The Pervert's Guide to Cinema



ICA Projects

NEW YORK -- One wouldn't think that an overweight, unkempt and thickly accented philosopher would be movie star material. But such is the case with Slavoj Zizek, already the subject of two acclaimed documentaries. The affable Slovenian now stars in the endlessly fascinating "The Pervert's Guide to Cinema." Not nearly as salacious as its provocative title would imply, the film, originally made as a three-part series for British television, is a lecture -- accompanied by copious film clips -- dealing with the psychological subtexts of classic motion pictures.

Directed by Sophie Fiennes, the film, which recently enjoyed a weeklong run at New York's Museum of Modern Art, is not nearly as dry as it might sound. Yes, Zizek's ideas can be at times long-winded and academic. But they also are frequently amusing and provocative, whether using Norman Bates' multilevel house in "Psycho" and the Marx Brothers to illustrate Freud's theories about the superego, ego and id or the films of David Lynch to explore, well, pretty much every aspect of human sexuality.

What helps the film rise above the level of a photographed college lecture is the director's inventive and playful presentation. Using reconstructions of sets from the films under discussion, Zizek is seen in such situations as sitting across from Morpheus in "The Matrix," hanging out in the Bates basement and lounging on the couch from "Blue Velvet." He also delivers his comments from several actual film locations, including California's Bodega Bay ("The Birds") and a run-down San Francisco hotel ("The Conversation").

Running 2 1/2 hours, the film admittedly is rather difficult to absorb in a theatrical setting. It will best be appreciated on video, where its often dense ideas can be digested in a more leisurely and immersive fashion.