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The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema: Parts 1,2,3 (18)

The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema: Parts 1,2,3 (18)

Dir: Sophie Fiennes, 2006, UK, 150 mins
Cast: Slavoj Zizek

Director and producer Sophie Fiennes’ three part documentary stars the engagingly animated Slovenian psychoanalyst and philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. Characterised by nervous energy and boisterous gesticulation he plays both guide and performer in scenes that take place on replica film sets and at original locations. Analysing clips from over 40 films Zizek discusses how cinema’s subliminal language reveals truths about reality itself due to the proximity of the dimensions of the mind and those of the filmic experience.

Due to its tri-partite arrangement, it is apparent that The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema has been packaged for television. However, if not in terms of structure then certainly in terms of topic and scope it deserves to be experienced on the big screen. After all, the effect on the spectator of the cinematic experience is central to Zizek’s enquiry. Yet his discussion – delivered in a spontaneous manner that owes more to academic inspiration than to formal scripting – seems to meander. Fundamentally, given the complexity and vastness of the subject at hand there are no titles allotted to each Part, only a simple numerical identity. Furthermore, Zizek's flurries of insight produce a swamp of information, his delivery therefore resembling a stream of consciousness. Although it is certainly engaging to experience the immediacy of improvised outpourings of an authoritative mind, more attention to form – specifically editing – would have clarified the articulation of the content.

Having said that, Zizek and Fiennes are to be commended on their collaboration, for it is refreshing to see a visual engagement – as opposed to a written one – of psychoanalytical film theory. Within their visual approach is the highly original device of having Zizek become protagonist as well as presenter in scenes specially recreated. By following in Gene Hackman’s footsteps in the original hotel room of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) and ostensibly appearing in the bedroom scene of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) Zizek creates a unique interplay between the dialectic and the clip. This makes for an inspired analytical format that places the spectator at the very heart of both the discussion and the film clip being discussed.

Zizek never overuses psychoanalytical jargon and his delivery is personal but infused with a welcome humour. Fiennes and her editor, Ethel Shepherd, have evidently decided to keep some shots that, in a more aggressively academic production, would have surely found their way onto the cutting room floor. One comical scene has Zizek attempting to master a motorboat in a recreated scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Comic flourishes such as this and Zizek’s own bravura ‘performance’ result in an entertaining exposé of the psychological effects of cinema despite an underlying lack of structural cohesion.

Yet one question remains: if the documentary’s title is more suited to provocatively catch the eye than it is to allude to the subject matter, who is the eponymous pervert – the spectator or Zizek himself?

Matt Supersad

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