Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema is a two and half hours documentary on psychoanalysis and cinema presented by the colourful and charismatic Slovenian philosopher and critic Slavoj Zizek. It is actually far more enjoyable than it seems and not only for film buffs, though if you are a Hitchcock or a David Lynch fan then it will help because more than half of the documentary is devoted to a discussion of their films. He also brings in Tarkovsky (Stalker, Solaris), Kieslowski (Blue), Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick), The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke), Persona (Bergman), Chaplin and The Matrix at many places to illustrate his arguments and hypotheses. He does give some plot details but I think he assumes that the viewers are familiar with the movies he is lecturing about.

I am not too familiar with Freud or psychoanalysis so I am not sure if I really understood what he is trying to say. I think he is arguing for "constructivism", the idea that reality is not "real" but rather constructed and cinematic fiction helps us understand how this reality is constructed in tune with our desires and psychic needs. He brings in similar theories about desire, sexuality, subjectivity and gender too. Those who are well read in these topics will really enjoy the documentary. Rest will just gape at Zizek and marvel at his personality and way of talking. He is one animated fellow. The way he speaks gives you an impression that his mind is racing fast with all the ideas and associations and his vocal chords are desperately trying to catch up. He garbles words, he moves his hands, leaves sentences incomplete, it is really very funny. (His accent is very funny too. He pronounces "phallus" as "faloos"!).

Another important feature of the documentary is that he himself travels to the actual locations where the movies that he is discussing were shot or to made-up replica sets. So we see him inside Dorothy's apartment from Blue Velvet, Club Silencio of Mulholland Dr, the room with the greenish light from Vertigo, the mother's cellar and the bathroom from Psycho and many other places. He goes to the Bodega bay where the heroine is first attacked by the birds in Hitchcock's the birds. He says while guiding the boat, "You know what I am thinking, I am thinking what Melanie is thinking. I am going to fuck Mitch." (He later says that birds are the maternal superego trying to prevent the sexual intercourse!)

He doesn't shy away from provocative or politically incorrect statements. He is gardening the lawn just like in the opening scene of Blue Velvet and he says pointing to the tulips (which are also in the opening scene):

My Relationship with tulips is inherently Lynchian. I think they are disgusting. Just imagine aren't these some kind of, whaddyacallit, vagina dentata, dental vagina, threatening to swallow you up. I think flowers are something inherently disgusting, what a horrible thing these flowers are! Basically it is an open invitation to all the insects and beasts to come and screw me. I think flowers should be forbidden to children.

And then this theory about sexuality... just before he gets to "the orgy scene" from Bergman's persona.
We men, at least in our phallogocentric mode (mood?) of sexuality, even when we are doing it with the real woman, we are effectively doing it with our fantasy, a woman is reduced to a masturbatory prop, woman arouses in so far as she enters our fantasy frame, with women it is different, the true enjoyment is not in doing it, but in telling about it afterwards, of course women do enjoy sex immediately but I hope I am permitted as a man to propose a daring hypothesis that may be while they are doing it they already incorporate this minimal narrative distance so that they are already observing themselves and narrativizing it.

There was also a very intriguing scene where he connects the silencio scene from Mulholland Dr. with the smile of Cheshire cat, Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and a similar scene from Fritz Lang's Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Some theory about "autonomous partial objects" and "death drive." It was very interesting.

Overall it is a fantastic documentary. It will help if you are a film buff with special interest in films with psycho-sexual themes (sexual repression, subconscious, fantasy, psychic breakdown etc). It is must see if you are enthusiastic about David Lynch, Hitchcock or Freud or all three.

This looks like a transcript of the film, but it covers only the first half. Still some fantastic photographs. Official website and trailers here. This looks like a good article too. I had earlier linked to a few youtube clips of zizek, which includes a couple from the movie too.


km said...

Did you find this docu on netflix?

Alok said...

nope, the neighbourhood library showed it. it was surprising because they generally show discovery channel stuff.

the dvd i think is available too. not sure about the region.

Jabberwock said...

Thanks for this!

tom said...

kind of feel sorry for the guy that he's lived so long and never figured out that people can get a lot of pleasure from giving each other pleasure ...

but he's a guy who likes to say outrageous things, so maybe he's jnot serious

The Great Ganesha said...

thanks for letting us know about this. great post.

anurag said...

the first link in the last para doesnt work.

Alok said...

corrected. thanks.