Regarding Susan Sontag (2014)

Regarding Susan Sontag
Director: Nancy D. Kates
Writer: Nancy D. Kates, John Haptas
Narrated by: Patricia Clarkson
Part of: identities Festival
Seen on: 14.6.2015

Susan Sontag was a writer, philosopher, film maker and political activist. In this documentary, they take a look at the woman behind the work and who Susan Sontag was in her private life, rather than her public work.

Susan Sontag is an interesting woman and makes for an interesting topic for a documentary. Nevertheless I’m a little uneasy with the focus on her private life instead of her work.


It seems to be universally known, at least in feminist studies, that the private is always political, too. You can’t just separate one from the other. Does that mean that every person’s private life can and should be as much subject of a documentary as their public life? Does that mean that it is as much of public interest to look at who Sontag slept with as it is what she wrote about sexuality? I think that if you continue that line of thought, you have to arrive at the conclusion that a distinction between private and political in itself doesn’t make much sense – and so a film that focuses only on one and leaves out the other will always feel lopsided and uneven.

And that’s the case with Regarding Susan Sontag: it’s not per se that I minded that we heard about her private life. And they didn’t leave out her professional life entirely. But it did feel unbalanced to me. I wanted more of her writing, of her professional persona, especially because she wrote well and about interesting things.

RegardingSusanSontag1Although that wasn’t the only thing I didn’t like that much about the documentary. There was also the frankly disruptive and annoying soundtrack that was uncomfortable to my ears to say the least. And there was the fact that Sontag, despite the fact that she had relationships with both men and women, was never called a bisexual by the documentary. I do subscribe to the notion that people should only be called the labels that they apply to themselves and it appears that Sontag never refered to herself as bi. But in a culture of bisexual erasure, it would have been nice to get a teeny-tiny comment on that.

Although there were these stumbling stones, there was a lot of thoughtprovoking stuff in the film as well as rather humorous moments. I’m far from hating the film, but in the end it never rises much above just okay.

RegardingSusanSontag2Summarizing: Still worth watching.

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