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Zeitgeist Video presents

Derrida (2002)

"Deconstruction, the way I understand it, doesn't produce any sitcom. And if ... the people who watch it think that deconstruction is this...the only advice I have to give them is just read...stop watching sitcoms and try and do your homework and read."- Jacques Derrida, in answer to an interviewer's question whether Seinfeld is an example of deconstruction

Stars: Jacques Derrida
Other Stars: Marguerite Derrida
Director: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering Kofman

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:26m:03s
Release Date: 2004-01-20
Genre: experimental

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
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Extras
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B+ B+BB+ B

 

DVD Review

Jacques Derrida is one of the best known and most influential philosophers of the second half of the 20th century. His primary claim to fame is the critical approach known as "deconstruction," which draws on semiotics, structuralism, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and other literary and philosphical movements, and has become extremely influential, if not exactly well understood. While this reviewer makes no pretense to a complete understanding of deconstruction, it involves questioning assumed oppositions such as subject/object, and examining what is by implication left out of a text (or other system) as well as what has been chosen, in order to examine the text's internal self-contradictions, which leads to its inherent collapse and any possibility of a determinate understanding.

But make no mistake, a knowledge of deconstruction is by no means necessary to appreciate and enjoy Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman's Derrida. This is no abstruse examination of Derrida's rather esoteric critical approach and philosophy, but it's not exactly a "Derrida for Dummies" either, explaining his theories to an audience unfamiliar with his work. Instead, it's an interesting, accessible meditation on Derrida's life and thinking, punctuated with humor and personal detail.

Kofman first became familiar with Derrida's work as a graduate student, and began work on the film in the early 1990s. Derrida was initially hesitant, and Kofman herself was struggling with the early footage she had shot, but she met Kirby Dick (best know for his brilliant and disturbing documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist) through a mutual friend, and the two formed a partnership. Shooting was regularly interrupted by lack of money, but the completed film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002, and was a great success.

In creating the film, Kofman and Dick drew on Derrida's writing, and used several of his concepts as inspiration. The end result is thus both an explanation of Derrida's work, and simultaneously an expression/example of some important concepts in work. While there are many strands from his work that can seen in the final product, three stand out: biography, the myth of Echo and Narcissus, and the concept of archive.

Heidegger, commenting on Aristotle, claimed that all you needed to know about a philosopher was his birth, his death, and his thoughts. Derrida disputes this, arguing that personal life can't be divorced from philosophical thought, and at one point even claims that the one thing he'd most like to see in a documentary about a philosopher is his sex life! Derrida contains many excerpts from the man's works, read in voice-over by Kofman, but these are balanced with footage of his daily life, preparing his lunch, getting his hair cut, talking to his wife Marguerite, and eating shrimp chips and drinking champagne with friends.

According to mythology, Echo fell in love with the self-absorbed Narcissus, but was only able to speak by repeating his (and others') last words. Although Derrida is anything but a narcissist, to the point of being self-deprecating, the filmmakers shot over 90 hours of footage, much of it of Derrida speaking. Of these 90 hours, the filmmakers found themselves forced to choose less than 84 minutes to echo in the completed film, and Derrida himself at one point wonders which of his words will be repeated. In other scenes, he's filmed reflected in a mirror, and explaining his reaction to a portrait of himself.

There's a Derrida archive in Paris, and in 1995, a second archive was opened at the University of California at Irvine, where Derrida teaches for part of the year. We see him speaking at its inauguration, explaining that you can only understand the meaning of an archive in the future, and footage of the archive itself. While not eschewing academic recognition, Derrida has been notoriously reluctant to be seen in the popular press (to the point of not allowing his picture to be taken until 1969), and this film is one of the few "archives" of his day-to-day life, the philosopher as human being. And like the archives of his work, its true meaning—and significance—will take on added resonance as time goes by.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The full-frame transfer is good, but reveals its origin as video, as well as the occasional problems inherent in that medium. Black levels are reasonable, but colors are occasionally muted and sometimes unnatural. There's grain in the dimly-lit scenes, and occasionally "jaggies" are evident.

Image Transfer Grade: B
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The dialogue (in English and French) is at all times clear and understandable, with no harshness or other defects. Ryuichi Sakamoto's score emphasizes the high end, with little or no bass, and one wishes that the two-channel sound would have been encoded in surround, to further open up its spare beauty.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
8 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Derrida Interviews
  2. Derrida on Derrida
  3. Four-page printed insert with chapter listing and notes
Extras Review: The 39m:16s of Derrida Interviews were shot for the film, but not used in the final product. They're far-ranging, from philosophical comments on the question of being, to the personal, with Derrida's remarks on his fear of nursery school and the games he played as a child. Unlike the 14m:32s of Deleted Scenes, most of which are overly-gimmicky and were best left on the cutting room floor, the interviews are insightful and interesting, and contribute to one's appreciation of Derrida. Derrida on Derrida presents 14m:49s of excerpts from a question and answer session with Derrida and the directors from the movie's New York premiere at Film Forum. The questions are quite varied, ranging from the genesis of the work, the scenes that Derrida asked the filmmakers to remove, the form of the film, and which texts demand deconstruction. Derrida reveals himself to be thoughtful but approachable, and even responds to one question with "I don't answer those sorts of questions"—then proceeds to do so!

In their commentary, Kofman and Dick point out locations and personalities, the difficulty and fun of working with the notoriously shy Derrida, the filmmaking process, how the film was inspired by and resonates in their own lives, and their purposes in making it. It's an interesting commentary that adds greatly to one's appreciation of the film.

The nonremovable subtitles are shown in a reasonably-sized yellow font, and are at all times readable. The translations are excellent, and with one exception, there are no typos—but that one exception is the rather egregious misspelling of "voilà" as "viola!" English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are available for the infrequent English-language sequences, and the four-page printed insert contains two pages of production notes.



Extras Grade: B
 

Final Comments

Derrida is an accessible, engrossing examination of both the personal and philosophical sides of the French thinker, famous for the critical approach known as "deconstruction." Although it was filmed on video, the transfer is good, and the enlightening commentary and other interesting extras add up to a winning package.

Robert Edwards 2004-03-24