One of the bizarre aftereffects of Sept. 11, 2001, was a revival of rancid interest in a century-old hoax called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” This book purports to be a Jewish plan for world domination, although it was actually concocted by czarist Russians trying to stir up anti-Semitism.
|Lost opportunity: Documentary on a celebrated book purporting to describe a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, long debunked but still believed by many. Filmmaker Marc Levin finds many tentacles of anti-Semitism alive and well, but his personal approach fails to make a knockout punch.
Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for language, subject matter
Now showing: Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., Seattle; 206-267-5380
One of the urban legends that took root after Sept. 11 was the rumor that Jewish workers in the World Trade Center were spared in the attack. They weren’t, but the loony idea took hold strongly enough to bring “Protocols” back into the public eye (or at least the rumor mill) as possible evidence of Jewish conspiracy.
The rumor attracted the attention of filmmaker Marc Levin, whose documentary, “Protocols of Zion,” tries to figure out why the “Protocols” won’t die. Levin’s film is a scattered take on the subject; it’s more of a first-person, Michael Moore-style essay than a thorough examination of the hoax and its effects.
Levin does provide some history. Although the book had been thoroughly debunked by 1921, it was swallowed whole by generations thereafter. Henry Ford was a big fan in the 1920s, and Adolf Hitler referred to it in “Mein Kampf.” It continues to sell well in the Middle East.
Levin includes clips from a miniseries based on the book, broadcast on Egyptian TV. It looks laughably bad, although the thought that some people took it as fact makes the laugh stick in one’s throat.
It goes to show how much people love a conspiracy theory, especially when it gives them something to blame their problems on. Levin finds street kids and taxi drivers who absolutely believe in a Jewish world plan.
He also ranges far afield to dig up active anti-Semites. Some of this is “Daily Show”-style material, as when he visits a skinhead leader with a robust mail-order business in Nazi paraphernalia (he also sells the “Protocols”). It’s like eBay for idiots.
A digression on Hollywood and the Jews feels like a dead end, especially a self-serving sequence in which Levin tries to get people like Larry David and Rob Reiner to join him in discussion.
This film doesn’t need to be the last word on the subject, but a lot of it feels like a missed opportunity. Levin’s approach is personal, which is his right, but the movie never becomes the knockout punch it should be.