Slavoj Žižek returns to play yet more intellectual hopscotch with classic movies.
There’s the feeling that for this second miscellany of movie-based psychoanalytical postulations, far left-leaning Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek has chosen to fire his thought blunderbuss at vast barrels of cowering ideological fish. As with 2006’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, director Sophie Fiennes supplants Žižek into a custom-recreated tableau from the film or scene he’s discussing, which instantly signals that what we’re watching is not intended as hard philosophical inquiry, more playful conjecture.
He sports a priest’s cowl in a darkened cloister while talking about the erotic overtones of The Sound of Music. He lies on a camp cot in army surplus threads while suggesting that Taxi Driver is a film about suicide. There’s also an early digression on the psychological joys and questionable politics of the Kinder Egg, lest we didn’t believe trash culture was part of his wider intellectual remit.
All The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is really doing is offering a specific model for a fairly standard, politically-inclined form of film criticism. When Žižek reveals the central motif of class rivalry at the centre of James Cameron’s Titanic, he does so like he’s the first person to see it in this light. You wonder if, as a commentator, he’s formulating ideas without engaging in the lay critical conversation. He often refers to conversations he’s had with his philosopher pals, but there’s no sense that he’s reading what film critics are writing week in, week out.
It’s when he expounds on the world outside the film and thinks of alternate scenarios and conclusions that he’s at his most entertaining and original. He states, with some certainty, that had the Titanic never connected with an iceberg on that fateful night, the whirlwind romance between Jack and Rose would never have survived on dry land. His discourse is often highly personal, and he applauds Miloš Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball and Loves of a Blonde for having the guts to mock the working classes at a politically delicate juncture in Eastern European history.
And yet there appears to be very little cohesion to the film as a whole. Unlike comedian and commentator Rich Hall, whose TV documentaries on westerns and Southern cinema operate as personal essays livened with his acerbic sense of humour, this just feels like a bunch of clips that are hastily pulled to pieces by overblown and obtuse rhetoric. Plus, Žižek fails to offer a simple, direct definition of what he means by ideology at the beginning the film, so you just have to take as read that what he’s saying fits into his grand thesis.
Still, it’s something of a coup that despite its frantic vaulting between topics and subjects, the film remains constantly engaging and Žižek as a compere makes you believe that he’s not just some articulate crank who’s just making all this up on the spot.
The Pervert's Guide to Ideology is available on DVD from Monday 14 October.
Some more strips of celluloid are placed under Žižek’s wonky microscope.
All over the shop, but never less than compelling, if rarely that surprising.
The instant take-aways are negligible, but going back for a second sweep is not entirely out of the question.