Th!nkFilm // 2003 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // July 18th, 2006
Skinhead: "Hitler didn't seem suicidal in the slightest."
Marc Levin: "He committed suicide."
There are more than a few moments in Protocols of Zion where one fears for Marc Levin's life. Levin (Slam), the director and on-screen interviewer for Protocols of Zion is a brave man. Despite being middle-aged, physically unimposing, and bearing Jewish features, he shows no fear while inserting himself into fiercely anti-Semitic discussions. Not only will Levin stand toe-to-toe with his ideological enemies, but he also remains lucid and calm enough to converse rationally with frenzied street preachers, enraged Islamicists and neo-Nazi skinheads. With this admirable cool, Levin probes further into the minds of hateful ignoramuses than most any of us would be comfortable to go. The resulting product, while often fascinating, isn't pretty.
Protocols of Zion is a documentary that investigates the status of anti-Semitism in the United States and the Middle East. With America's continuing support of Israel stroking anti-Semitic passions among Palestinian sympathizers, this is a timely subject. Then there is Sept. 11. Though most agree that Jews had no direct involvement with the attacks, there are a troubling number of individuals convinced that Israel planned and coordinated the hijackings. These conspiracy theorists offer as evidence the fact that no Jews were killed in the attacks. They claim that 4,000 Jews living in New York City were called that morning and told to take a sick day. This is a theory that is easily debunked, yet continues to gain traction among Islamicists in the Middle East and the world over. In the beginning of his film, Levin recalls a young Arabic cab driver in New York who repeats the Sept. 11 myth. When Levin challenges him, the seemingly bright man claims the plot has been documented in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a book that Levin calls "the mother of all conspiracy theories." It allegedly details a Jewish plot to achieve global domination. This domination would purportedly be achieved through manipulation of the world finance and media. Throughout the 20th Century the Protocols received wide dissemination, despite numerous investigations proving it to be a hoax. In fact, the book was actually written in the late 1800s in Russia, by the Czar's secret police. It was conceived as propaganda to bolster support for the Czar's purges of Russian Jews.
Despite the film's title, the Protocols are only one of many aspects of anti-Semitism broached in the movie. In addition, Levin explores the aforementioned Sept. 11 conspiracy, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (and the enduring accusation that the Jews killed Christ), as well as the headquarters of a national neo-Nazi organization. There are also several tangents, such as Levin discussing his own upbringing in suburban New Jersey, the activism of Hollywood Jews, and several one-off conversations with deranged men on the street. If all this sounds like it might produce a scattered film, it does. The biggest weakness of Protocols of Zion is its lack of focus. Levin constructs his movie in an almost ad hoc matter, as if he just followed his whims and then compiled the film sequentially.
That said, the cavalcade of hateful ignorance on display makes Protocols of Zion fascinating viewing. In the mountains of West Virginia, Levin speaks with a high-ranking, well-spoken skinhead who insists that Rupert Murdoch, by dint of owning several media outlets, is Jewish. In New York, while confronting an angry rabble of young Muslims decrying the inaccuracy of the Jewish media, Levin asks whether they consider the Arabic media to be entirely truthful and draws silent dumbfounded stares. And in Los Angeles, Levin searched for an interview with a Jewish Hollywood star to comment on the success of The Passion of the Christ and is led on a circular goose chase between Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, and Larry David.
After watching Protocols of Zion, the likely question you will ask yourself is whether anti-Semitism is really as rampant as the film infers. There are countless fringe ideologies in America that have enough practitioners to fill a 90-minute documentary, but Levin does not do enough to demonstrate how rampant or deep-rooted the problem may actually be. Still, with a long, global history of discrimination against Jews, and the rising influence of Islamic extremism around the world, this film may well be a warning that needs heeding.
Th!nkFilm has put together a fairly nice DVD package for this movie. There are a couple of deleted scenes, which mostly consist of excised interviews. Deleted scenes are rarely included on documentaries, and I applaud their inclusion here. There is also a Q and A session that Levin participated in with an audience after one of the film's screenings. Levin is an arresting speaker, and he draws you in while expounding on his interactions with outspoken bigots and sharing his thoughts on possible solutions to Anti-Semitism's rising threat. For anyone with concerns or interests in the subject matter, this film is not going to be comforting, but, as Levin implores his film's audience, it may inspire you to counter the hate and ignorance by doing good.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Question-and-Answer with the Filmmaker
* Deleted Scenes
* "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" Timeline