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Wednesday 17 August 2011

The Lie That Will Not Die - a review of "The Protocols of Zion" 2005 Documentary

'Praemonitus Praemunitus'', New York: The Beck...Image via Wikipedia
"The Protocols of Zion" is director Marc Levin's documentary on the cultural impact of "The Protocols of The Elders of Zion", a debunked piece of anti-Semitic Russian literature that details the Jewish global conspiracy. Levin was inspired to create the film when an Egyptian taxi driver claimed that no Jews came to work in the Twin Towers on 9/11. The driver told Levin that this was all part of the Jewish global conspiracy as revealed in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion". The documentary follows the continued success of a forgery despite it being exposed publically in the US press almost a century ago. The documentary looks at its historic influence over such famous anti-Semites as Henry Ford and then at the legacy of institutionalized criticism towards the Jews as exhibited through such people as Mel Gibson and his even harder-line Catholic father. The documentary covers some of the controversy surrounding the release of "The Passion of the Christ" Levin visits his own Jewish roots, discusses the Jewish roots of Hollywood and goes through various Jewish reactions to anti-Semitism from those feel it is better not to draw attention to the problem to far-right supporters of Israel. Likewise, Levin's other interviewees range from moderate critics of Israel to outright believers in a Jewish conspiracy...


Thanks to the likes of Michael Moore the documentary movie became a lot sexier at the turn of the 21st century. Thankfully although filmmaker Marc Levin actively engages and debates with his interviewees he is also more than happy to stand back and allow the audience to hear the full story. Rather than trying to push an overt political agenda and a personal theory, the film puts across a genuine desire to understand fundamentalism, hatred, fear, anti-Semitism and conspiricism. Levin gives the microphone and camera to as broad a spectrum of people connected to his subject material as possible, and in most instances gives them enough air time to receive a fair hearing.

During his talk at a Jewish award show, on the DVD's bonus features, Levin justifies this rather liberal stage sharing as being part of his method to see the human beneath the hatred. The whole documentary stemmed from a single incident where an individual believed unquestionably in the Protocols - whether or not he had read them their entirety was another matter, he certainly didn't know they were a hoax - and Levin explains that once the initial torrent of hatred had subsided he was able to see the humanity beneath. This is something that really appeals me to good investigators, writers and filmmakers. If we can separate the error from the person we are on the road to progress.
The 9/11 tragedy is used as a regular reference point for the renewed interest in the Protocols. This keeps most of the film tied to relatively recent history despite The Protocols being over a century old. The film looks at the holocaust and touches upon holocaust denialism, although Levin doesn't interview any staunch holocaust deniers - not even the white nationalist leader - and it would have been interesting to see which of them link the Protocols with this other Jewish conspiracy theory. Actually the history of the Protocols of Zion isn't really looked into at all. The film is more interested in the casual and overt acceptance of anti-Semitism in culture and the media than the origins and development of the conspiracy theory. The actual Protocols, or at least selected Protocols, are used more as an artistic device to frame certain anti-Semitic ideas and stereotyping. The only time the history of The Protocols are discussed properly are in the excellent extras on this DVD, where there is a timeline and an interview with comic-book author Will Eisner on his last graphic novel, "The Plot". On the plus side it doesn't give this hoaxed piece of anti-Semitic literature (a bastardized plagiarism of a satire on Napoleon III) any credibility, but I also feel it misses something.

Interestingly early scenes in the documentary reveal Levin's own role as a conspiracy theorist. His article in Playboy magazine supported the idea of their being a conspiracy to kill JFK. He's undoubtedly a very talented documentary maker and I look forward to hunting down some of his other work, but I cannot help but wonder whether this type of thinking prevented him from looking too deeply into the conspiricism side of The Protocols legacy. By putting its grip down to its anti-Semitic nature is to underestimate its sinister appeal. A whole culture outside of hard-line Muslims, Christians and white extremists buy into The Protocols. In fact, some of the other nutty global conspiracy theories that Levin briefly mentions early on in the film are often mixed with and might well be the bastard children of The Protocols. That would have been a very interesting avenue for Levin to have explored.

"The Protocols of Zion" is an interesting and appealing documentary, which deserves far wider distribution and attention. Even if some content might be lacking, its concept and execution are a mature step in the right direction. I think a lot of this comes down to the director's talent as an interviewer. Levin shows that a documentary filmmaker can both put himself passionately into the action, even using his family and sense of ethnic identity as centrepieces, and yet also sidestep long enough for his various subjects. The film has been criticized for its lack of focus, but in many ways I quite like the way it lets itself play-out. I am getting a little sick of heavily politicized documentaries that present a simplistic solution and do everything but allow the viewer to really think. "The Protocols of Zion" presents a far more open forum in its approach, which I think would be educational and entertaining for anyone of a moderate political persuasion.

Brian Dunning's excellent debunking of the Zionist Conspiracy

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