Derrida

Derrida (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering Kofman
viewed: 01/13/03 at Opera Plaza Cinemas, SF, CA

Having spent a semester of my life in a seminar on Jacques Derrida in graduate school in Cinema Studies, I felt some sense of obligation beyond my general interest to get out to see this documentary film about one of the most influential thinkers of our day. I would love to tell you that I have a good grasp on Derrida’s major ideas and philosophical tenets…but I tend to find myself lost often in reading his writings and only somewhat more situated in the studies class and seminars.

This film does manage to make Derrida more accessible, I think. It doesn’t probe too deeply into any of his more challenging theories (or his theories’ critics), which is probably part of why it felt more accessible. Derrida is charismatic and intensely sharp, and to see and hear the man himself in some more mundane domestic settings as well as speaking to students or interviewers manages to make him and his ideas more approachable. Derrida consistently questions the film process’ ability to “document” him in actuality (an impossibility, he would say), noting frequently the artifice that attempts to show the “naturality” of a scene, for instance.

The filmmakers followed Derrida for four years, over three continents, in the making of their film, which has a shoddy, almost non-professional charm (and the weaknesses that you would expect in such a production). The filmmakers sound like idiots at times asking him questions that he rephrases or deflects unless they are rephrased, but none worse than the BBC interviewer who asks him what he thinks about Seinfeld.

The opening of the film focuses on Derrida’s thoughts on biography, which the film utilizes as a constantly self-aware process that ekes out some interesting points, and ends with a section on the Derrida archive that was established at UC Irvine in the late 1990’s, about which Derrida wrote considerably (and which the film quotes). The film attempts to “deconstruct” itself and its subject as much as possible, addressing these issues at the forefront as much as it can.

For all its faults and shortcomings, I kind of wish that I had seen this film or something like it, even just a taped interview with Derrida, back when I studied his work. I think it offers some in-roads to him and his thought that could make the reading of his work more easy to immerse oneself in. Maybe this is even in tune with some of his notions of the oral over the written word? Maybe I just can’t get my head around it.

Either way, I enjoyed the Derrida though I thought it wasn’t such a great film.

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