Posts Tagged ‘Slavoj Zizek’

Different films are pitched towards different audiences, obviously; and some audiences are narrower than others. Presently bothering the cinema-going audience are early runners from the ‘we’d quite like to win an award’ constituency pitching for a sophisticated mainstream audience, various genre movies gunning for their usual crowds, and a few holdovers from the summer season which nobody has much faith in, and which will be very grateful for the custom of anyone who bothers to turn up.

And then there are films which are so super-specialised in their demographic that any cinema release they get is basically an advertising stunt to generate publicity for the fact they are simultaneously available on-line. This kind of tactic apparently worked quite well for A Field in England earlier this year (a film I was sorry to miss) and no doubt it will also pay some sort of dividend for its latest adopter, Sophie Fiennes’ A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.


Hello to everyone who’s been googling ‘perversion’ and has ended up here in a terrible search-engine-related mishap. This page is probably not for you, but thanks for stopping by anyway. Fiennes’ movie is short on perverts but long on ideology; in fact, it’s really about nothing else.

This is not your traditional narrative movie. Nor is it really a documentary in the way the term is generally understood. It is essentially an illustrated lecture by the Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst and Marxist Slavoj Zizek, concerning the nature of ideology and its place in our lives. The illustrations take the form of excerpts from various movies, some obscure, others exceedingly well-known.

For instance, proceedings kick off with Zizek concerning himself with John Carpenter’s They Live, an inarguably subversive Hollywood movie about the conceptual underpinnings and power structures of modern life – we don’t get to see all of the famous six-minute fist fight which occurs midway through the film, but enough to get a flavour of it. Given They Live’s central conceit – that it’s impossible to recognise an illusion if it comprises the whole of your frame of reference – it’s easy to see its relevance to the topic.

However, from here Zizek heads off into the heart of The Sound of Music and particularly the Mother Superior’s song ‘Climb Every Mountain’, which for him is essentially about the institutional facilitation of sexual hedonism by the Catholic Church. (And I thought it was just about the uselessness of holding sing-songs as a method of fending off a fascist takeover.)

And so on, and so on – this is quite a long piece covering a lot of territory, and the films co-opted into it range from Jaws to The Fall of Moscow (a piece of Stalinist propaganda from 1949 I’d honestly never heard of). Most of the movie is made up of clips, although there are occasional excursions into news footage, and numerous appearances by Zizek himself. These are artfully done so he appears to be speaking from the set of whichever film he’s currently discussing (they never quite go the whole hog and Forrest Gump him into an actual clip), and this extends to matching the cinematography, and so on, too: for The Sound of Music section he’s in the Mother Superior’s study, dressed, rather implausibly, as a priest, For Triumph of the Will he’s in black and white on Hitler’s plane. Taste prevails, thankfully, when it comes to the section discussing The Last Temptation of Christ.

Zizek’s English isn’t quite perfect but it is extremely functional and his ideas are complex and challenging. If he has a central hypothesis he wants to communicate, then I’m not entirely sure what it is – though I must stress that this is more due to the sheer complexity of his arguments than the slightly stilted, heavily-accented nature of his speech, not to mention the fact that I saw this film while feeling a bit sleepy.

In general his thesis is more about the nature of ideology as a concept than the specifics of individual ideological systems – he seems to be arguing that they are all pretty much of a muchness anyway. His thoughts are clearly informed by his own Marxist beliefs and his psychoanalytical expertise – ideology is a set of values and strictures we feel compelled to adhere to, due to either fear of or respect for an entity he refers to as the Big Other, although whether this represents God, or public opinion, or tradition obviously varies between different systems of belief.

Different films are obviously the products of different ideologies and it’s interesting that Zizek can look at two films as superficially different as The Fall of Moscow and Titanic and see such fundamental similarities between them. (Zizek’s take on Titanic, by the way, is that it’s a classic fable concerning the socio-cultural exploitation of the proletariat by a moribund bourgeoisie, and that rather than destroying the central romantic relationship, the collision with the iceberg actually brings about its apotheosis. Well, duh.) In the end, it’s the individual moments of incisive, unorthodox analysis like this that I remember from the film, rather than its overall theme.

This is intellectual meat served pretty rare and the words ‘this film isn’t for everyone’ never had a more appropriate subject. Quite what Sophie Fiennes’ role in the project was, beyond making sure the backgrounds of Zizek’s contributions match whatever film he’s supposed to be appearing in, I’m not quite sure, because this comes across very much as a one-man show and vehicle for Slavoj Zizek and his ideas. It’s really stretching a point to call this a film – even calling it a meta-film, a film about films, is questionable. Whatever it is, it’s a piece of work about the philosophical and political foundations of how we view society and the world, and what we can learn about these things from watching movies. If you’re interested in philosophy and the cinema, then this is a film for you. If neither of the foregoing apply, run a mile. But I rather enjoyed it.

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