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Pervert’s Guide To Cinema, The - interview

Popcorn and Brecht

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Miles Fielder gets a very idiosyncratic guide to the movies from cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek.

‘You enjoy a film immediately, naively, but theorising about films spoils enjoyment. I violently disagree with that,’ says outspoken and influential Slovenian philosopher and film lover Slavoj Zizek (pictured). ‘If anything I think it’s the opposite.’

Zizek presents a compelling case in favour of film theory in his three-part filmed essay The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. It’s a collaboration with documentary filmmaker Sophie Fiennes (Hoover Street Revival) in which Zizek delivers Freudian readings of classic and contemporary Hollywood films from Chaplin to Hitchcock to Lynch. That might sound stuffy, but The Pervert’s Guide is enormously enjoyable, partly because Zizek is wonderfully eccentric and partly because Fiennes has not only illustrated his theories with some great film clips, she’s also recreated key scenes from the films and inserted her subject into them. Thus, for example, Zizek’s analysis of The Birds takes place on a boat bobbing up and down on Bodega Bay.

‘It was Sophie’s idea,’ Zizek says modestly. ‘We just talked about it generally then I simply copied out different fragments from my books that I thought relevant. Sophie picked out what she thought would be of interest. Based on that we improvised in front of the camera. The idea was a Brechtian one. It’s as if the movie starts to comment on itself.’

After digressing endlessly on his theories of Perverted Cinema, Zizek adds with a laugh, ‘I like this obscene idea. Sophie and me both think that the only truly human contact is in dirty, tasteless, politically incorrect, scatological jokes.’ One example of that is the reconstruction of the toilet bowl eye view shot in Francis Ford Coppola’s surveillance thriller The Conversation. Unlike the original shot with Gene Hackman peering into the water, Zizek and Fiennes’ bowl isn’t empty.

Zizek says, ‘People have said to me, “I think your theories are abstract crap, but when I saw them in the film it works.” Paradoxically, one can really enjoy these films only through a little bit of a theory. The idea is to make people think a little bit, so that the film loses its innocence without spoiling your pleasure. I am a Brechtian who believes that dialectical theory and pleasure are not opposed.’

The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema is at GFT, Glasgow from Fri 24-Sun 26 Nov only.

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