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TH!INKFilm presents

Protocols of Zion (2004)

"Why are they still blaming the Jews?"- director Mark Levin

Director: Marc Levin

MPAA Rating: R for language, some disturbing content, and brief nudity
Run Time: 01h:32m:09s
Release Date: 2006-07-11
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-BB C+


DVD Review

One of the ancillary effects of the 9/11 attacks has been the resurgence, in certain pockets, of a ferocious anti-Semitism, one that imagines that al-Qaeda is somehow if improbably connected to the alleged international Zionist conspiracy. The theory goes that Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were warned not to go to work that morning, and that none of the over 3,000 killed that day were Jewish. Of course even the laziest, most cursory examination of the evidence reveals this to be nonsense—the attacks killed Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, but the hateful myth of a cabal of Jews ruling in secret was trotted out once again, and this provided the impetus for documentarian Marc Levin to embark on this project. It's as much personal as it is political, perhaps to the film's detriment; but there's plenty here that's nauseating, particularly for not being new.

Levin examines the history of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Czarist agitprop forgery passing itself off as the minutes of a scheming meeting of Jewish leaders at the end of the 19th century. It was later trumpeted and purported to be authentic by the likes of Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler; its frequent debunking hasn't done much to shake the bizarre article of faith that whatever has gone wrong, the Jews must be to blame. Levin's movie is frequently a travelogue through the fringe elements of white supremacist America—he visits with a skinhead leader hawking black boots with Swastika treads, and insisting that Rupert Murdoch must be a Jew; he also has devastating footage of legitimate leaders like the Prime Minister of Malaysia delivering a speech in 2003 repeating these same ancient canards. And much of the running time is devoted to the hate generated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—Levin does an ambush-style interview with the editor of an Arab-American newspaper that reprinted the Protocols, and chats up Palestinian-American teenagers, who spout lunatic conspiracy theories and take any evidence to the contrary only as confirmation of the truth of their worst and most irrational fears.

Levin spends a good amount of time on camera with his father, as well, discussing their family history, which seems unexceptional; for a broader audience, much more interesting and provocative are the strands of anti-Semitism that have become more prominent in recent years. Some of this was catalyzed by the war in Iraq; still more of it by The Passion of the Christ and the revival of the ancient canard of Jews as Christ-killers. On some level, Levin has to know the folly of his venture—he can't possibly expect to change any minds, especially when those he confronts are so rabid. And there's more than a little Michael Moore in him—that is, Levin himself is too often the focus of the conversation, sometimes at the expense of the overall. But still, this is a sharp and upsetting overview of the state of anti-Semitism, from the casual to the institutional, and Levin is at his best as a provocateur.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The location shooting makes some of the footage look a bit rough, but it's transferred adequately, if with a bit too much contrast.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: There's an excess of static on the soundtrack, but as with the picture quality, this seems to have more to do with the conditions of the shoot than the transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Fateless, The Boys of Baraka, Born Into Brothels
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. historical timeline
Extras Review: In a post-screening discussion (15m:20s) from 2005 at the Boston Jewish Film Festival, Levin fields questions from the audience, and relates stories from the shoot, along with tales of the film's origins. Also included are two bonus interviews—the first is with theologian James Carroll, discussing the historical unreliability of the gospels and the charges of deicide against the Jews in the Passion narratives; the second is with graphic artist Will Eisner, whose work deals with subject matter similar to Levin's film. And along with a trailer is a timeline, prepared by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, starting in 1903, with the first appearance of the Protocols in St. Petersburg, up through 2005, when they were officially endorsed by the government of Iran.

Extras Grade: C+

Final Comments

Marc Levin's commitment to knowing thy enemy is exemplary, and he does a compelling job of tracing the nauseous pedigree of contemporary anti-Semitism, from Czarist Russia to Nazi Germany to Father Coughlin to our own time. The filmmaker sometimes seems a bit too enamored of himself, his own story and his own emotional reactions; but that doesn't mitigate the ferocity of what he's uncovered, and any right-thinking person must be outraged by this latest re-ignition of one of the oldest, most hateful and most destructive prejudices.

Jon Danziger 2006-07-11