Thursday, February 26, 2009

New documentary, "Examined Life," features disabled artist Sunny Taylor

From The New York Times article about the documentary by filmmaker Astra Taylor, who is the sister of artist Sunny Taylor. NPR did a feature on Sunny Taylor in 2005. I saw an art presentation by Sunny Taylor last summer and her paintings are quite wonderful.

When the documentary filmmaker Astra Taylor speaks of a cinema of ideas, he means it more literally than most. Her first film, “Zizek!” (2005) accompanied the Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek on a lecture tour. Her second, “Examined Life,” opening Wednesday at the IFC Center, recruits a wide array of thinkers and theorists to muse out loud about the role of philosophy in our lives, playing off the Socratic observation that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

After “Zizek!” Ms. Taylor, 29, wanted to tackle philosophy again. The producer Ron Mann, a veteran documentarian himself, encouraged her to make an ensemble movie with an all-star cast of philosophers, a prospect that was both enticing and somewhat alarming. If people found talking-head films uncinematic, what would they make of a
talking-egghead film? . . . .

A few of the philosophers she approached were personal heroes of a sort. She first heard of Peter Singer and his de facto manifesto for the animal rights movement, “Animal Liberation,” as a 12-year-old obsessed with vegetarianism. Having grown up with what she called “an earth-mothery sense of feminism,” she discovered a countervailing voice in Judith Butler, the gender theorist and post-structural feminist. And because her sister Sunaura Taylor, a painter who appears in the
film, was born with arthrogryposis, a disorder of the joints, she took an interest in the work of the law and ethics scholar Martha Nussbaum, who has written about disability in terms of the social contract.

From The NYT review:

“Examined Life” is less a tour of present-day philosophy than a study in academic celebrity. Ms. Taylor has offered each of her subjects the chance to show off a little, and they find different ways of rising to the opportunity of subverting it. Some, like Mr. Zizek, Mr. Hardt and the Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, explicitly comment on their surroundings. Judith Butler, a gender theorist at the University of California, Berkeley, makes the act of taking a walk into an occasion for philosophical inquiry. Accompanied by the filmmaker’s sister Sunaura Taylor, who uses a wheelchair because of a disability, Ms. Butler in effect transposes some of her difficult and subtle ideas about bodies, identity and social space into the language of everyday life.