which might have been tenable 10 years ago, but is quite inconsistent with contemporary scholarship.
BUCKLEY: Ask a Czech.
But that’s the beauty of this documentary – unlike a Michael Moore movie, it grants time to very smart people who disagree with Chomsky, who dismiss him, and leaves their testimony for us to digest.
It’s a little trite at times, as I said, but it beautifully cuts Chomsky’s ponderous speeches (he really must be the most boring man in politics) and gives the viewer much, much to think about.