The myth of Cenk “Young Turk” Uygur gets a serious burnishing in “Mad as Hell,” a cheerfully angry and yet upbeat documentary about the creator and host of online’s “Young Turks” Youtube show. Uygur’s journey, from Turkey to America, from conservative law student to progressive firebrand, and all the stops (local TV, Sirius satellite radio, MSNBC, Current-TV) along the way are given a sympathetic airing in film. “Mad” is a showcase for the opinions and impact of a media figure whose mantra is speaking “the truth” and refusing to sell-out to corporate media and the corporate-financed politicians .
Archival footage shows Uygur’s first appearance on TV, as a back-row audience member interrupting Johnnie Cochran on Greta Van Susteren’s CNN show at the end of the O.J. Simpson trial, to his quitting his corporate law job and pursuing a TV career against absurd odds.
He’s thick-featured, dark and foreign-looking. He’s abrasive, crude and loud when he gets worked up. But over a billion viewers have watched his Youtube videos complaining about politics, politicians and “the rigged system” in America.
Andrew Napier’s camera was there for the later highlights in this journey, his dabbling with MSNBC (he claims he was too incendiary for the cable network, that they wanted him to tone down his criticism of Obama and Democrats), his longer-lived show for the now-defunct Current-TV.
He’s never toned down his act, even as he shifted from irate Republican to infuriated Democrat. He won’t shut up, “because I think I’m right and I think you need to hear it.”
Napier interviewed scores of friends and colleagues, but wastes no film on real critics of the guy. There’s no time for a counter narrative, that he is just copying Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck’s angry-man shtick and serving it to a liberal audience. Thus, we hear plenty of “He’s unbearable” or “a blowhard,” but always from smiling pals, from childhood, law school (Georgetown) or his fellow “Young Turks.” Nobody with any real authority is here to suggest that Uygur might be just an opportunist or a professional contrarian.
And any suggestion that his progressivism is making a difference seems laughable, as we see him latch onto the Occupy Wall Street movement (not start it), that his WolfPAC aimed at overturning “Citizen’s United” has gotten nowhere, or simply look at the makeup of the new Congress.
The overarching message is here is the familiar “follow your dreams, follow your passions.” We see how bad he was on TV; clumsy and rude, how awful his team’s earliest shows were –“like something out of ‘Wayne’s World.'”
So ignore the self-generated hype about “largest online news show (by video views) in the world,” and take him, and the documentary’s title, at face value. Uygur is the fuming, fulminating embodiment of the prophetic movie character Howard Beale from “Network.” He is, indeed, “Mad as Hell” and he isn’t “going to take it anymore.” But the jury’s out on exactly he’ll do about that.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity
Cast: Cenkl Uyguyr, Ben Mankiewicz, Connie Chung, Keith Olbermann, Jill Pike
Credits: Written and directed by Andrew Napier. An Oscilloscope release.
Running time: 1:22