IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? AN ANIMATED CONVERSATION WITH NOAM CHOMSKY (Michel Gondry, 2013)
Thursday, November 21, SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves., 7:00
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, November 22
As it turns out, Michel Gondry’s exciting new documentary, Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? An Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky, is animated in more ways than one. The fifty-year-old French director initially set out to go toe-to-toe with the controversial octogenarian linguist and philosopher, but he realized early on that the battle was lost. So when editing the series of interviews he had with Chomsky over the course of several months in 2010, he decided to illustrate the film with animated cartoon drawings, only occasionally showing the live-action Chomsky, often in a small box or circle within a colorfully rendered scene. After an attempt to impress Chomsky — the author of such books as Syntactic Structures; Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought; Studies on Semantics in Generative Grammar; and The Logical Structure of Linguistic Theory — with his own views on image and representation, Gondry becomes embarrassed. “As you can see,” he says while the handwritten words appear on the screen, “I felt a bit stupid here. Let me explain: I think I couldn’t get my point through to Noam. Misuse of words and heavy accent aggravated my attempt.” Chomsky and Gondry go on to explore such concepts as generative grammar, language acquisition, and psychic continuity as Gondry, the director of such offbeat films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, Human Nature, and Be Kind, Rewind, makes his endearing, often childlike drawings, a genius counterpoint to Chomsky’s cool and calm super-intellectualism.
Gondry does get Chomsky to open up a little about his personal life, especially his relationship with his late wife, and they wisely avoid politics. The film eventually takes a hysterical turn when Gondry realizes that he better finish it soon, since it’s been three years since he conducted the talks with Chomsky and he wants to make sure he finishes it before Chomsky dies. In the end, Gondry manages to level the playing field as the two men diagram the title question. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is an absolute treat, a fun and fascinating examination of human intelligence, the creative process, the manipulative relationship between director and viewer, and the essence of film and storytelling itself. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is the closing-night selection of DOC NYC, screening November 21 at 7:00 at the SVA Theatre, and will be followed by a discussion with Gondry and Chomsky, moderated by Anthony Arnove. The film then opens on Friday, November 22, at the IFC Center, with Gondry participating in Q&As following the 6:10 and 8:15 shows on Friday and Saturday.