Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? Screen 15 articles

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

2013

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? Poster
  • For all its visual energy, Gondry’s film doesn’t have much of a back-and-forth dialogue. In contrast to his free-wheeling inventive aesthetic, Gondry the interviewer is extremely self-conscious... Gondry diligently interprets Chomsky’s often heady theories as lively doodles, but he gives off the impression of a frantic student.

  • Chomsky's dumbing himself way down here (understandably) and consequently says virtually nothing of interest to anyone who's done any serious reading whatsoever. (And I've never actually read Chomsky. Still knew all this stuff.) Nor am I a huge fan of Gondry's primitive animation style. But Gondry's difficulty in making himself understood in English becomes its own fascinating alternate text, and the movie intermittently takes flight in his frustration....

  • ...Gondry's approach to the project is often as confusing as it is illuminating. The filmmaker shot several months' worth of conversations with his wind-up Bolex camera and then converted them into whimsical, hand-drawn animations. The results are frequently fascinating, but also hard to follow. Man Who Is Tall is more like a living sketchbook than a finished film, and so we are thinking through Chomsky's ideas along with Gondry.

  • ...Gondry proceeds to laboriously hand-animate a series of conversations conducted with Chomsky over the past few years. Given that these morphing, mercurial sketches are even more beholden to Gondry's halfway-grating/halfway-charming personality of wide-eyed, quasi-autistic bemusement, the whole wacky setup comes off like an intellectual contrivance. It would have been more honest for Gondry simply to say, "I wanted to draw it."

  • This is no dry dorm-room bull session: Much like Richard Linklater’s cerebral Waking Life (2001), almost every frame of the film is animated. Gondry’s delightful stick-figure drawings—such as a living question mark ascending a staircase made of Whys—ably illustrate Chomsky’s concepts.

  • [Gondry's] questions often go off on tangents, and MIT elder Chomsky takes readily to the role of teacher, gently guiding, simplifying, refuting, and presenting examples as common sense... When Gondry mentions that his imagination is partly inspired by mishearing phrases, the movie comes full circle, underlining the role of chance as a force of loss and creation.

  • Content-wise, the movie is a solid primer not only on such staples as Chomksy’s theories of generative grammar, but also on the academic’s background and way of thinking... Basically, Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? amounts to two men having a mellow discussion about the nature of ideas; it’s formally limited, yet wide-ranging in its material and ambitions. Call it a case of cognitive dissonance.

  • Blissfully unconventional as a documentary and as an intellectual endeavor, “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?” won’t tell you everything you’ve always wanted to know about Mr. Chomsky, but its modesty is one of its strengths, along with Mr. Gondry’s entrancing, vibrant illustrations... This is a movie that celebrates the life of a great mind and makes a case for the mind that knows less but keeps on asking.

  • Gondry’s odd achievement in “Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?” has nothing to do with whether you agree with anything Chomsky has ever said, about language or the United States or anything else. This film captures Chomsky as a human being – a sweet and sad and rather lonely one, truth be told – without ever belittling his questing intelligence, his generosity or his ferocious assault on the entrenched narratives of power.

  • Gondry's most self-consciously drab films make sure to include something that's vaguely "Gondry-esque," an imprecisely defined but easily recognized matrix of possibilities: retro technology, analogue visual trickery, casual technical ostentation. That's a constraint as much as a promise: these moments can feel forced, as if Gondry were fulfilling an implicit obligation to momentarily dazzle before getting back to his Studs Terkel pose.

  • Gondry tells two stories at once, here: one is a plain-spoken, relaxedly paced conversation with Noam Chomsky about his life and thought; the other is the story of a filmmaker's attempt to understand Chomsky's words, expressed through highly personalized and gloriously imperfect drawings... In telling both of these stories, Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is a strong reminder of the power of the human touch, for lack of a better phrase, in artistic works.

  • Gondry is no match for him intellectually, and in their two conversations, shot with an old Bolex camera at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in April and October 2010, Chomsky responds to the filmmaker's innocent questions with a master class in philosophy and cognitive science. Yet Gondry... contributes a powerful visual response by pairing their audio track with wildly imaginative animation sequences that illustrate and sometimes reflect on Chomsky's ideas.

  • The style, which alternately resembles early Disney, Jan Švankmajer, Keith Harring and Norman McLaren, is colourful and intricate, though never so detailed that it might take away from the power of the words being spoken on the soundtrack... It's perhaps the director's most cogent and heartfelt film in some time...

  • While at first the drawings seem far too simplistic to be suited to the renowned linguist’s theories, the form ultimately suits the content. In choosing not to use concrete reality in favor of animation, the documentary itself becomes something of an experiment in representation, challenging the referential power of language.

  • ...Picking Chomsky's brain, Gondry's meticulously constructed persona as a bumbling Frenchman isn't merely self-effacing, because it requires Chomsky to chip his thoughts down to basic examples like these—enabling a jazz-like fluidity that makes the film the opposite of a lecture. The two disagree (and the visuals can slyly, cutely reflect a certain conversational logjam), but it's never on ideas or policies—rather, on the clarity or the quality of their digressions.

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