Fiennes - 24 October 2013 - THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY


United Kingdom 2012
Directed by Sophie Fiennes
Running time: 136 minutes

I became aware of Slavoj Žižek sometime after the popular zenith of Occupy. I was living in San Francisco. It’s a productive, modern city. Perhaps capitalism didn’t count on peninsular deployment. You can tell it improvised. (In fact, as Žižek might tell you, capitalism is nothing but a series of catastrophes and improvisations.) Industry spreads South. Hop the 101 and there’s YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, Netflix. Any further South and you’re in Monterey Bay. It’s not enough to see capitalism’s destruction, one must see its anti-production – the excrement which accompanies its phones and pharmacies. It creates yards of abandoned 747s in the Mojave, “stripped of their substantial content.” Pure useless object. And, for now, we have places to put this junk. Out of sight, out of mind.

But in those seven miles squared that make up the city proper, every color of the social spectrum collides. If THEY LIVE (Carpenter, 88) had been set there during the dotcom boom-bust-boom, I’m not sure John Nada’s sunglasses would’ve been strong enough. The inherent tensions are writ so plain and in such proximity. The homeless aren’t ignored or cursed at, they’re part of the neighborhood. The obscenely rich wear jeans and sneakers and eat $4 Banh Mi sandwiches in the Tenderloin. Once, when I was walking home from work, crowds of well-meaning electric-haired hedonists were swelling for Love Fest, an outdoor rave held every year in The Heart of the City. A homeless woman, dress hoisted, dragged her ass on the sidewalk leaving a shit stain behind her for lack of toilet paper. She didn’t seem troubled. The house music droned and I continued home.

All this is not to lay a guilt trip. It’s to sketch an image of the paradoxical nature of the highest possibilities of capitalist production. It’s heavy stuff sometimes, but that’s where Žižek shines. He’s a kind of manic prankster philosopher – always worried that if he stops talking, his listeners will stop listening. And nobody tells a dirty joke in a Slovene accent quite like he does. He’ll tell you he likes Hollywood cinema, Christianity and Rammstein. He’s been eager to publish his take on everything from The Wire to ZERO DARK THIRTY (Bigelow, 12) to Psy’s Gangnam Style. He loves Marx, Hegel, Lacan and Wagner. One wonders if he’s entirely performative and if that fact matters.

Žižek is on record as having not seen tonight’s film, because he can’t stand the sight of himself. Neither did he see THE PERVERT’S GUIDE TO CINEMA (2006), his previous collaboration with director Sophie Fiennes. It’s clear that Fiennes is conversant in the theorist’s work. Following Žižek online, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of anecdotes and punchy comebacks to accepted wisdom. So the elegant transitions Fiennes has delivered here should not be undervalued. The film is chock-full of subtle juxtapositions and inside jokes that nip at our attention: Žižek waxes prosaic on the “basic insight of psychology,” as we roam the austere chapel from THE SOUND OF MUSIC (Wise, 1965); he drinks a Coke (slogan: “It’s the real thing.”) not on a movie set, but in the desert (presumably The Desert of the Real, from the title of his 2002 book); sacred chamber music backs Žižek’s Marxist dissection of commodities and their transcendental content; Fiennes returns Žižek to Travis Bickle’s urban bunker from TAXI DRIVER (Scorsese, 76) after he finishes discussing another DeNiro role in BRAZIL (Gilliam, 85). As she repositions him in locales from earlier in the film, the montage takes a pyramidal shape, broadening its scope sequence by sequence. When Žižek comments on the vampiric nature of the Rose character in TITANIC (Cameron 97), Fiennes includes a memorable cross-dissolve between Kate Winslet’s eye and Gloria Stuart’s eye – from young Rose to old Rose – and the tonal impact of the transition is hideously rewritten. In my estimation, a world with more of this kind of perversion would be a better one.

24 October 2013