Cultural studies is back in vogue, and we can thank Slovenian philosopher Slavoy Žižek for that. With a formidable body of written work from the last forty years, the jittering contrarian has tackled topics ranging from human rights to Hitchcock, all with his typical loquacious language and Lacanian standpoint. If it sounds like a mind-fuck, you’re not wrong. From the minuscule stuff I have read, I’ve hated it. To my surprise, Žižek’s impenetrable thoughts are rendered beautifully in Sophie Fiennes essay film documentary.
He may be pontificating over ideological theory, but Žižek is also a committed cinephile. Much like it’s predecessor The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, here he backs up his critical theory by penetrating the subtext of famous films: discussing the doomed relationship between the bourgeoise and the ruffian in James Cameron’s Titanic, commodification culture in John Carpenter’s They Live, and hedonism through Julie Andrew’s quasi-heathen nun in Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music. It’s remarkable how none of these examples are crow-barred in to Žižek’s thesis, they exist as counterparts of it, and trigger the audience to start to question the ideological significance of our own favourite movies.
One of the major criticisms for Žižek’s prolific written work is that it’s excessive, overwritten balderdash. Fiennes has an exceptional ability to turn the lofty cultural theorist into an engaging on-screen narrator, both cynical and self-mocking. Along with the extensive movie clips, Fiennes plonks Žižek directly in recreated film sets. Lying on Travis Bickle’s bed in Taxi Driver, or sitting in the Korova Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange, you’d think such a simple sight-gag would grow weary in such a long film, but it only gets funnier with every new, unlikely cameo.
Although it is one long, anthological study of ideology, it is obtainable, rational and readily understandable. It’s also prodigiously edited by Fiennes, with a more structure than Žižek’s written work. I wouldn’t recommend this long documentary to anyone other than committed cinephiles or critical thinkers. It’s wordy, it’s hip, it’s funny, it’s a Slavoy Žižek movie, what else did you expect?
Clocking in at 135 minutes, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology may work best as a DVD purchase, whereby you can watch episodically: stop, ponder and reflect on Žižek’s genius.
Weird one to give a star rating for – it’s more like orated literature than film. It doesn’t quite match the insurmountable majesty of their previous effort, but Fiennes and Žižek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is deserving of a rollickingly brilliant 5 out of 6. Infotainment at it’s best.
PS – I have it on good authority – from Sophie Fiennes herself – that Žižek wants to next tackle the mystify world of Opera. That guy!
CPH:DOX is one of the world’s biggest film festivals dedicated to documentary practice, with an interest in particularly experimental audio/visual work. You can follow all of my coverage here. For more info please visit the festival website.