Re: [Videolib] great documentary on philosopher on Sundance tonight

Steve Fesenmaier (
Mon, 12 Jan 2004 13:57:41 -0500

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Films about Philosophy - Derrida and Others

Derrida (2002)
85 mins. Zeitgeist Films

by Steve Fesenmaier to be published in Counterpoise magazine -

During the last century, "thinking about thinking" has become a major
influence on all forms of thinking - art, music, and most profoundly
philosophy. This new documentary by filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy
Ziering Kofman may be the single best film on this evolution, using
world-renowned French philosopher Jacques Derrida as the subject.

"Subject" is the correct term for both this film, and this philosopher.
His school of philosophy has been called "deconstruction." The basic
idea is that one can never create a false sense of "objectivity" when
one talks about the world, as people do in philosophy or art. We are
always "the subject." This film uses Derrida's own method of
deconstruction on his own life, recalling events from his childhood,
recent life, daily life. It was exhilarating to see that the man was
truly consistent - his unkempt look at some times, his own rejection of
questions, showed a man who truly lives what he preaches.

There are several other worthwhile films about philosophers and
philosophy but not many. The best survey of philosophy in the West on
film is Landmark Films one hour , "The First World," hosted by Richard
Rorty. It was released in 1991 but remains the best tour from the
pre-socratics to contemporary philosophy. Derek Jarman, a deceased
English filmmaker, has made a very interesting feature film about
Wittgenstein by the same title. The Films for the Humanities and
Sciences has three series, two by the BBC - "Modern Philosophy" and
"Great Philosophers" as well as a short series on Nietzsche, Heidegger,
and Sartre -"Human, All to Human." I have watched several of the "Modern

Philosophy" tapes - one on philosophy of science and another on logical
Positivism. Both are very interesting since they interview philosophers

who were active in the movements discussed. Landmark also has a very
good film on Spinoza - I wish that they would have acquired the other
films made in England also about philosophers, but they decided there
was no market in this country. "The First World" was chosen as the "best

educational film of the year" but still had poor sales.

First Run/Icarus also has a film about Derrida and some other very
interesting films in philosophy. Their documentary is called "Derrida's
Elsewhere." They also have a great film, "A Thousand Gilles"[ Gilles
Deleuze] on French philosopher Gilles Deleuze plus several that deal
with science like "Killing Time" about theoretical physicist Julian
Barbour and "Scientists at the Rim of Reality." "Walden" (1981) is a
fine 10 minute tour of Walden Pond during the fall. Their animated film,

“Marx for Beginners” is one of the funniest film on either Karl Marx or

philosophy. Bullfrog Films has
many very good films about contemporary philosophical issues like
ecology, globalization, and human rights. Their film on "deep ecologist"

Arne Naess in "Crossing the Stones" and their series about
globalization, "Life," gives an extensive look at the most important
economic process of our age. "In Defense of Animals" is a portrait of a
very influential philosopher, Peter Singer, who has made the news since
he came to the US from his native Australia. Bullfrog's most famous
recent film, "Affluenza" should be shown to all students when discussing

economics. John Hoskyns-Abrahall, the president of the company, was an
Oxford philosophy student before he came to the US and founded this
company. He has always been very concerned about the link between ideas
and the environment. Finally, Direct Cinema has a landmark series on
women that anyone studying feminism and related issues should watch,
"Women and Spirituality Series." They also distribute the Oscar-winning
film about Libertarian thinker Karl Hess – “Karl Hess: Toward Liberty.”

Facets Multimedia has more than 200 feature and documentary films
involving philosophy, ranging from various seris like “Western
Philosophy” to various feature films that involve people who apply their
own philosophies of life ( like the recent “Chocolat”). They distribute
Jarman’s “Wittgenstein” and various books about philosophy as shown in
the cinema (“Philosophy Goes to the Movies.)

"Derrida" was shown at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival along with a very

nice short, "2+2" about John Nash of "A Beautiful Mind" fame. Bonita
Rapham has created a small masterpiece, explaining Nash as well as one
could. If you could see "Derrida" first, and then watch "2+2", you may
understand Nash much better. You might indeed understand everyone,
including yourself, much better because you could use deconstruction to
see how no one is a simple "subject." That is the genius of this film,
and the man himself. Derek Jarman did a wonderful job using Caravaggio's

own techniques to create his film on the subject. It is very difficult
to do this, but "Derrida" has done it without making the film too

Something has to be said about the intoxicating music used in the film.
The original score by Oscar winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (The Last
Emperor, Gohatto, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence) is very well suited to
the ideas of Derrida and the film itself. It can stand by itself as an
exquisite work of art.

Several years ago there was a great documentary about R. Crumb that
became a hit at the box office - for a documentary. This film deserves
to do likewise. Unfortunately Derrida doesn't jump on people's backs,
and luckily his brother does not die during the shooting of the film. I
hope that everyone reading this review will tell people to see the film,

and perhaps a miracle will take place - it will become another box
office hit, showing that despite Prez W, Americans are still asking
questions. Tell your local art house about the film, send them
Zeitgeist's website, and eventually buy the DVD and video for your own
collection. Derrida speaks a lot of English in the film so the
sub-titles are minimal.

Be sure to log on to the Zeitgeist Films website for the film, and the
film's official website too. Very clear explanations are posted as well
as beautiful graphics.

Deconstructing Hairy
by J. Hoberman
October 23 - 29, 2002
Village Voice

Another ‘80s cult figure, French philosopher Jacques Derrida first
appears in Derrida crossing Houston Street, not five blocks from the
venue where this documentary portrait is having its local premiere.
Derrida seems supremely at home in New York. His discourse mixes French
and English, and it has long been suggested that his brilliance was more
prized here than in Paris. The menacing phrase “Derridean deconstruction
machine” had the aura of a secret password back when I was in grad
school, and I treasure the story that the front row of the master’s Yale
lectures was occupied by a gaggle of black-clad co-eds known as the
Derrida, directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman, assumes a
similar perspective. The prof holds forth on subjects ranging from the
concept of the future and the dynamics of forgiveness to the mystery of
the other and the nature of narcissism, including his own. (There’s a
garmento flash to his wardrobe; he’s fashionable in more ways than one.)
The movie is ultimately about the philosopher’s personality—if you loved
Lingua Franca (and what lumpen academoid did not?), you’ll certainly dig
Derrida. It’s endearing to hear Madame D. refer to her husband as
“Jackie”—and he does make for excellent company, not least as a
self-conscious performer. Derridean analysis is founded, in part, on
determining who speaks for whom (and from where). The filmmakers enter
into the spirit, playfully deconstructing their own process by including
shots of Derrida fiddling with his microphone and going to the cinematic
interpersonal: “So this is what you call cinema verité. Everything is
false. I’m not like this.” Naturally.
Movies about philosophers are in short supply, perhaps with reason.
Asked what he’d like to see in documentaries on Hegel or Heidegger,
Derrida immediately expresses curiosity as to their sex lives—although
he himself is the soul of evasion. Indeed, Derrida’s most spontaneous
moments occur as a public figure. He seems genuinely nonplussed, if not
downright testy, when an overeager British interviewer attempts to lure
him into a discussion of Seinfeld. “Deconstruction as I understand it
does not produce any sitcoms,” Derrida haughtily tells her. “Do your
homework and read.”

Monday 01.12.2004

Tuesday 01.13.2004

Saturday 01.17.2004

Sunday 01.18.2004

Monday 01.19.2004

Sunday 01.25.2004

Wednesday 01.28.2004

Thursday 01.29.2004


directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman


86 MINS, Color

Appeared at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival
Superstar philosopher Jacques Derrida sits for a playful cinematic
portrait in this entertaining documentary by his former student, Amy
Ziering Kofman, and filmmaker Kirby Dick. On camera, the influential
father of deconstruction toys with ideas - and with his interviewers -
while also calling attention to the inherent artificiality of the
filmmaking process. What results is an engaging profile of a charismatic
lover of thought. "The cinematic equivalent of a mind-expanding drug" -
Los Angeles Times. TVPG (AC) CCAP/Stereo/Subtitles

Amy Ziering Kofman

Kirsten Johnson

Matt Clarke
Kirby Dick

Ryuichi Sakamoto

Jacques Derrida
Marguerite Derrida

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