Sunday, May 17, 2009

Derrida by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman

This film was about the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) who is considered to be the founder of the theory of deconstruction. The film makers followed Derrida and interviewed him and his wife about his theories and his life. It was a unique look into the life of a modern philosopher and delve into it while he was still alive and working.

Mainly following him in the present, there were some clips of him being interviewed on a talk show as well as watching him teach in a classroom and answer questions after a lecture. There were also insertions of his earlier life events spoken by the interviewer over the filming of Derrida in the background. When this film was released in the United States, public screenings of the film broke attendance records. I found it interesting that a general audience would want to see a film about a philosopher, and in record numbers, since philosophers do not tend to be regarded as extremely popular.

The crew and film makers were seen in many shots either working or walking around and adjusting for the shoot and the film maker was heard asking questions and talking with Derrida. The viewer saw the interviewer but never actually saw the features of her face, but rather saw her from a distance. Some of the interviews were artificially lit while others were not. There didn’t seem to be a pattern for whether artificial lighting was used. There are many scenes when Jacques Derrida references the camera and crew being present. Derrida himself talks about one shot to the camera and how he can’t always answer the questions because he’s distracted by the crew having to adjust lighting and such. Jacques Derrida and his wife refuse to tell the crew about how they fell in love besides the facts of the situation such as where they met and when they were married. I felt that this was a gesture towards the editing of film and how editing can remove elements of a story that are integrative to it.

There were places where the film maker read from works of Derrida’s while the camera rolled filming Derrida muted in the background. The pieces were excerpts that related to what Derrida had been discussing with the camera. Besides the film maker speaking, the music was created by Ryuichi Sakamoto and used through out the film.

I enjoyed what appeared to be the candidness of Derrida. He was open with the film crew informing them when he couldn’t answer a question and whether a question was a good one. It was refreshing to have the subject of the film aware of the camera and not pretending that the equipment and crew do not exist. His reflections on the editing and lighting made the viewer more aware of the process and construction of the film. When asked what Derrida would like to hear past philosophers be questioned about, Derrida comments that he would like to hear what philosophers have to say about what they don’t talk about, such as their sex lives, however he admits that he doesn’t say he would answer the question if asked. It was humorous to listen to Derrida express his ideas about other philosophers and their work. The style of this documentary was much more revealing of the process of interviewing Derrida and I appreciated the conversations between the interviewer and the interviewee.

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