The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

A pop culture renegade, Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek is known for his idiosyncratic mix of politics, media and philosophy. Criticized by peers for a lack of intellectual consistency (and an obvious penchant for the limelight), his fans argue that Zizek's contradictions have a purpose: to challenge the reader's fealty to a single writer. Academics found new disdain for Zizek after his recent contributions to an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue. The philosopher defended his choice, saying it was preferable to kissing ass in order to recieve tenure at a university. He's like a male version of Camille Paglia with a thick Slavic accent.

Despite its salacious title, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, Zizek's 2 1/2-hour exploration of the psychology behind popular cinema, hopes to titillate your mind rather than your nether regions. Bringing his trademark pop philosophy to motion pictures, Zizek argues that film is the "ultimate pervert's art" because it "doesn't give you what you desire, it tells you how to desire."

Dissecting everything from Charlie Chaplin to The Exorcist, Zizek dwells on our collective need for fantasy and why audiences are so deeply affected by stories they know to be fake. Divided into three segments, he uses film as a reflection of the subconscious; how fantasy and reality struggle for control of our thoughts. It's all very Freudian and Zizek's accent is tailor-made for the material. His ideas are hardly novel, but it's a dense and clever dissection and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Director Sophie Fiennes' inventive backdrops no doubt fuel much of Zizek's zeal. Placed on locations and set re-creations from the movies he's discussing, the philosopher appears to theorize from within the films themselves. Whether it's Dorothy's apartment in Blue Velvet, on a row boat on Bodega Bay (The Birds) or in the basement of Norman Bates' house, the scenes help ground Zizek's long-winded observations.

The canon of films he presents are culled from a long list of fan favorites. The Matrix, Fight Club, Dr. Strangelove, Alien, The Conversation and The Wizard Of Oz are all repeatedly referenced and the clips are fun to reconsider within the context of Zizek's observations. In particular, a deconstruction of Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx as examples of the superego, ego and id is an amusing high point.

Still, for all Fiennes' visual cleverness and Zizek's bravado, it doesn't take a genius to see the Freudian subtexts in the work of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. The two directors dominate much of Pervert's Guide, and even a community college adjunct could wax poetic about their preoccupations with overbearing parental figures and sexual repression. Given the long list of more interesting filmmakers to explore — Cronenberg, Fellini, Polanski and Wilder (to name just a few) — one can't help but wish that Zizek focused on less predictable fare.

There's no getting around the fact The Pervert's Guide To Cinema is really just a tricked-out college lecture (Al Gore, what have you wrought?). Still, as a psychoanalytical look at movie history, it's brisk, occasionally thought-provoking and frequently entertaining. And the carefully chosen film clips are divine.


2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Art Gallery of Windsor, 401 Riverside Dr. W., Windsor; 519-977-0013.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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