Films about Philosophy - Derrida and Others

by Steve Fesenmaier to be published in Counterpoise magazine. First in our \"Media Librarianship in the 21 Century\" series, aka Library Zoopraxographers.

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.

Zeitgeist Films website

Derrida - the film website

Films for the Humanities & Sciences - 68 philosophy films

First Run/Icarus Films

Facets Multimedia

Bullfrog Films

Direct Cinema


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