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This film showcases Noam Chomsky, one of America's leading linguists and political dissidents. It also illustrates his message of how government and big media businesses cooperate to produce an effective propaganda machine in order to manipulate the opinions of the United States populous. The key example for this analysis is the simultaneous events of the massive coverage of the communist atrocities of Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia and the suppression of news of the US supported Indonesian invasion and subjugation of East Timor. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Chomsky himself had a mixed reaction to the film, feeling that it simply didn't communicate his message. See more »
[title card: They who have put out the peoples eyes reproach them of their blindness. - John Milton, 1642. ]
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For Emile de Antonio and the people of East Timor See more »
A wide-ranging, at times glowing documentary on Noam Chomsky's life and views on the American media.
A wide-ranging, at times glowing documentary on Noam Chomsky's life and views on the American media, both large and small, mass and alternative, Manufacturing Consent took five years to create and covers Chomsky's life with over a hundred hours of interviews and lectures spanning 23 cities in seven countries. Directors and producers Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick followed around Chomsky in an effort to capture his beliefs on any media they had around them, including everything from 16 mm film to 8 mm videotape. Manufacturing Consent showcases Chomsky's profound beliefs and profiles his personality in humorous and thought-provoking ways that compel the viewer to learn about the topics he broaches with as much vigor Chomsky himself.
An anecdote from Chomsky about his childhood in the first part of the film sums up his attitudes in a charming elementary school story. Chomsky tells of a time where he attempted to defend a 'fat kid' in first grade from a group of bullies, but after a while he became frightened and let the child he was defending fend for himself. Chomsky says he was always ashamed for leaving the side of that person, and he parallels that instance to his defense of people, free speech and his support of human rights in third-world nations.
Often in the film, Wintonick appears in the background with camera in hand, or is heard off camera interviewing subjects familiar with Chomsky's controversial work. However, the most visually appealing aspect of Manufacturing Consent is the visually creative segments that break up interviews on-screen talking. The segments appeal to the visual learner not akin to grasping some of the advanced concepts and often detailed (convoluted at times) speeches of Chomsky. The best example of this learning tool is one problem Chomsky had with the New York Times after they manipulated a story from London's The Guardian concerning genocides in East Timor. The Times rearranged the story's paragraphs and cut out entire paragraphs to add a different spin to the story, as the U.S. was allegedly funneling arms and supporting the occupying Indonesians in order to make U.S. involvement appear minimal, and at best, positive. Hands appear on screen, with the newspaper article on a mini operating table, and medical instruments, shiny, reflective and lined up, are ready to dissect and take out pieces of the article. Essentially a pair of hands in white surgical gloves 'operates' on this news article, all to display the point more effectively. Similar visual segments are used during the film, all with as much of an impact as this one.
While Achbar and Wintonick show almost as many dissenters of Chomskys ideas as they do supporters, one could easily infer that the two are supporters of his ideas. However, they do not interject any of their own political ideas into the fray. The only on camera activity the two participate in is the acting out of Chomsky's ideas via the aforementioned visual segments. Although they are only acting out Chomsky's ideas, the pair still help to illustrate those ideas, thereby implicating their support. While Wintonick had experience doing political films before, they were mostly simple campaign shorts for Canadian politicians. For Achbar as well as Wintonick, Manufacturing Consent was their crowning achievement, and the film went on to become the top-grossing feature documentary in Canadian history.
Released in 1992, the film is only vaguely similar to today's political documentaries. While it is a far cry from the almost cinematic documentaries of Michael Moore, it laid the groundwork for Moore's films with its approach, full of archival footage, interviews, and humor. The stock footage, narration over still photos, and interview after interview are all used in an attempt to get as many of Chomsky's basic ideas across as possible, stretching the film out to two hours, 45 minutes.
There are two parts to Manufacturing Consent, the first covering Chomsky's life-- early background and his foray into protest from his professorship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology-- while the second portion focuses on his dissidence from the mass media's ideologies, or at least his dissidence with the mass media's way of communicating information. The directors only interview Chomsky directly for a small portion of the film. Most of the interviews are done by other subjects; everyone from alternative radio news anchors to talk show hosts to newspaper writers interview Chomsky, and Achbar and Wintonick are right there with their cameras to capture Chomsky's ideas and often the ensuing arguments. Anyone not familiar with the ideas of Chomsky before seeing this film need not worry, as this mammoth of a documentary covers the basics of Chomsky's ideas and writings. Several of his lectures at universities around the country are showcased, not only exposing his ideas but the personality behind them. While The New York Times lauded Chomsky as the greatest intellectual of our time and one of the film's visual segments show a group of baseball cards, only with 'philosopher all stars' as the theme (Chomsky is included), such blatant quotes and visuals are not needed to let the viewer realize Chomsky's genius, however disputed it may be. The filmmakers profile Chomsky in a way that, while it is not 'Noam Chomsky 101,' makes for an interesting profile of the man and fully encompasses his ideas on general issues like the mass media, and more specific ones concerning human rights violations and freedom of speech. Chomsky's detractors are also profiled in the film, and at one point, his defense of freedom of speech causes the Jewish raised Chomsky to be labeled as an anti-Semite. His preface for a revisionist book by author Robert Faurisson is a defense of free speech. In a later scene where Chomsky is surrounded by reporters questioning his preface, he says that only allowing freedom of speech for ideas that one supports inherently makes that person an adversary to free speech. While the directors make it clear that Chomsky is no revisionist or Holocaust denier, their inclusion of his willingness to grapple with controversial subject matter further illustrates Chomsky's daring personality backed by his intellectual prowess. The film does not have a clear-cut story per se, but rather it is a loose collection of ideas and theories that Chomsky has, all of which fall under his comments on the media. The directors take their time in illustrating those ideas with a variety of story telling and learning devices. Perhaps this is why the film is so long. After viewing, it is safe to say that besides a few of the visual segments, none of this film's content could be cut out to trim the story down. In attempting to cover the ideas and life of an intensely academic man who wrote dozens of books and articles, it may not be best to compact it in a single film, but the directors somehow succeed at succinctly conveying his messages. The soundtrack is similar to ones heard in other political or academic documentaries in that much of the music is reminiscent to that of the music heard on cable news channels or at worst, game shows. The use of sound effects during visual segments more often than not is solely provided for humor or to induce a feeling of haste, as most of the segments are played at double speed. The challenge in this film is to implement just enough background music so that the lengthy interviews and lectures do not become too monotonous. Most often, the use of music or background noise is used to break up long interviews. The budget for this film is not immediately discernible. While the directors admitted to not having enough money to follow Chomsky to Japan for an award he received during the film and they had to 'direct' a local film crew there for the scene, they still traveled with him to other locales. However, after viewing, it is obvious that the filmmakers following around Chomsky only had to film his public speaking engagements and interviews not related to the documentary. They just filmed his pre-arranged interviews with outside news sources and lectures at universities. The film was shot over four years and that time span can undoubtedly take up much of the budget. The main sources of tension found in Manufacturing Consent come from Chomsky's ideas themselves. His personality, at times confrontational when others disagree with him, or even when others merely interrupt him (most notably on news talk shows such as Firing Line in 1969), can be a proponent of tension between him and others. The other, less obvious sources of tension, are culled from more abstract issues involving Chomsky as the dissenter to popular, or as he puts it, 'corporate' opinion.
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