This is the story of one of the most infamous books ever written, The Anarchist Cookbook, and the role it's played in the life of its author, now 65, who wrote it at the age of 19 in the midst of the counter-culture upheaval of the late 1960s and early '70s.
I did not know Bill when he was nineteen and looked like he was auditioning for Teen Wolf. I did know him as the man he became: thoughtful, reflective, measured and intelligent, an inspiration to teachers and school leaders. Strangers may judge him based on his first book: those who knew him celebrate his life of service to international education and opening opportunities for kids out of the mainstream. The film is intimate, unrehearsed, spontaneous and technically well done: I felt as if I were sitting in their house in France listening to the conversation while Bill honestly laid his soul bare: it's who he was and became.
William Powell wrote the book from books he gathered at the local library. He admits he was wrong, over and over in regards to his teen beliefs. He does not have publication rights. The interviewer and footage blame every activity on him because there was a copy of his book. I can remember in 1990's the local BnN having it in a small town. I was very surprised. I could remember glancing through it at the store and going WTF 10 years prior. If the object of this documentary is to get the book out of circulation, it is too late. He has done a great job with his life as a special needs educator. 5 stars for that.
The film, though fascinating and educational (and for me personally, occasionally heart-wrenching), seems 1) poorly or unethically edited (e.g. using the same audio clip for different scenes/conversations occurring at different parts of the film; displaying conversation sequences as if to suggest they occurred on different days but which actually seem to have occurred on the same day if you look closely, etc, making me wonder about the actual raw footage and full content and sequence of the interviews) and 2) narrow in scope if the main subject of the film is supposed to be the author himself and not the book that he wrote. A title such as “Impact of Anarchist Cookbook” would be more accurate than “American Anarchist”. For those who wish to gain a more complete picture of the so-called “American anarchist”, William Powell, look elsewhere for actual first-hand accounts of the author’s legacy and impact on schools and people in various countries and from all walks of life, as well as information about the author’s original but very different literary works, for example:
1) The “Remembering William Powell” Facebook Memorial Page in honour of the author, with entries from various teachers, students, colleagues and friends of the author, including several photos of him in a myriad of personal, professional and recreational settings.
2) My “William Powell” web page dedicated to his memory, with links and references to various original writings by the author or myself, including a letter to President Obama which the author was influential in.
3) The “William Powell Inclusion Foundation”, a charitable foundation that was created in the author’s honour which is dedicated to continuing his work towards making schools more inclusive of children with a variety of issues and learning needs.
… And for those who might walk away from the film thinking that William Powell was in denial or didn’t feel an appropriate sense of responsibility, I recommend that they read his semi-fictional short story “Collateral Damage” in the collection “The Drain Dwarf of Caringin Barat”, which was published a few years prior to the making of the film. I felt very strongly that the story’s protagonist, Hugo Loughberry, represented William Powell himself.
While I myself am not an anarchist and have never even read the book, I couldn't help but to feel that the interviewer was a bit overly aggressive and bias in the wording of his questions for Mr. Powell. After all, Mr. Powell did get the information for "The Anarchist Cookbook" from other books easily available in the public library, which, the last time I checked, is a taxpayer subsidized, government owned and run agency/business. The problem isn't the information, or even the weapon of choice for the criminal who uses it. The problem is the Godless radicals who will always find a way to hurt others in an attempt to force their views (usually the views of the minority) upon others (usually the majority). These radicals can range from the school aged to elderly, from misguided religious extremist to entrenched bureaucrats, from the quiet neighbor down the street to the activist judges imposing their rejected ideology upon the rest of us as though it were law. Should we stop making cars because they are and can be used to kill others? How about medicines, household and automotive chemicals, rope, nails, pipe, gun powder, baseball bats, bridges, steak knives, letter openers, windows above the first floor, unhealthy food, larger or smaller than recommended food portions, air planes, rockets (Say bye bye to N,A,S,A,), wrenches, shovels, axes, chainsaws and other tools, swimming pools, bath tubs, garbage disposals, and just about anything else you can imagine. The problem is the things people use to hurt, maim, or kill other people. The problem is what's in the heart and mind of the people doing the harm. All that said, I think it's worth your time to watch it and make up your own mind about Mr. Powell and his book.
Interesting to hear William Powell's reasoning for writing the book, and where he got his information. As others have said, and Mr. Powell says during the interview, the interviewer is trying to lead Mr. Powell where he wants him to go. It is very interesting, and is definitely a warning in this age of Social Media, that what you put out into the world has consequences.
The Anarchist Cookbook was born out of the social unrest of 1960s America and quickly became the most widely recognized book on counter-culture and resistance. Often the focus of media attention, William Powell's work surpassed in controversy even the likes of Hoffman's Steal This Book, The U.S. Army's Munitions Handbook and Kurt Saxon's The Poor Man's James Bond. The success of the book started a gyre of unrest for both author and society. A phenomenal film, that documents the under-spoken tragedy of American dissolution, it enriches and re-establishes the genres of both the literary tragedy and the film documentary.