FilmJuice have my review of Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Žižek’s lecture/documentary film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.
This film was a real disappointment for me. I remember discovering The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema when it screened on BBC4 and buying the DVD directly from the production company as it hadn’t quite managed to land a mainstream distribution deal. I love the visual style, I loved the choice of films it discussed and I loved the way in which Žižek took incredibly complex readings and compressed them down into diamonds of insight. I didn’t necessarily buy all of Žižek’s interpretations but criticism is a creative endeavour in which being boring is a far greater crime than being wrong. In that series, Žižek was never boring and so the series remains a fantastic piece of TV. Unfortunately The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is a far less attractive prospect for a number of reasons.
The first major problem with this film is that Fiennes has failed to reign in Žižek. Pervert’s Guide to Cinema worked by providing its resident critic with a very clear framework: He could talk about whatever the fuck it was that sprang to mind but each of his flights of fancy had to begin and end with the text of a particular film. This not only forced Žižek to be concise in his opinions, it also meant that if the audience ever fell of the train of thought, they could re-orient themselves by using their knowledge of a particular cinematic text. Sadly, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology suffers from the same problem that many of Žižek’s lectures (and now books) suffer from: a complete lack of intellectual discipline and a woeful tendency towards self-indulgence. As I explain in my review:
it is never entirely clear how Žižek’s opinions about the 2011 London riots relate to his opinions about Stalin’s efforts to position himself at the centre of not just Russian politics but Russian private lives as well. The more Fiennes indulges Žižek’s wandering attention span, the more insubstantial and hollow his ideas come to seem, something that is particularly evident in the slightly embarrassing attempt to conclude the film with something resembling a plan of action or a unified worldview.
In other words, this film is full of entertaining ideas… but none of those ideas ever amount to anything like a sustained intellectual critique. By failing to impose any limits on what Žižek couldn’t say, Fiennes has insured that he says nothing at all. In addition to these structural problems, the film also suffers from the decision to chase a cinematic release rather than the much longer TV-friendly running time enjoyed by the original series. The result is a lecture that tackles a much larger topic in much less time and with much less intellectual coherence. To paraphase Woody Allen: So much intellectual incoherence… and in such a small portion too!