Friday, March 6, 2009

Film review: ‘Pervert's Guide to the Cinema' brings Freud to movie house

Kyle MacLachlan and Isabella Rossellini
in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.


By Hap Erstein

If you have not yet discovered the tiny Emerging Cinemas in Lake Worth, the digitally projected repertory art film theater next door to the Lake Worth Playhouse, this is the month to do so.

Opening on Friday and playing for a week is the provocatively titled The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. The title is chiefly an attention-getter for this imaginatively illustrated lecture on film appreciation by Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek, who considers the act of moviegoing a form of voyeurism and, therefore, the preoccupation of perverts.

Hey, whatever it takes to draw an audience away from the multiplexes, though the demographic for this heady cinematic conversation is probably quite different from the crowds streaming to Watchmen or The Fanboys.


Zizek hops throughout the film catalog, stopping at such disparate gems as The Matrix, Vertigo, The Conversation and Eyes Wide Shut, turning them inside-out and offering a new way to look at their subterranean meanings.

Much of his time is spent with the canons of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch, two highly methodical and thoughtful directors who really might have embedded psychologically complex meanings in their films. Even if not, listening to what Zizek sees in such movies as The Birds, Psycho, Blue Velvet and Mullholland Drive is entertaining enough, even if his points sometimes get stretched beyond credibility.

Even less likely is Zizek’s Freudian analysis of The Marx Brothers. He suggests that they represent the three parts of a single personality — the super-ego (Groucho), ego (Chico) and id (Harpo). While such heady symbolism seems improbable coming from three barely formally educated vaudevillians, it does offer a new way to look at and appreciate their films.

The Pervert’s Guide is directed by Sophie Fiennes — sister of Ralph and Joseph — who literally places Zizek inside the films he discusses, thanks to the construction of classic set pieces and some editing trickery. For instance, the film puts Zizek in the San Francisco bathroom where Gene Hackman skulked in The Conversation, on a suburban lawn similar to the one used in Blue Velvet and down in the basement of the Bates Motel from Psycho.

The technique is a gimmick, but it does give what could have been a static lecture, broken only by film clips, some visual flair. (One wonders what Fiennes might have done for Al Gore and his An Inconvenient Truth.) Not everything Zizek has to say is profound, but enough is to get film lovers parsing his ideas for hours afterward.

And as is likely, if The Pervert’s Guide sparks an interest in seeing these films in their entirety, Emerging Cinemas can help with that, too -- at least with the Hitchcocks. It has gained access to the entire library of Universal Pictures and will be featuring numerous restored, high-definition versions of vault classics in the months ahead.

This week, in rotation with The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, is Rear Window (of particular interest for young viewers who enjoyed Disturbia but missed its derivation.) At the end of the month comes one of the master’s best, Vertigo.

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