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The Pervert's Guide To Cinema (REGION 0) (NTSC) [DVD]
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THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO CINEMA takes the viewer on an exhilarating ride through some of the greatest movies ever made. Serving as presenter and guide is the charismatic Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst. With his engaging and passionate approach to thinking, Zizek delves into the hidden language of cinema, uncovering what movies can tell us about ourselves.
"A virtuoso marriage of image and thought" -- Variety, September 8 2006
"Slavoj Zizek is a playful and provocative host... Fiennes wittily transposes Zizek into reproductions of scenes from films he discusses." -- The Times, October 5 2006
"Unruly thinker and critic Slavoj Zizek gives a highly entertaining and often brilliant tour of modern cinema... Tremendously exhilarating stuff." -- The Guardian, October 6 2006
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The key to understanding Zizek is that for him the fundamental insight of German idealism is that the truth of something is always outside it. So the truth of our experience lies outside ourselves, in the Symbolic and the Real, rather than being buried deep within us. We cannot look into our selves and find out who we truly are, because who we truly are is always elsewhere. Without going into the deeper reaches of Zizekian philosophy, it's essential when viewing this film to keep hold in your head of the following (which I have downloaded from the Wikipedia entry on Zizek) in which there are three levels of the Real:
- The "symbolic real": the signifier reduced to a meaningless formula
- The "real real": a horrific thing, that which conveys the sense of horror in horror films
- The "imaginary real": an unfathomable something that permeates things as a trace of the sublime.
Thus we have Zizek's brilliantly parodic and witty film the opening scene of David Lynch's film Blue Velvet with Zizek standing in for the father watering with a hose some tulips and pronouncing the flowers to be disgusting, vagina dentata, "Open to every bee or insect that comes along," A hilarious, wonderful laugh-out-loud moment - and there are many others.
But, of course, Zizek is entirely serious in other ways. When he speaks about the elemental forms that exist in super-ego, he is drawing closer to his central thesis that it is only in film that we can allow representations of ourselves that are transgressive, `abnormal', vindictive, alien to our over-socialised and rule-bound ego-self, to stand-for, to personify us. The mad father, (Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet for instance), most typifies this form, but there are many others: Tarkovsky's Stalker, Chaplin's Dictator, and so on.
My only advice to cinema lovers is - sit back and enjoy. Zizek dissects, worries, complains, pontificates, explicates throughout, speaking entirely without notes, on the deeper, darker meanings of films from Alien to The Red Shoes by way of Ivan The Terrible. It's entirely fabulous and lovely from beginning to end.
Slavoj Zizek is both a narrator and a subject of Sophie Fiennes' extraordinary new film, 'A Pervert's Guide to the Cinema'. Fiennes illustrates a feature-long lecture by Zizek, and does so in two ways: by providing exemplary film clips and putting Zizek on real (or reconstructed) locations from the movies he speaks about. It's always nice to watch neatly captioned scenes from great movies (although 'Revenge of the Sith' got here as well), but the main attraction of 'A Pervert's Guide...' is Zizek himself. What makes the movie such fun to watch is the unanswerable question one cannot help but ask over and over again: what is more outrageous, Zizek's views or Zizek's screen presence? In a documentary by Astra Taylor ('Zizek!', 2005), Slovenian philosopher at one point confessed his fear of being silent. Because, he claimed, he feels like he doesn't exist in the first place, the only way to make all other people believe he does is to talk constantly and feverishly. And talk he did, and how. Also 'A Pervert's Guide...' is dominated by his voice - delivering perfect English in most crazy way, and making some astonishing points about the cinema.
What are those? Well, for example he sees Chaplin's reluctance towards talking picture as a sign of an universal fear of voice itself (kind of alien force taking over the human being - think the ventriloquist segment of 'Dead of Night' ). He says that the perverse nature of cinema is to teach us to desire certain objects, not to provide us with them. He identifies Groucho Marx as super ego, Chico as ego and Harpo as id. He says a million other interesting things, and all the time we cannot take our eyes off him, so persuasive (and captivating) are his looks. At some point I couldn't help but stare at his thick, scruffy hair and wonder what kind of a brain lays stored underneath. Craving, of course, for more insights.
Most notable are Zizek's readings of Lynch and Hitchcock (which comes as no surprise since he has written about both of them). The cumulative effect of many brilliantly edited clips from their respective work made those parts of Zizek's lecture memorable and - unlike others - difficult to argue with, since he seems to really have gotten things right on these two directors. This doesn't go for his reading of Tarkovsky for example, upon whom he relentlessly imposes his own utterly materialistic view of reality, dismissing precisely what's so remarkable in all Tarkovsky (namely strong religious intuitions and images).
The question isn't whether Zizek is inspiring and brilliant, because he is; or whether Fiennes film is worth watching, because it is. The real question is rather: are Zizek views coherent? One smart observation after another make for an overwhelming intellectual ride, but after the whole thing is over, some doubts remain. For example: while considering 'Vertigo' (1958) Zizek states that what's hidden behind human face is a perfect void, which makes face itself only a facade: something of a deception in its own means. However, when in the final sequence we hear about the ever-shattering finale of 'City Lights' (1931) as being a portrait of one human being fully exposed to another, it's hard not to ask: what happened to the whole facade-thing...? Why should we grant Chaplin's face intrinsic value of the real thing and deprive Kim Novak's of this same privilege in two bold strokes...? Or maybe that incoherence might also be read in Lacan's terms? (The name of the notoriously "unreadable" French psychoanalyst is fundamental to Zizek's thought.) The film has all the virtues of a splendid two-and-a-half hours lecture: lots of ground are covered, many perspectives employed, even some first-rate wisecracks made (when Zizek travels on a Melanie Daniels' boat from 'The Birds'  and tries to think as she did, he comes up with: "I want to f**k Mitch!"). But it has also one shortcoming that isn't inherent to two-and-a-half hours lecture as such: it's almost obsessively digressive. Zizek's yarn about how far are we from the Real is as good as any other psychoanalytic yarn, but after some 80 minutes it becomes quite clear that one of Zizek's perverse pleasures is to ramble on and on, changing subjects constantly. Overall effect is this of being swept away by a giant, cool, fizzing wave: you're simultaneously taken by surprise, refreshed, in mortal danger and confused no end. As you finish watching, your head is brimming with ideas not of your own and you're already planning on re-watching some films - but you also share a sense of having survived a calamity.
The ultimate question is: did Zizek lost it? Or haven't we even came close to the real thing? Once cinephilia becomes punishable by imprisonment, we shall all meet in a one big cell and finally talk to each other (not having any movies around to turn our faces to). I dare you all: who will have enough guts to approach Zizek and defy him? My guess is that once you look into those eyes in real life, you become a believer.
Michal Oleszczyk, Krakow, Poland
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