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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

DVD Review: Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?

Michel Gondry and Noam Chomsky are two people who never fail to be interesting. So I was excited to see Michel Gondry’s new film, Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?, in which he interviews Noam Chomsky. If you know Michel Gondry’s work (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, The Science Of Sleep, Be Kind Rewind), you know this is not going to be a normal, straight documentary film. Gondry has his own perspective on reality, and that of course comes into play, most obviously in the way the film is presented – the conversation is animated.

At the beginning of the film, Michel Gondry explains why he decided to use animation, mentioning the manipulative nature of film which often confuses the voice of the subject with that of the filmmaker, something the audience often forgets about. But with animation, they’d be always aware. Gondry says: “Animation… is clearly the interpretation of its author. If messages, or even propaganda, can be delivered, the audience is constantly reminded that they are not watching reality. So it’s up to them to decide if they are convinced or not.” Of course, this sequence itself is animated. So…

Michel begins by asking Noam about his first memory. By the way, we do see a little of Noam in his regular, unanimated state on occasion. He relates a very early memory of not wanting to eat oatmeal. The animation that goes with it is wonderful. Michel Gondry does the animation himself on this film. Some of the animation made me burst out laughing, like the caveman hitting a walking brain with a bone until it moves away.

Of course, much of the film is fascinating even apart from the animation, such as Noam’s views on children’s early development of language. (At one point, Noam says he wanted to be a taxidermist when he was young, because he liked the word.) About education, Noam says, “If you’re willing to be puzzled, you can learn.” They talk about the relationship between a word and the object, and also about inspiration, science, and beliefs. It’s a film that gets you excited about thought itself.

At a couple of points, Michel takes a break to talk a bit about the project. The second break comes when there has been a communication issue. Michel admits, “As you can see, I felt a bit stupid here.” It’s interesting, because as the filmmaker, he is in control of what we see and hear, and can insert his own thoughts when he sees fit, something Noam is not given the opportunity to do.

Special Features

The DVD includes several bonus features. The first is Animated Noam Chomsky, an interesting behind-the-scenes feature which shows us Michel Gondry at work. He talks about his animation while working on it. He drew everything on paper, plus shows his use of photos. There is also a bit of an interview with him, where he talks about his impressions of Noam. There is some footage of Noam speaking at a Q&A at a New York screening. This is approximately nine minutes.

The second is Democracy Now! Interview, and is an interview with Michel Gondry about the film. Michel Gondry talks about how he became interested in Noam Chomsky. He talks about his method of animation, using a 16mm camera. And he talks about the interviews, which totaled approximately three hours (so Gondry used half of what he had for the film). He also talks about how he got his start, and a bit about advertising. Unfortunately, this feature includes a few long clips from the film, so the interview isn’t as long as it could have been. And there is also footage of Noam Chomsky talking at the Q&A. This feature is approximately forty-one minutes.

The DVD also includes the Q&A from the DOC NYC Festival, from November 21, 2013. (It actually begins with Michel Gondry’s introduction for the film.) The Q&A is with Michel Gondry and Noam Chomsky. Noam talks about some of the ideas explored in the film, such as language. There are a couple of questions from the audience at the end. This feature is approximately thirty-two minutes.

There is also an interview with Michel Gondry from Huffington Post Live. He talks about what attracted him to Noam Chomsky, and about those moments when it seems Noam is dismissing Michel’s input. He also talks about the freedom he had on this project. This interview is approximately twenty minutes.

The DVD also includes the film’s trailer.

Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? was released on DVD on May 13, 2014.

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