The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema

01/07/2009 12:00 AM |

Film studios and philosophy faculties continually dissect the psychic sources of desire, but, sadly, rarely discuss their shared interests. Instead, their trajectories diverge: one towards insular academic obscurantism and condescension; the other busily peddling biggest-bang-for-your-bucks blockbusters. Appropriately, it’s taken Slavoj Zizek–contemporary philosophy’s last action hero–leaping from the ivory tower like Schwarzenegger from the magical movie screen to re-establish an entertaining, intellectual and accessible pop culture discourse.

A superstar academic a la Noam Chomsky or Michel Foucault, Zizek’s most vital work articulates convoluted psychoanalytic caveats via classical cinema and forgotten B-movies. In The Pervert’s Guide–whose title foreshadows our perverse investment in cinema two hours before Zizek pinpoints it–the Slovenian theorist unfolds concepts explored in prolific writings on psychoanalysis. For those already familiar with Zizek’s work, the guiltless pleasure of this documentary comes from seeing the physically awkward and perfectly accented professor interpret his favorite films amid flurries of supporting excerpts. For Zizek virgins, these charismatic musings on cinema’s constitutive role in our collective fantasy lives are endlessly thought-provoking.

Matching theories to movie clips and reconstituted sets like The Exorcist‘s possessed bedroom, Tippi Hedren’s Bodega Bay rowboat from The Birds or David Lynch’s favored red stage curtains, Zizek inserts himself into our screen fantasies in a knowing nod to cameo-happy Hitchcock. Amid myriad interrogations (like our fascination with film fathers, the most effective onscreen sensuality, celluloid toilets as portals to an obscene netherworld and our complicity in movie violence), Zizek’s presence in movieland resolves The Pervert’s Guide‘s greatest inquiry: “Can cinema still make people believe in cinema?” Yes, provided intelligent audiences continue these crucial discussions between philosophy and film.

Opens January 16 at IFC Center