Filmmaker Michel Gondry Presents an Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Even if you reg­u­lar­ly read Open Cul­ture, where we make a point of high­light­ing unusu­al inter­sec­tions of cul­tur­al cur­rents, you prob­a­bly nev­er expect­ed a col­lab­o­ra­tion between the likes of Michel Gondry and Noam Chom­sky. Gondry we’ve known as an imag­i­na­tive film­mak­er behind fea­tures like Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind and Be Kind Rewind (as well as music videos for artists like Beck, Kanye West, and the White Stripes), one dri­ven to pur­sue a Con­ti­nen­tal whim­sy tem­pered by a ded­i­ca­tion to elab­o­rate, dif­fi­cult-look­ing hand craft and an appar­ent inter­est in Amer­i­can cul­ture.

Chom­sky we’ve known, depend­ing on our inter­ests, as either a not­ed lin­guist or a con­tro­ver­sial writer and speak­er on pol­i­tics, soci­ety, and the media. Gondry’s new doc­u­men­tary Is the Man Who Is Tall Hap­py?, the project that brings them togeth­er at least, show­cas­es both the less-seen pure­ly philo­soph­i­cal side of Chom­sky, and the also rarely acknowl­edged inquis­i­tive, con­ver­sa­tion­al side of Gondry. In the New York Times “Anato­my of a Scene” clip at the top, the direc­tor explains his process.

Nat­u­ral­ly, Gondry went through a fair­ly unusu­al process to make the film, giv­en that he based the whole thing on noth­ing more elab­o­rate than a long-form in-office con­ver­sa­tion with the MIT-based pro­fes­sor and activist. To get the footage he need­ed of Chom­sky talk­ing, he brought in — nat­u­ral­ly — his vin­tage wind-up Bolex 16-mil­lime­ter film cam­era. He then wove those shots in with his also high­ly ana­log hand-drawn ani­ma­tion, which illus­trates Chom­sky’s ideas as he describes them — and as Gondry prods him for more. “The cam­era is very loud,” Gondry explains over a delib­er­ate­ly shaky frame, “and that’s why I have to draw it each time you hear it.” Just above, you can watch the film’s trail­er, which offers Chom­sky’s voice as well as Gondry’s. “Why should we take it to be obvi­ous that if I let go of a ball,” we hear the inter­vie­wee ask, “it goes down and not up?” We also hear the inter­view­er admit that he “felt a bit stu­pid here,” but these two men’s con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ences — in gen­er­a­tion, in nation­al­i­ty, in sen­si­bil­i­ty, in their con­cerns, in the forms of their work — pro­vide all the more rea­son to lis­ten when they talk. And if you find the intel­lec­tu­al trip not to your taste, just behold the visu­al one.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky & Michel Fou­cault Debate Human Nature & Pow­er (1971)

Noam Chom­sky vs. William F. Buck­ley, 1969

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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