The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (Sophie Fiennes) 56 - Sophie Fiennes’ The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema features the entertaining pontifications of pop philosopher Slavoj Zizek as applied to a slew of film favorites. Less overtly sexual and decidedly more thoughtful than its salacious title might imply, Fiennes’ film takes a decidedly psychoanalytical approach to understanding cinema. Zizek’s Slovenian accent seems perfect for delivering his Freudian interpretations, and he’s thankfully not just presented as a talking head. Rather, he’s shot in poses that almost integrate him into the films that he’s discussing, seemingly theorizing from within the films themselves. Those theories are hardly radical, but they are well organized, and more often than not intriguing. Zizek discusses cinema as a form of conditional belief. He tries to understand why we will ourselves to believe and be affected by the flickering images on the movie screen. Repression and transgression are the key themes of the films that he studies. In talking about this personal canon, Zizek astutely discusses the complicity on the part of the audience, the filmmakers who encode things to express what cannot be otherwise spoken about, and the fictionalized characters, who are almost inevitably cross over into a nether region of the subconscious. Fiennes uses a Rorschach blotch for some of her scene transitions, and Zizek tries to turn every scene that he examines into an opportunity to examine our collective subconscious.
Guide’s biggest failing, though, is that practically every film included in its line-up could be considered a favorite. I couldn’t help but wish there were a few obscure films being discussed. Zizek sticks mostly to films that have already had volumes written about them. Hitchcock or Lynch’s films provide subject matter for examining this subject matter, but they’re also perfectly obvious choices. By focusing specifically on great films he’s able to more concretely make his points, but it’s difficult to imagine many cinephiles who don’t already understand that Lynch is largely concerned with overbearing parental figures and that Hitchcock is obsessed with sexual repression. Zizek moves beyond those obvious classifications, to be sure, but I was rather shocked that out of the long list of films surveyed, I have only failed to see one (Russian musical Kubanskie Kazaki, for the record). While the accessibility of the films chosen might mean that this film can introduce neophytes to film theory, one can’t help but feel that Zizek could have dug a little deeper into the vaults.
Guide clocks in at about 2 1/2 hours, which is certainly not an insignificant amount of time, but it’s possible that it will leave you wishing for more when it’s done. Even if it might not be art on its own terms, this type of cinematic essay is an ideal form of film criticism, since it can actually show film grammar instead of merely describing it. Similar to Thom Anderson’s Los Angeles Plays Itself or Godard's Histoire(s) du cinema (the best I've seen in the genre), it is likely to broaden your understanding of the films it covers, or at least stir some fond memories of your favorites. Taken as a whole, Zizek’s work here justifies itself. Even though some of his analysis is so textbook as to feel like common knowledge, his choice in film clips to back up his assertions is impeccable. When he’s firing on all cylinders, such as when he examines a series of voyeuristic characters peering through cracks or when he turns his analytical powers on Psycho, he brings new life to the films he discusses.