Foucault’s thoughts on film are fascinating yet also offer a more genial look at the famed philosopher.
An attractive, tidily organized collection of famed French philosopher Michel Foucault’s writing about film as well as scholarly reflections on that writing, translator/editor Clare O’Farrell’s Foucault at the Movies is a necessity for film scholars and philosophers alike. Filled with writing about Foucault and by Foucault himself, Foucault at the Movies is an effectively translated and admirably assembled work of film scholarship and philosophical history. Though the book would be a suitable text for a university course on philosophy, film or both, it is also readable enough to serve as entertainment as well.
Foucault at the Movies is split into two parts. The shorter opening section contains a chapter by Dork Zabunyan, a professor at the University of Paris, and a chapter by Patrice Maniglier, a lecturer at the University of Paris – Nanterre. The second part is devoted to work by Foucault himself. Zabunyan’s chapter is titled “What Film Is Able to Do: Foucault and Cinematic Knowledge” and Maniglier’s chapter is “Versions of the Present: Foucault’s Metaphysics of the Event Illuminated by Cinema. Together, the two scholars place Foucault’s fim writing within the philosopher’s wider body of work, particularly regarding history, and also outline the ways in which Foucault and his philosophies were influenced by film and influenced film.
Though the analysis of his actual work is very interesting and particularly important in terms of putting Foucault’s film writing in context, the real draw here is Foucault’s work, which includes film reviews, interviews with an assortment of international luminaries including feminist icon Hélène Cixous and director Werner Schroeter, general and specific film commentary and philosophical ponderings regarding film and technology. The interviews, in particular, offer a more engaging and relaxed Foucault than one might find in his more famous work or even his literary criticism. Though Foucault actually wrote very little on film itself, O’Farrell has done an excellent job of not only gathering a variety of conversations, lectures, articles and other materials. Her decision to arrange these in chronological order (by original publication date) also gives a flow to the work. One can sense Foucault’s shifting focus as the work progresses, and it is especially entertaining hear these shifts in his own words.
And they are his own words, because though O’Farrell is quite capably translated many of the pieces from their original French, she has resisted adding additional flourish to these translations. As a result, the reading can occasionally be confusing or clunky, particularly the transcribed interviews as it is English related in French speaking patterns. However, the authenticity that style brings to the text far is necessary and adds vitality and charm to the overall work.
The final pages of the book are filled with unique bonuses. The first of these is a program, assembled by Zabunyan and Maniglier in 2011, of films that inspired or were inspired by Foucault. Then comes the notes. O’Farrell gives pages and pages of notes on not only her translations but also regarding the context of many of the interviews. It is a fascinating look into her process and also into the amount of work that went into making Foucault at the Movies such a thorough yet seamless work.
Though these final pages hint at the amount of work Clare O’Farrell did in putting together Foucault at the Movies, she humbly stays out of much of the book’s content, including a brief Translator’s Preface before ceding the stage to Zabunyan, Maniglier and, of course, Michel Foucault. Foucault often commented on how much he enjoyed speaking about and writing on literature, and that enthusiasm obviously crossed to other mediums as well. Foucault’s thoughts on film are fascinating yet also offer a more genial look at the famed philosopher.