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You learn how he finds his house key, how he prepares a snack, and how he puts on his coat. You see his wife, some of his friends, tight smiles, trying to stay out of the picture. What you don't get much of is the man doing what made him famous - and even less an exploration of his career. Who or what does he read, talk about, care about, when he is not forced, by the insistent camera, to answer slightly embarrassing questions?
To give him credit, Derrida works hard to contribute something intelligent to the show, as for instance when he reflects on the impoliteness of philosophical biographies. Indeed, this stalker movie makes you wonder what they actually wanted from Derrida. Kirby Dick never got any of the dozens of people he filmed to tell a good Derrida joke, and Amy Kofman's flirtations with the tan and trim thinker will make the audience squirm.
If you want to see Derrida talk about film, watch 'Ghost Dance' or his television interviews with Stiegler. If you want to hear him reflect on his career, watch the French documentary Safaa Fathy made with him. But if you ever wondered what might happen when you put a professor into a kind of reverse witness protection program, as Warhol did with Ondine, then watch this DVD. Beware though: the heavy-handed use of voice-overs may make you sad that the years of footage and access Amy Kofman and got in the end amount to little more than having the fan put the master's words into her own mouth.
Kirby Dick (Sick, Private Practices) and first-time director Amy Ziering Kofman take a look at, arguably, the most important and influential philosopher of the twentieth century, Jacques Derrida. And perhaps "take on" is the best way to understand the dynamic of this film.
Kofman's intention was to get away from the philosophy, for the most part, and get to the quotidian existence of Derrida's life. Which is all well and good, except that people who go to see a film about Jacques Derrida are going to want the philosophy. But looking at it strictly from the slice-of-life aspect, the film still comes off looking like a student project. (Co-director Kirby Dick, who came in after the start of production, mentions the "naivete" of the footage that had already been shot in interviews. Indeed.)
It probably doesn't help that Derrida keeps throwing monkeywrenches into the works himself. It's not as if he feels uncomfortable with the camera, though his reactions at times may be mistaken for such; it is more that Derrida feels an acute sense of being filmed, which at times makes him reluctant and at times makes him somewhat mischievous. (Kofman is from Los Angeles; during a lecture, for example, Derrida mentions that the last film the class looked at from LA was footage of the Rodney King riots, and goes on to pull the parallel out farther.) The end result being a documentary with no finesse about a subject who is reluctant to be a subject.
One thing of note, though: the wonderful score by Ryuichi Sakamoto (Wild Palms, etc.). It is brilliant, and perhaps does a better job of underscoring things here than does the direction. Lovely.
While a look into the life of Jacques Derrida is a rare and wonderful thing, and needs to be treasured, I wish Dick had been the author here, or a similarly gifted documentarist. What we have could have been-but wasn't. ** ½
Taking on a project with this potential, spending years with this level of intimate access, and calling it Derrida, suggesting breadth of content, but bringing little insight about his thinking to the screen outside of mostly silly gimmicks, is a sad sad thing.
A: Film him putting jam on bread.
The filmakers can't decide whether they want to take a reverent look at this legendary philosopher & his unique contribution to western thought or whether they want to deconstruct him. What they decide to do is try to get Derrida to deconstruct himself, but their efforts are so transparent that they usually just put Derrida on the spot & in the awkward position of trying to be gracious to them and their fumbling crew while still defending his privacy.
To be fair to the filmakers, Derrida is the one who gives the filmakers the idea for this strategy when he comments on the tendency of western philosophers since Aristotle not to include details from their personal lives in their work, and, later, when he mentions that he would like to know about the sex lives of Husserl & Heidegger etc...
But, when asked these sorts of questions himself, Derrida refuses to reveal anything, so what we have here is a kind of cat & mouse game where the filmaker/interrogator attempts to trick Derrida into talking about something that he refuses to talk about, himself. To be fair to Derrida, however, one reason for this reluctance to talk about his personal relationships is a respect for the privacy of others, ie his wife & family. It is readily apparent that for Derrida there is a definite separation between what he perceives to be his professional responsibilites to the filmakers and to his public and what he perceives to be his personal responsibilities to his family and himself. But, in true Derridean fashion, the decision whether to speak or not to speak is forever deferred.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
How strange it is see the banal paired with the almost Talmudic elements of Derrida's thought: this pairing, this humanizing of Derrida in Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman's... Read morePublished on July 10, 2012 by C. D. Varn
Derrida was an excellent film, revealing the philosophers consistent way of practicing what he taught in a philosophically nuanced way. Read morePublished on March 31, 2011 by T. Delonas
To begin where I saw this (since I do not own this yet) it was in my philosophy course after reading his "Letter to a Japanese Friend. Read morePublished on April 7, 2010 by Erik A. Vega
Sure, this DVD is not Derrida speaking all the time about his major works, but there is a reason for that. Read morePublished on February 24, 2010 by Manuel Armenteros
Let me begin by saying that Derrida's philosophy has influenced me above all others. I am fascinated by his thinking, but this movie was a travesty. Read morePublished on December 30, 2009 by M. DeWitt
Displaying Life vs. Demonstrating Thought--this film cannot even do its task: the former.
" [...] the so called Cinema Verite is devoid of verite. Read more
The documentary was interesting because it is a side of Derrida not present in his works. But, throughout the documentary, I could not help but think that Derrida was merely... Read morePublished on May 5, 2008 by Morrigan Alexandros
Well, it's a stylishly crafted film. Nice electronic music. A few interesting shots of Derrida himself. He comes off as a fairly down to Earth guy. He has a nice sense of humor. Read morePublished on March 31, 2008 by thames
I'm not familiar with Derrida's work so this review is not so much about the man but about the film about the man. Read morePublished on December 11, 2007 by N. Hackman