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July 18, 2005


I finally caught Derrida (IMDB) on DVD and found the film to be a compelling take on one of the 20th century's most important philosophers. As one might expect, Derrida proves to be a recalcitrant subject, unwilling to disclose too much personal information and more interested in reflecting on the documentary process itself, at one point noting that the situation is "completely artificial," in its attempt to achieve some new understanding about the subject.

Because Derrida has frequently been mischaracterized as too obscure or even "meaningless," the filmmakers are careful to portray him as accessible and personable, and teh film works against Derrida's resistance to revealing the personal by cross-cutting between Derrida in public as a "star" and Derrida at home (an early sequence shows him searching for his house keys). Interspersed with interviews with Derrida, his wife, and other family members, who can offer no familial explanation for Derrida's intellect, are quotations from some of Derrida's key texts.

Not surprisingly, the film places emphasis on Derrida's discussion of the temporality of the archive in Archive Fever. At the same time, the filmmakers themselves, in collaboration with Derrida, raise some valuable questions about the documentary process itself, an aim that becomes clearer in the directors' commentary track (I've only listened to about twenty minutes, but so far it's among the strongest commentary tracks I've heard).

Posted by chuck at July 18, 2005 1:33 PM

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I just came across this book/transcript of _Derrida_ today:

I too enjoyed the doc, but I was really frustrated when he didn't disclose, especially since, if I remember correctly, the personal life of his favorite philosopher (Heidegger?), is one area he would want to know about! The foregrounding of the film process--and the attempt by the filmmakers (Kirby Dick picks some really great film subjects--am I right that his newest subject is Slavoj Zizek? Maybe that's someone else--) to not "fix" Derrida is interesting. How else could you represent Derrida on film? Regardless of deconstruction's attempt to dislodge the center though, Derrida in the film is smack dab in the middle of it all. I'm going to check out the commentary track next.

Posted by: Jennifer at July 19, 2005 6:20 PM

Thanks for the link to the transcript, and I was also a *little* frustrated by his unwillingness to disclose anything (and Heidegger certainly presents an interesting limit case).

There's no specific mention of the Zizek documentary in Dick's IMDB filmography, but I am curious to see the Zizek doc. Good point about Derrida's position within deconstruction--and within the doc. I still haven't finished teh commentary track, but the first few minutes were very solid, an interesting supplement to the film itself.

Posted by: Chuck at July 20, 2005 11:46 AM

I really liked the film, which I saw in a theatre a year or two ago. I thought the way they presented his work was very well done. People like to claim that Derrida's work is so difficult, but the basic concepts are really very clear. And for me, as someone shaped by his work in the 80s, it satisfied my fan position -- hey look, Derrida eats jam on toast for breakfast! I found the at-home sequences very moving, somehow. I'll guess I'll have to queue up the DVD to hear the commentary track now.

Posted by: Mel [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2005 12:44 PM

Mel, I also enjoyed the film from the fan's perspective that you describe. The interviews with family members were usually very sweet, and the breakfast scenes were certainly quite moving.

Posted by: Chuck at July 22, 2005 2:20 PM

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