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Slavoj Žižek’s Film Criticism on Film, Charlie Kaufman’s Autocritique

Slavoj Žižek’s Film Criticism on Film, Charlie Kaufman’s Autocritique (photo)

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With the exception of Godard’s largely-unseen (on these shores) “Histoire(s) du Cinéma,” Sophie Fiennes’ and Slavoj Žižek’s “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” (2006) might be the greatest piece of film-criticism-on-film ever made. That’s not saying a pantload, of course; despite the obvious potentialities and the seductive pleasure to be had in perusing film history in powerhouse visual swatches, it’s not even a subgenre, beyond the boosterism of promotional docs and Todd McCarthy’s “Visions of Light.” The “video essays” by critic Kevin B. Lee constitute a pioneering version of the idea, despite the entire corpus being dropped for a while from YouTube thanks to copyright protests. Otherwise, the closest we have is the now ubiquitous audio commentary track that accompanies virtually every movie on DVD, the likes of which are sometimes sublime (when they’re performed by spirited critics and scholars, mostly, like Žižek’s on “Children of Men”) and often unendurable (with the glaring exception of Martin Scorsese, directors can rarely speak cogently about their own work). Either way, audio tracks are restricted to running the whole course of a single uninterrupted feature. What Fiennes and Žižek have dared to do is simply illustrate what amounts to a semi-interactive lecture on Lacanian psychoanalytic theory illustrated with film clips — which sounds dull, but Žižek, Slovenian lisp-monster that he is, is world-renowned for a reason: he’s a terrific communicator, popularizer and provocateur as well as an interpretive idea volcano.

“Lacan” is never mentioned in this three-part, 2.5-hour tour through popular cinema, but Freud certainly is, and the inexperienced would do well to see it twice and assume that virtually every utterance out of Žižek’s spittle-firing mouth is a concept worthy of another half-hour of exegesis. A good liberal arts bachelor’s degree grasp of Freudian psychoanalysis is pretty much essential, but otherwise you just need eyes: Žižek’s hand-holding walks through entire chunks of “Blue Velvet,” “Psycho,” “Vertigo,” “The Matrix,” “The Great Dictator” and “The Conversation” are never less than a blast, because Fiennes contrives (through clever set-building and Remko Schnorr’s digital cinematography) to place the always anxious, always splenetic Žižek literally within the films’ scenes, watching Isabella Rossellini’s demi-rape in “Blue Velvet” from the couch, or the writhings of Linda Blair from the corner of the arctic bedroom in “The Exorcist,” and often talking over the action.

The subject here, for the most part, is sex, but Žižek’s approach is refreshingly untheory-like: instead of the non-canonical, abstruse, navel-gazing insularity of most theory, we’re presented with formulations that extend and heighten the meanings of the films, and the achievements of the filmmakers (whom Žižek, rather un-post-structuralistically, gives full credit for the Freudian manifestations in their work). That is, the films aren’t simply cult-stud specimens without authors, but cataracts 03102009_ZizekGuide2.jpgof desire and fear that illuminate our own relationship with sex and its discontentments. Except perhaps when he’s pointing out how Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” seems to be literally examining the scene of the murder from “Psycho” (a painfully obvious inter-film connection I never noticed before), Žižek is all about how the films literally and profoundly “teach us lessons,” symbolically, about desire, about subjectivity, about the strange but universal need for sexual fantasy (and how it’s expressed as the voyeurism of cinema-watching), about our conflicted relationship with the sexual significance of various body parts.

Unlike most theory, “Pervert’s Guide” relates directly to our pleasure in watching movies, and to our ideas about our own behavior. Of course, a percentage of what Žižek says is half-conceived and presumptuous, as when he declares that women’s sexual pleasure only comes after the fact, in contemplation of the act. But his juicy bon mots are always challenging (“I want a third pill!” he declares, in view of “The Matrix”‘s inadequate dichotomy between illusion and reality). At the very least, those of us who’ve only seen “Vertigo” or “Lost Highway” or Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” once long ago will be inspired with a convert’s fervor to sit down and reevaluate them with new eyes.

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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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