The void of moving, and a footnote on “Footnote” (2011)

14 August 2012

Considering that moving house has demanded so much of my attention during the last 20 days, it really ought to be more interesting. It’s not. Nor has it left me any energy to watch and/or think about film, especially because the Olympics sucked up what tiny portions of my brain space were left over from those daily visits to hardware stores. (A former student of mine won two gold medals!)

In short: moving necessitates that you enter a mental void. And now writing the syllabus has likewise become engrossing yet utterly, impossibly, boring.

Worse, it’s hard to get back on the blogging horse. My RSS feed contains so many hundreds of unread posts such that I’m considering just marking them all as “read” and starting afresh. My thoughts on the wonderful Beasts of the Southern Wild haven’t cohered yet; and I’m so late to seeing Public Speaking, the terrific documentary about Fran Liebowitz (truly the modern-day Dorothy Parker; she makes me scream with delight at some of her statements) … do I really have anything to add?

Last night despite my exhaustion I actually made it through all 103 wonderful minutes of Footnote, the Israeli black comedy about a father and son, both Talmudic scholars in the same department at Hebrew University. The son’s success and popularity as an intellectual — and his father’s deep-seated competitiveness and rage at being overlooked for prizes and academic rewards — were perfectly captured and utterly cringe-making. Anyone who wants to enter a Ph.D. program should see this film and consider themselves warned.

The film shows not only the supposed philosophical debates that often undergird animosities between academics, but also the ways those debates lead scholars to exact revenge on one another in the meanest, most petty of ways. The film’s director, Joseph Cedar, captures that awfulness with such precision that I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out whether he’s an academic himself — only to learn that his father was a biochemist at Hebrew University.

Which makes me think: considering how many wonderful satirical academic novels there are (James Hynes’ Publish and Perish, Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution, David Lodge’s Small World, Richard Russo’s Straight Man, Jane Smiley’s Moo, Francine Prose’s Blue Angel: A Novel (P.S.), Mary McCarthy’s The Groves of Academe, and so many others) — why aren’t there any satirically academic films about the horrors of professorial life? Footnote is the only one I can think of.

Okay, back to moving boxes. And taking some trips to the very cool LGBT thrift store to drop off boxes of stuff we shouldn’t have brought with us. And resisting the impulse to buy things at this very nicely stocked thrift store.

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13 Responses to “The void of moving, and a footnote on “Footnote” (2011)”


  1. Didion,
    You have been missed! How cool is it that one of your former students won two gold medals? Wow!

  2. servetus Says:

    I’d heard of this film and want to see it. Guess you found the Roku box! Good luck unpacking and syllabusing.

    • Didion Says:

      Oh, my dear friend, do exercise caution when watching — you might want to save it for a moment when you feel strong. It’s brutal stuff for those of us who’re ambivalent about the profession, and even worse because it’s partly about father-son battles. Whew.

  3. JustMeMike Says:

    Nice to have your words in front of us once more. Welcome back to your own blog.

    I saw a preview for Footnote at my local art/indie film house, The Burns Court Cinema, but either it hasn’t shown up yet, or it came and went without me noticing that it was playing. I’ll need to get it via Netflix at some point.

  4. JSA Lowe Says:

    I often/always just mark them all “read” and start over. Perfectly acceptable. Anything viral/important will keep popping up until you’ve read it eventually, no worries.

    In other news the semester starts in 13 days and I do not have the ovaries to watch this film, at all. Though I designed an upper-level course on the campus novel about a decade ago. Someday will I get to teach it? Very unlikely. What about The Wonder Boys, though, for a campus film? Anyway one about a writing program.

    • Didion Says:

      I’m thinking that the big difference between academic novels and film is that in general the latter focuses on professors as teachers — the relationship between Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire in Wonder Boys or in Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Paper Chase, Dead Poets Society, etc. In contrast, I can’t remember ever seeing a film before that focuses on the intellectual & personal conflicts between professors. Not that it’s a pretty thing to watch — but we watch cringe-making things all the time, no?

      • JSA Lowe Says:

        Ha, no, you’re totally right. The closest I can think of in this case is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Speaking of cringe-making things, I’m SO embarrassed I put a definite article on Wonder Boys, buh. Must get off Internet and learn to think again—(Isn’t there a film version of that wonderful Richard Russo novel? can’t look! must get! off Internet! finish syllabus!)

  5. Becky Says:

    You really have been missed. Glad you are back, and hope your move was as easy as possible. I would like to say that you missed a lot of important public discourse while you were in the moving void, but alas……………..

    • Didion Says:

      Argh, I know! The Pussy Riot trial in Russia; all the Olympics nightmare coverage (including bizarre coverage of Gabby Douglas) … I have a long list, and yet somehow hanging pictures on the walls or figuring out why I have 10 years of car insurance receipts has taken up more brain space than anything relevant to anyone else. I find the nesting instinct embarrassing.

  6. Aldine Says:

    Oh the gladness of seeing a feminema post in my mailbox. I already resent your new job for taking you away from the crucial work of wry social and cinematic commentary. So lovely to see you back…

    • Didion Says:

      Thanks, Aldine! I’m sure you’ll all be happy to hear that the refrigerator magnet collection made it almost unscathed!


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