Susan Sontag makes me jealous: her huge intellect, her fabulous lifestyle, her photogenic smile.
Regarding Susan Sontag is comprehensive biographical film, delving into her years as a voracious student at U.C. Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Oxford and Harvard where she fed her mind, and her love affair with Paris where she learned about life. It follows her rise to status of media icon and her success as one of the foremost women of letters in the United States. The film (directed by Nancy Kates) also pays attentions to her young marriage and early motherhood and to the fascinating women she loved throughout her life.
One of her most important beliefs, and a big part of her legacy, was the profound import and responsibility of being a writer. She felt that the writer was a figure central to democracy, who always spoke out, considered, and was not afraid to comment. Everything was a political act to Sontag and this more classical view of the writer or intellectual is perhaps something which is fading from our culture as we put more emphasis on the idea of the solitary genius who must be left alone to make their art. One of the main traits which comes across is the force of Sontag's personality which included amazing energy and an intense will to live. She was very focused both on her work and on the larger world that she was a part of.
Interestingly, Sontag considered herself a failure because she set such high standards. She was disappointed that On Photography was not as good as Walter Benjamin and lamented not being a genius. But she strove to enlarge our ideas about what kind of art was important and she gave serious consideration to many topics which had been neglected. Later in life Sontag turned more to fiction, with mixed results.
What I longed for, was for this film to probe its subject in the same way that Sontag probed hers. She was insightful and rigorous and original in her approach. The film is very solid but it is none of those things. The film is wonderful in its biographical detail and in its creation of a sense of Sontag's milieu and some of her motivations. It is less successful in investigating her world of ideas, which was surely as important to her. I would have liked more analysis of what made Sontag's ideas so important, arresting and popular and less on her love affairs. Who did she love to read? Who influenced her? There is no focus on any time Sontag spent as a professor and how she fit into the academic world which seems like an unfortunate gap.
Despite this, Regarding Susan Sontag is solid, illuminating and entertaining. It is also stylish and the many visual devices and effects are well used to make this more cinematic. Although she was so famous in her own time, I am not sure that later generations are very familiar with Sontag and her work (I wasn't), so I hope this film will help to continue her legacy of thoughtful engagement.
Watch the trailer.
Oct 8 6:30 pm at SFU Woodwards
Oct 9 10:30 am at SFU Woodwards