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The Perverts Guide to Cinema

Sophie Fiennes’ film homage to Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek (Photo) uncovers dark secrets from the depths of psychonalysis and reveals how cinema makes us believe we can handle the truth.

Auteur Sophie Fiennes has called on Zizek‘s fantasies for a psychoanalystic insight on cinema. The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is Zizek‘s questioning of cinema through psychoanalysis. He invites the viewer to ponder what cinema reveals about ourselves. Zizek’s aptitude lies precisely in that he explains his theoretical analysis through popular culture, especially cinema. His book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock), is exemplary of this.

Staying faithful to his provocative style, Zizek opens his guide to cinema with the announcement: “cinema is the ultimate perverted art: it does not give you what you desire, it tells you how to desire”. Zizek then starts his expedition into cinematographic country, unveiling what Hitchcock, Lynch, Chaplin, Tarkovsky, Kubrick and others reveal of our dark relationship to the unconscious, the relationship between fantasy and reality etc.. Regarding sexuality, for example, Zizek asks the question as to why we need fantasy in order to be sexually excited. Before that he, interprets Melanie’s fantasy from The Birds. While driving the boat in Bodega bay the moment she’s about to reach Mitch, she says: “I want to fuck Mitch.” In this scene, Zizek is filmed as if he were Melanie, in the same position and look.

Indeed, Zizek, while lecturing on his favourite movies, occupies their set. Take another example, when he explains a scene from Fight Club, where the narrator (Edward Norton) keeps kicking himself. Zizek explains in detail that this is not the expression of perverted masochism, but that in order to resist one’s enemies, one first must fight against oneself and ones slavery condition and so on…

Nothing so perverse at the end - except “Zizek’s own particular brand of obscene enjoyment”. After having watched The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, one will never again see cinema with the same passive delectation. Viewer passivity comes into question. Cinema, because of its fictional essence and the distance of the screen, is safe: it reflects our anxieties and desires while “keeping it at a secure distance, domesticating it,” as Zizek says. His explanations of Lynch represent some of the strongest moments of this documentary. Lynch creates tension in crossing the line into terrain in which we feel insecure. The documentary ends with an appeal to comprehend cinema as an essential art in our reality. Great film-makers are crucial in that they allow us to confront dimensions of our reality that we are not yet ready to. Sophie Fiennes succeeds here in turning documentary into performance; the spectator is invited not merely to watch but to live the perverted art.

Author: Chloé Belloc

Interview Sophie Fiennes

It‘s a Bird, it‘s a Plane, it‘s... Slavoj Žižek

Aaron Schuster interviewed director Sophie Fiennes about her documentary The Pervert‘s Guide to Cinema, currently playing on the international film festival circuit.

AS: How did you develop the idea for this project, and what did you want to accomplish with it? Also: are you interested mainly in Zizek or in psychoanalysis and film theory more generally?

SF: It starts with the aim to better understand something that you feel drawn to... I don‘t know what I wanted to accomplish at the start, except that I wanted to go deeper into the chosen area and I wanted to confront an audience with it too and making a film allows for that. There is always a certain amount of risk. I am very interested in psychoanalysis. I think it holds the key to something that we need more than ever, if we are to get a grip on ourselves as a species. I don‘t read much film theory outside of Zizek (...). As a film maker, I really enjoy what Zizek has to say about films, for me it‘s all very practical, theory and philosophy in one. I don‘t find myself drawn to making the kind of film portrait of an artist or philosopher where they are put in a position to talk about themselves with some kind of pretence of objectivity. I prefer to make a document of them actually doing what they do.

AS: If I remember correctly, the movie ends with Zizek questioning whether cinema can face the ultimate truth of desire, or whether it obscures this truth with beautiful illusions. On the one hand, this comes close to the Nietzschean idea that “we have art so as not to die from the truth”; on the other, it also recalls Jack Nicholsons famous line from A Few Good Men: “you want the truth? You can t handle the truth!” Cinema seems split between unveiling the real and ideological obfuscation, a problem more pressing than ever. What can we expect from cinema today, and what do you think about the notion that art’s purpose is to reveal an unbearable truth so that it becomes (a little more) bearable?

SF: I like what you have said, and I agree about this tension within cinema itself. I don t think it can make the unbearable bearable. It is what it is…unbearable. And I think what is unbearable is anxiety itself: anxiety of guilt, meaningless, and finitude. But perhaps cinema allows us to believe we can handle ‘the truth’ – and so it helps deal with anxiety. It gives us ‘Dutch courage’ – a kind of fake belief in our capacity to bear things. That’s why it’s so enjoyable, like alcohol. Maybe we should be more humble and say this fake courage is the extent of our capacity to endure. We should not be ashamed, but like Beckett’s heroes, be ready to laugh at our misery and thus re lease ourselves from unbearable anxiety –through loss itself. I love what Zizek says about desire being the wound of reality. And so cinema puts us through a double blind test. It ‘plays with our desire’ and generates anxiety through this very action, which is why directors are God-like characters that bring about as much enjoyment as devastation

AS: “The only good woman is a dead woman” Discuss.

SF: Remember what was said prior to this; that womanly desire is threatening to men… Scottie (from Hitchcock’s Vertigo) erases Judy s identity and turns her into a fictional woman (who is dead but never actually existed), while Judy herself is hopelessly in love with Scottie, Yet she cannot show it and the only way she can have sex with him is in her imagination. The look on her face as she emerges from the bathroom is full of so much longing and anger; I think this look is far more shocking than what Slavoj has to say, that merely reveals this terrifying dimension of the brutality between the sexes. Its interesting how literal this image of a dead woman is in the film. If you think about the scene at the dress shop, where Judy is on the couch with Scot tie…She is not wearing a bra, her voluptuous breasts are heaving under green cashmere. Pinned to her chest is a broach of white flowers, so if flowers are some kind of symbol of womans sex, hers is out there for Scottie to see! But Scottie erases this in favour of the grey, male ‘executive-suit’ look and the maternal as-good as-grey hair, pulled back into a bun. I have a suspicion that this aspect of the theory falls on deaf ears to the male viewer of the Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. They hear this line of Zizek and miraculously erase the entire context – but they must wonder why the female audience enjoys this bit so much. Its a great description of the strangeness of men and how as a woman, we can make a choice to die or not to die. I think it’s a very provocative statement and rightly so.

AS: What‘s the reaction been to The Pervert‘s Guide so far?

SF: People really seem to enjoy it. This is very nice for me, because it‘s twenty hours of solid transcription that I wrestled with for many months... (...) It‘s amazing how much the whole line shifts, gets sharper, more threatening, or more exciting deepending on how you cut one word here or there... That‘s film making. It‘s as if Slavoj is Christ and I am Saint Paul.

This interview was first published in the Lithuanian art magazine Interviu – The Quarterly Conversation about Art.

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