At the beginning of the 1992 documentary "Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media," the titular intellectual says, self-mockingly, "I can't imagine who's going to want to hear somebody talk for an hour."
We never found out. "Manufacturing Consent" ran nearly three hours, and the filmmakers included many bells and whistles around the gentlemanly linguist and political gadfly.
"Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times," on the other hand, is pretty much what Chomsky imagined nobody wanting to hear: a guy talking for an hour. Specifically, Chomsky conducts two lectures in California in spring 2002 — one in Palo Alto, one at Berkeley — and he's interviewed in his MIT office.
John Junkerman, an American filmmaker living in Japan, where this documentary was produced, freely cuts between these talks with a kind of blackout effect — the screen goes dark while we hear a sound bite from the upcoming interview — but that's as radical as he gets. Visually, it's about as exciting as C-Span.
Doesn't matter. Chomsky, at 74, is as radical as ever.
Ready? There can be no war on terrorism when the country conducting the war is one of the biggest terrorists in the world — condemned, Chomsky reminds us, by the World Court for state-sponsored terrorism against Nicaragua in 1986. He brings up our escapades in the Middle East, South Vietnam and particularly Latin America, yet doesn't overly blame the U.S. "That's what power systems tend to do," he says with a verbal shrug. It's what Britain did when the sun never set on its empire. It's what other countries (Turkey, Israel) do on a lesser level. He's not condoning it, he's just not surprised by it.
Sept. 11, in other words, was a historic event not because of the scale or the nature of the atrocity but because an imperial power was the victim rather than the perpetrator. The lectures in "Power and Terror" are already a year old, and Iraq is only lightly — but perceptively — touched on, and Chomsky views the world a little too systematically and logically; but his opinions are still refreshing.
As for listening to someone talk for an hour? He was right — it wasn't long enough.
Erik Lundegaard: email@example.com