MARCH/APRIL 2008

NOTES ON
THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO CINEMA

BE ADVISED: PART ONE OF THIS FILM HAS BEEN ADHERED
TO THE FIRST PAGE OF THIS MAGAZINE.

directed by Sophie Fiennes

Let’s get the title out of the way first. The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is no Mr. Skin–style reference, no Eon McKai manual. As its director, Sophie Fiennes (documentarian, sister of Ralph, ex-apprentice to Peter Greenaway), helpfully points out, the title is “something of a McGuffin,” designed to lure you into Slavoj Žižek’s web of psychoanalytic theories on the nature of movies, desire, and fantasy.

Žižek’s a Slovenian philosopher and pop-culture critic, a polymath and provocateur, a Lacanian-Hegelian with one foot in the academy, the other in the movie theater’s sticky aisles. He’s written on the current war, Christianity, cognitive science, and, of course, cinema. If Sartre was the emblematic thinker of the twentieth century, then Žižek, the shaggy showboat, might be the twenty-first’s.

“Cinema,” Žižek intones at the opening of Pervert’s Guide, “is the ultimate pervert’s art. It doesn’t give you what you desire, it tells you what to desire.” Whether or not you agree, Žižek and Fiennes will spend the next two and a half hours giving you the why and how and what-for, using clips from more than forty famous films—from City Lights to Dogville—as proof. It’s an illustrated lecture, but of a very particular kind, part of the same firmament that includes essay-films like Mark Rappaport’s From the Journals of Jean Seberg, Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, and the Finnegans Wake of the genre, Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma. Unlike those films, however, Pervert’s Guide puts its unruly, unkempt narrator on full display, plopping Žižek into the locations and sets (real or simulated) of the very movies he’s discussing. Here’s Žižek in Tippi Hedren’s boat on Bodega Bay. Here he is in Regan’s chilly bedroom in The Exorcist. And then again, in the hotel at the center of The Conversation, pointing out how waiting in the dark for a film to begin is like looking into a toilet bowl and waiting for shit to reappear, the return of the repressed. In front of the camera, at least, Žižek never chews on thoughts; they are already well digested and then regurgitated, in a steady, rapid stream of sibilance. He enunciates excessively. He pronounces film like my (non-Slovenian) father does, with two syllables: fill-um.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Jason McBride lives in Toronto and contributes to Toronto Life, Cinema Scope, the Globe and Mail, and other publications.

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