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The Pervertís Guide to Cinema (Sophie Fiennes, 2006)


    Sophie Fiennesí The Pervertís 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, Fiennesí film takes a decidedly psychoanalytical approach to understanding cinema. Zizekís Slovenian accent seems perfect for delivering his Freudian interpretations, and heís thankfully not just presented as a talking head. Rather, heís shot in poses that almost integrate him into the films that heís 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.


    Guideís biggest failing, though, is that practically every film included in its line-up could be considered a favorite. I couldnít 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 Lynchís films provide subject matter for examining this subject matter, but theyíre also perfectly obvious choices. By focusing specifically on great films heís able to more concretely make his points, but itís difficult to imagine many cinephiles who donít 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 canít 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 itís possible that it will leave you wishing for more when itís 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 Andersonís 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, Zizekís 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 heís 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.



Jeremy Heilman 



*For the record, the list of films covered is:

 Alice in Wonderland (1951)


Alien Resurrection

The Birds

Blue Velvet

City Lights

The Conversation

Dead of Night

Dr. Strangelove


Duck Soup


The Exorcist

Eyes Wide Shut

Fight Club


The Great Dictator

Ivan the Terrible: Part 2

Kubanskie Kazaki

Lost Highway

The Matrix

Monkey Business (1931)

Mulholland Dr.

North By Northwest


The Piano Teacher

Plutoís Judgment Day

Possessed (1931)


Rear Window

The Red Shoes


Solaris (1972)


Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The Ten Commandments (1956)

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Three Colors: Blue

To Catch a Thief


Wild at Heart

The Wizard of Oz (1939)