Springtime for Zizek


It’s not exactly like being the heavyweight champion of the world, but for my money at least, Slavoj Zizek is the undisputed spritz master of international cinema studies. Zizek, who has also lately been something of a documentary film star, will be seen to splendid effect this season in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema— a two-and-a-half-hour illustrated lecture directed by Sophie Fiennes having its local premiere with a weeklong run at the Museum of Modern Art in April.

Nothing if not a polymath, Zizek has written on Communism, Christianity, and the “obscene object of postmodernity.” His thick, sibilant accent and rapid-fire rant unavoidably reminiscent of Borat Sagdiyev, Slovenia’s leading Hegelian-Lacanian theorist holds forth in Pervert’s Guide on the nature of cinematic fantasy. As Zizek characterizes The Birds as a movie in which reality is torn asunder by “a foreign dimension,” so the shaggy philosopher regularly inserts himself into the films he’s analyzing. Zizek is a sensational performer and he can also be quite funny, not least because he presents himself as an unsmiling madman—even when comparing the magic moment when the lights go down before a movie starts to the experience of staring into a toilet bowl and waiting for something to appear.

The Pervert’s Guide offers a Zizek crash course. As texts, he favors mainly horror flicks ( The Exorcist, Alien), heady sci-fi ( The Matrix, Solaris), and psychosexual dark comedies ( The Piano Teacher, Fight Club). Not surprisingly, his key directors are Alfred Hitchcock and especially David Lynch (he of the terrifying father-figures and “ridiculously violent comedy”). But Zizek can also be quite moving with his offhandedly cinephilic readings of Chaplin ( City Lights is “too sophisticated for the sophisticated”), Andrei Tarkovsky (whose “pre-narrative density” is an attempt to make tangible “time itself”), and Lars von Trier ( Dogville is concerned with the problem of persuading people to “still believe in the magic of cinema”). And it’s hard to think that Freud wouldn’t have appreciated Zizek’s use of the Marx Brothers to explicate the workings of the unconscious.

Punctuated by a chorus of Rorschach tests, Zizek’s discourse has its own particular free-associational logic. He characterizes the image of Kim Novak in the middle of a florist shop, glimpsed by Jimmy Stewart through a door partially opened onto an alley, as the “most beautiful” shot in Vertigo; 15 minutes later, in the context of Blue Velvet, Zizek exclaims that he personally finds flowers “disgusting.” They’re an open invitation for insects to come and have sex. (There’s a thought for spring.)

For Zizek, cinema is a way of thinking, or rather it’s a machine that plays with (and domesticates) fantasy to instruct the viewer how to desire: “We need the excuse of a fiction to state what we truly are.” Exposing the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz does not dispel the illusion on the screen—according to Zizek, that’s the essence of movies, a fiction “more real than reality itself.”


Opens March 23 The latest feature by Iranian director Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Circle, Crimson Gold) is a quiet sensation. Dramatizing the ban that prohibits Iranian women from attending soccer matches (or any other public sport), Panahi sets his story against the backdrop of the Iranian national team’s World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain. The movie is at once a spirited social critique, a vivid character comedy, and a technical tour de force.

‘The Real Edie Sedgwick’

March 31–April 8 Mediocre biopic notwithstanding, Edie really was a star—not to mention Andy Warhol’s muse. More than any of the other personalities who put themselves before the unmoving camera in the Silver Age of the Factory, Edie Sedgwick could hold the screen simply with the power of her coolly frenzied and bizarrely vacant personality. All the 1965 great ones are included in this series: Vinyl, Restaurant, Beauty 2, the half-out-of-focus Poor Little Rich Girl, and the double-screen triumph Outer and Inner Space—not to mention a fragment from Ricky Leacock’s Lulu. Museum of the Moving Image.

Opens April 20

Nimród Antal demonstrated some Hollywood-friendly genre chops a few years back with his mystical Budapest subway thriller Kontroll. Now he goes for the real deal. A cute couple of newlyweds—Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson—check into a rural motel and discover that it’s the set for a snuff film in which they’ve been cast.

The Long Goodbye

April 18–24Just past his period as Hollywood’s Mr. Now, Elliott Gould gave his best performance as a sweetly anachronistic private eye in Robert Altman’s best movie—itself adapted from the best of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels. It’s being revived for a week in a new Scope print with the promise that Gould himself will appear to accept accolades on opening night. Film Forum.

The Tripper

Opens April 20Speaking of the good old days, you gotta love this genre release for its premise alone: A “Ronald Reagan–obsessed serial killer” (is there another kind?) sets his telescopic sights on a group of “hippies” happily en route to a rock festival. To add to the fun, it’s a family affair. David Arquette directs and stars, along with wife Courteney Cox and brother Richmond Arquette.


Opens May 25Cyberpunk animation director Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers) channels Sherlock, Jr. and uncorks his most complicated anime to date. A new sort of “psychotherapy machine” allows doctors to download and explore their patients’ dreams—which are variously represented as derelict theme parks, parading objects, or Hollywood movies. It also allows for something far worse. As the heroine exclaims, “Implanting dreams in other people’s heads is terrorism!”


Street date March 13 Alain Resnais’s 1963 masterpiece—subtitled The Time of Return—has indeed returned, for the first time on DVD. Time is of the essence in this boldly modernist story of people living emotionally in the past and historically in the aftermath of cataclysmic war. Muriel was Resnais’s first color feature, as well as one of the first French films to deal with the Algerian situation. Playing the widowed proprietress of a Boulogne antique shop, Delphine Seyrig won the award for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. In a way, her performance sets up for the single mother she’d play a dozen years later in Jeanne Dielmann.