Friday, March 15, 2013

Wittgenstein: Derek Jarman’s Tribute to the Philosopher (1993)

Another interesting piece from Open Culture. All 7 segments of the Derek Jarman film on Wittgenstein are embedded in the video below. For those unfamiliar with Wittgenstein, here is a very brief bio sketch from Wikipedia:
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.[1] He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947.[2] In his lifetime, he published just one book review, one article, a children's dictionary, and the 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921).[3] In 1999, his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953) was ranked as the most important book of 20th-century philosophy by the Baruch Poll, standing out as "...the one crossover masterpiece in twentieth-century philosophy, appealing across diverse specializations and philosophical orientations".[4] Philosopher Bertrand Russell described him as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating".[5]

Wittgenstein: Watch Derek Jarman’s Tribute to the Philosopher, Featuring Tilda Swinton (1993)

March 14th, 2013

When last week we featured Bertrand Russell telling a story about his philosophical disciple Ludwig Wittgenstein, I mentioned in passing a film about the latter by Derek Jarman. An English director known for his unconventional choices of theme, form, and medium, Jarman passed away from AIDS-related illness in 1994, the year after making Blue, an autobiographical film that plays out entirely on a solid, unchanging blue screen. He also released in 1993 a less discussed, seemingly less experimental picture: Wittgenstein. Casting Karl Johnson as the philosopher (with Clancy Chassay as his younger self), frequent collaborator Tilda Swinton as noted aristocrat Lady Ottoline Morrell, and Michael Gough (well known as Batman’s butler Alfred) as Russell, Jarman set about telling Wittgenstein’s life story, all on his own aesthetic terms.

The result comes off as an only slightly less radical cinematic act than Blue. Drawing on his stage background, Jarman reduces Wittgenstein‘s visuals to a bare but bold minimum. Watch the clip up top of Johnson as Wittgenstein lecturing at Cambridge under Russell’s watchful eye, and you’ll see what this means: no backdrops at all; just people, things, thoughts, and language. You can see the entire film in seven segments (one, two, three, four, fivesix, seven), beginning with the first just above. Though far from Jarman’s most famous work, Wittgenstein has been claimed by several film traditions: philosophical, experimental, theatrical, queer, even educational. Yet it has eluded them all, creating for itself an environment of both obvious stage-and-screen make-believe — that black void, those dramatic line deliveries — and the disciplined starkness of reality.

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~ Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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