Radio interview with Sophie Fiennes
Movie Geeks United! (BlogTalkRadio), 6 May 2007
'One of the biggest pleasures of this film is discovering (or rediscovering) the pleasure of so many great films. Zizek's reading of, say, the sexual dimensions of "Vertigo" are chilling, but it still makes you want to rent it. "These are such iconic and extraordinary pieces of film. It's great to remember what makes them so thrilling".'
San Francisco Chronicle, 3 May 2007
'"What I love about Slavoj's way of looking at film is that he shows how important form is," says Fiennes, "Intuitively, when you watch films, you are enjoying that idiosyncratic language. And his explicit way of reading great moments is exhilarating for me."'
Time Out New York, 19-25 Apr 2007
'"When you write about films, it's so frustrating," [says Zizek] "this is a unique opportunity: You talk about something, and the spectator can see it. It's a little bit risky. I think many cinema theorists, not only me, subconsciously distort their descriptions so that it fits their theory. But here I am objectively tested."'
New York Times, 15 Apr 2007
Radio interview with Slavoj Zizek
Radio Open Source, 20 Mar 2007
Radio interview (Icelandic)
'The aim of The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, [says Sophie Fiennes] is to "document Zizek's thinking on cinema and perhaps the process of thinking itself as a performance, something caught, alive in its moment." If not a performance, this interview serves as "something caught" and hopefully remains "alive in its moment".'
GreenCine, 3 May 2007
'So refreshing... a brilliant and unhinged road-trip through some of the
greatest movies ever... targets the brain and the libido - it's a great date
The Independent, 10 Nov 2006
Discussion with Sophie Fiennes (Russian)
Cinefantom, 7 Nov 2006
"It's unashamedly about ideas.
Indeed, it is one of the very few films made
about cinema itself, and not just its performers and makers."
Gareth Evans, Time Out
'Zizek runs amok with analytic glee, like a renegade uni lecturer.'
Dazed & Confused
'[Slavoj Zizek] tells Tank about the filmic moments he believes
best illuminate our most frustrated desires.'
Srecko Horvat interviews Sophie Fiennes.
International Journal for Zizek Studies
Aaron Schuster interviews Sophie Fiennes
Contemporary Art Centre, March 2006
First, though there have been a number of films about Slavoj Zizek recently, yours is unique in that it focuses on a specific subject - cinema - rather than Zizek himself or the 'Zizek phenomenon', the fascination with an East European intellectual who explains the most abstruse Lacanian-Hegelian-Marxist theory through pop culture, dirty jokes, etc., and is highly popular even outside the university. Of course, 'The Pervert's Guide' can't help also being in a way about Zizek. In particular, what is 'perverted' about your film could be the way it explores the history of cinema via psychoanalysis, uncovering its dark libidinal undercurrents, and so on, but it could also be the film's pervert staging, that is, the way it inserts Zizek into the 'fantasy space' of several well known movies: gesticulating professor-like in the white space of the Matrix, taking James Stewart's place in the scene from Vertigo where Judy miraculously transforms into Madeleine, and, from The Birds, confessing 'I want to fuck Mitch' while motoring about in Bodega Bay Bay. Are you not indulging Zizek's obscene enjoyment?
The staging is quite pervert, I agree. As I am a filmmaker and not a priest, or even a journalist, I claim the space to indulge everyone's enjoyment and my own. I would be foolish to attempt to still the tsunami of Zizek's own particular brand of obscene enjoyment. So I try to use it to serve a function within the film. I think that what he says in the boat can liberate viewers out of any mental tightness and distance. Its was a totally spontaneous and uncensored moment; as people laugh their mouths are open and then they are ready for the next idea.
I imposed the staging and acting on Slavoj, and he didn't resist because I think its part of his way not to control this kind of situation, but I think he found it a challenge. You probably know his point about the Mexican soap actors who have ear pieces in which they are told by the director during shooting exactly what to do, what emotions to express etc. That was pretty much how we worked on the 'acting' bits. Once we had given him his sightline, I took the Fellini-like role of speaking all his 'motivations' - 'now Madeleine is appearing, its everything you have dreamed of! All you have strived for and she is there, coming towards you. Oh miracle! Miracle! The moment has finally come!' and so on.
I didn't know how it would all work, these things always develop organically. But we certainly had a lot of fun, even though he kept telling me that I was a sadist director and a real bitch and so on. I think by the third day the crew began to realize that to be insulted in such a way by Zizek was a true sign of endearment.
How did you develop the idea for this project, and what did you want to accomplish with it? Also: are you interested mainly in Zizek or in psychoanalysis and film theory more generally?
It starts with the aim to understand better something that you feel drawn to. I don't know exactly what I want to accomplish at the outset except that I want to go deeper into the chosen area and I want to confront an audience with it too. And making a film allows for that. There is always a certain amount of risk.
I am very interested in psychoanalysis. I think it holds the key to something that more than ever we need if we are to get a grip on ourselves as a species.
I don't read much film theory outside of Zizek, but I do find David Bordwell interesting in how he analyses film staging. As a film maker, I really enjoy what Zizek has to say about film and for me it is all very practical; theory and philosophy itself. I like Deleuze also.
I don't find myself drawn to making the kind of film portrait of an artist of philosopher where they are put in a position to talk about themselves with some kind of pretence of objectivity. I prefer to make a document of them actually doing what they do.
The psychoanalytic reading of cinema that your film proposes made me think that it would also be interesting to look at how cinema, throughout its history, has 'read' psychoanalysis, from the good old days of Fritz Lang (think of M and Secret Behind the Door) and Hitchcock (Spellbound, Marnie) to contemporary cinema (like Mystic River's treatment of trauma). Do you have any favorite 'psychoanalytic movies' or films that you were thinking of including in 'Pervert's Guide' but ultimately didn't?
Most of what I wanted to include is there - because all the films are living embodiments of the theories
I LOVE Secret Behind The Door! Definitely one of my favorites - but then most of Lang's Hollywood work is brilliant. I love Scarlet Street.
Haven't seen Mystic River.
Scarlet Street is a favorite of mine too, but almost too terrible to watch, sadism as its purest.
It seems these theories works best in fictional narratives when, like underwear they are worn on the inside, not the outside! If it's too explicit, it can become camp, which is enjoyable in its own way, but not so fascinating for me.
What's the reaction been to the 'Pervert's Guide' so far?
People really seem to enjoy it. This is very nice for me, because it's 20 hours of solid transcription which I've wrestled with for many months. I am excited by the full line of parts 1, 2 and 3 - which I am just completing - I like the overall shape of it. What I showed in Rotterdam was a work in progress. Its amazing how much the whole line shifts, gets sharper or more threatening or more exciting depending on how you cut one word here or there, that's film making. It's like Slavoj is Christ and I am St Paul!!!!
In the part dedicated to the significance of sound in cinema, and in particular to the voice as a traumatic 'partial object', Zizek talks at length about Lynch's Mulholland Drive (the scene at Club Silentio where the singing voice uncannily 'outlives' the body), but I was a little disappointed that there was no discussion of Dune. I know it's an odd pick, but it's my favourite Lynch film, unfairly dismissed in my mind, and one that specifically thematizes the voice as a lethal foreign body.
I know Zizek loves Dune and I agree that it has this dimension, but it didn't come up in terms of voice - although it could have.
'The only good woman is a dead woman.' Discuss.
Remember what was said prior to this; that it is woman's desire that is threatening to the man. Scottie has to erase Judy's very identity and turn her into the fictional woman (who is dead but actually never existed) while Judy herself is hopelessly in love with Scottie, but cannot show it and the only way she can have sex with him is to submit herself to his fantasy. So the look on her face as she emerges from the bathroom is full of so much longing and anger, I think this look is far more shocking than what Slavoj has to say, and what Slavoj has to say just reveals this terrifying dimension of the brutality between the sexes.
Its interesting how literal this image of a dead woman is in the film. If you think about the scene at the dress shop where Judy is on the couch with Scottie. She is not wearing a bra, her voluptuous breasts are heaving under fine, green cashmere and pinned to her chest is a broach of white flowers, so if flowers are some kind of symbol of a woman's sex, hers is out there for Scottie's gaze! But all of this is erased by Scottie in favour of the grey, male 'executive-suit' look and the maternal as-good-as-grey hair, pulled back into a bun.
I have a suspicion that this aspect of the theory falls on deaf ears to the male viewers of The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. They just hear this line of Zizek and miraculously erase the whole context in which it is posited - but they must wonder why the female audience is enjoying this part so much. It's a great clue to the strangeness of men, and how as woman we can make a choice to die or not to die.
I think it's a very provocative statement and rightly so.
At one point in the film, Zizek speaks about anxiety, and the idea that 'anxiety is the one affect that does not deceive', a thesis that he attributes to Freud but actually comes from Lacan (Freud said that all affects are convertible to anxiety). Also, when Zizek compares Harpo Marx to the Freudian id - a mixture of total innocence and devilish intensity - this comes straight out of Lacan. Did you make the decision not to mention Lacan in order to make the film accessible to a broader audience?
I have not read Lacan and Freud closely enough to compare and respond properly. I did attend a lecture recently on Freud's writing on anxiety and I thought I could see the idea there already in Freud's writing, I will ask this lecturer who is a Lacanian.
Of course Zizek is a 'Lacanian', and very often he is using the phrase 'psychoanalysis' - which I think means Lacan primarily but I think one can also think of Freud as a turning point in thinking out of which a great richness was born and I want to prioritize the ideas themselves and put them in a present tense, as far as possible.
Film is a very different medium to prose writing. Footnotes are hard due to the limits of screen time. I didn't deliberately cut out Lacan's name - but I did not want to get bogged down in giving a history of psychoanalysis, which would have been a different film.
If I remember correctly, the movie ends with Zizek questioning whether cinema can face the ultimate truth of desire, or whether it does not necessarily obscure this truth with beautiful illusions. On the one hand, this comes close to the Nietzschean idea that 'we have art so as not to die from the truth'; on the other, it also recalls Jack Nicholson's famous line from A Few Good Men: 'You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!' Cinema seems split between unveiling the real and ideological obfuscation, a problem that is more pressing than ever. What can we expect from cinema today, and what do you think about the notion that art's purpose is to reveal an unbearable truth in such a way that it becomes (a little more) bearable?
I like what you have said, and I agree about this tension within cinema itself. I don't think it can make the unbearable bearable. It is what it is unbearable. And I think what is unbearable is anxiety itself; anxiety of guilt, meaninglessness and finitude.
But perhaps cinema allows us to believe we can handle 'the truth' - and so it helps deal with anxiety. It gives us 'Dutch courage' - a kind of fake belief in our capacity to bear things. That's why its so enjoyable, like alcohol. And maybe we should be more humble and say this fake courage is the extent of our capacity to endure. We should not be ashamed, but like Beckett's heroes - be ready to laugh at our misery and this way release our selves from this unbearable anxiety - through loss itself.
I love what Slavoj says about desire being the wound of reality. And so cinema puts us in a double-bind. It 'plays with our desire' and generates anxiety through this very action. Which is why directors are God-like characters who bring about as much enjoyment as devastation.
What are some of the best titbits that ended up on the cutting room floor? What would be the extras in the DVD edition?
I really tried to put everything that mattered in - which is why although I was commissioned to make one 50 minute film - I've made three and put them altogether into a two and half hour feature.
There were many great moments and some very funny ones too. There is more about sound that I would have liked to go into and about the human face as the ultimate lie, and there was some stuff about cinema and passivity, but it didn't reach any end point, it was more the starting of an idea, but what I liked about it was this point about being able to open yourself up to a film - and get away from this need to 'interact' with everything.
I would like to make a menu of shorts - some very short - like playing cards that you access in a random way - so you never know what line of theory will be constructed.
Something that was funny was when the tapes were transcribed into written text by transcribing service, words like 'impotence' was typed up as 'importance' and Lacan was typed up as 'Lacon' (con meaning a trick) and when in Blue Velvet Denis Hopper says 'baby wants to fuck', this came out as 'baby want to fart' and 'death' became 'that'.
How does 'Pervert's Guide' fit in with your other work? Any new projects coming up?
In terms of form it's a departure - but its part of an ongoing interest in language and meaning - and performance.
I am making a film with Grace Jones (a woman who refuses to die, which is perhaps why she inspires such fear in the hearts of men! I also have some fictional projects - which will be a challenging departure for me - and I am discussing a project on opera with Zizek.