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Long overdue but slightly underwhelming
on 26 April 2009
This 1992 documentary, made by the same people who made the more recent The Corporation, has finally got a belated release in the U.K. Was it worth the wait? Yes and no.
Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media is an exploration of the ideas presented in much more rigorous detail in his co-authored book (with Edward S. Herman), Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Whilst this release dvd is long overdue and most certainly welcome, it's not everything it should have been. The main problem with this documentary is that the filmmakers seem unsure of what to do with all the material they have amassed; Chomsky himself briefly mentions this - that the filmmakers have followed him all over the world giving speeches and that he doesn't know what they are going to do with all the footage, though they probably do.
As a result, instead of getting a really detailed, flowing discussion of, say, the filters of the propaganda model of the mainstream mass media, we get a couple of sentences from Chomsky at a discussion in Holland. Then the film will cut to a public radio interview and we'll get a few more sentences. Then another cut to a university lecture. Perhaps the subject will be finished off with a sentence or two on a video installation at a shopping mall, just to demonstrate that the filmmakers have a basic understanding of irony. This choppy approach to the subject matter does no justice to the articulate subject of the film and similarly, it gives no credit to the viewer for having an attention span longer than a few minutes.
Some interviews with Chomsky on this film are fascinating: mainly the ones in which he is challenged and has to defend his position, thinking on his feet, such as his interview with William F. Buckley. Otherwise, this film gives us too many Chomsky soundbites without providing the evidence which is in his book, which is unfortunate, given Chomsky's disdain for mass media concision.
As if to acknowledge and make amends for these obvious shortcomings, the second disk of this dvd contains the full and unedited programmes of a couple of interviews that are briefly shown on the film, along with a 2007 update discussion with Chomsky.
For all this, Manufacturing Consent is certainly well worth a watch and given that this is on professor Noam Chomsky, the person and the theories, it's almost essential. This film would have to try incredibly hard to be unstimulating but it's just a shame that the documentarians had so little faith either in the audience or their chosen subject matter. Very much a missed opportunity.