*. With that opening full-frame shot of Noam Chomsky’s face against a black background, silent and blinking into the camera, do we even need the note that’s provided about how he’s “widely regarded as the most influential intellectual of our time”? If you recognize him you probably already know this. The face speaks for itself.
*. And the fact is that if you’ve read Chomsky, or seen any of his lectures, or documentaries like Manufacturing Consent, then you probably don’t need him to say anything. Requiem for the American Dream was filmed over four years and is credited as containing his “final long-form documentary interviews,” but doesn’t contain much that’s new. Basically he’s addressing the deepening inequality in American society and how it’s been constructed by way of the operation of ten basic principles. That one of these is the manufacture of consent gives you some idea of how familiar they are.
*. Well, as the literary critic Northrop Frye once said, of course he repeats himself. Why trust any intellectual who doesn’t? So don’t be expecting any revelations.
*. I don’t mind that. Nor do I mind the general feeling of gloom and pessimism. Indeed, I share it. It’s typical to superimpose the end of the world over our own impending demise, but when Chomsky talks about the air of hopelessness and the loss of our belief in the idea of progress I think he’s on to something real. As even the defenders of the plutocracy admit, the American Dream today consists mainly in hoping to win the lottery. That’s pretty much your only chance.
*. Unfortunately, I can’t call this a great documentary. The producers deserve some credit for giving a series of interviews filmed over such a period of time a consistency and coherence, but the visuals are nothing, mainly being out-of-focus shots of office buildings and TV monitors. A few graphs and charts are used, to no great effect. I like the collage work, but aside from that this wouldn’t even be a good office presentation. You could listen to this as a podcast and get as much out of it.
*. Still, I’m glad we have it. The matters being addressed are important, bearing on the future survival of some kind of civilized society. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Indeed we’ve been hearing warnings for quite a while now. It may be that funeral music is all we have left.