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.

Gigi Rotblum, Ricky – Photo Credit: Adam Rose/IFC

Cooking With Gigi

5 Ways to Prepare For Tonight’s Gigi Does It and Become a Culinary Expert

Get in the kitchen with Gigi Mondays at 10:30P on IFC.

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It’s Monday, so you know what that means: Break out the turquoise eye shadow and bedazzled sweater! Tonight’s all new Gigi Does It at 10:30P ET/PT will keep you charged for the rest of the week. But before you forge headlong into septuagenarian hilarity, here are five ways to get ready for tonight’s episode.

1. Brush up on your culinary skills.

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According to Gigi, every dish should be prepared with a lotta love and a little bit of lust. But be sure to keep the ecstasy to a minimum and all bodily fluids outside the pot.

2. Experience the Great White North’s signature dish.

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French fries, cheese curds and gravy — poutine is a delicacy that isn’t for everyone. Love it or hate it, you should have at least a few bites if you want to be considered a true Canadian.

3. Whip up some “special” cookies.

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Competition is fierce when Gigi and her friends vie for the affections of eligible bachelor Melvin. Cookies are always a good idea to win someone’s heart — particularly if they’re baked with love and a little “extra” ingredient.

4. Watch the video Facebook doesn’t want you to see.

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Deemed “Too Hot for Facebook,” this montage of Gigi-isms removes the bleeps and blurs for a raw, NSFW look at the foul-mouthed granny in action.

5. Crack open Gigi’s book.

Gigi Does It Book Cover

Like most seniors, Gigi knows how little appreciation grandparents receive from their grandkids. Which is why the saucy old broad penned a children’s book reminding today’s youth to call their dear grandmothers. Give it a read here.

That 70s Show Thanksgiving episode

Turkey Day Laughs

The 10 Best Thanksgiving Sitcom Episodes

Catch That '70s Show all Thanksgiving Day during IFC's Sweatsgiving Marathon.

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Whether it’s the Connor family on Roseanne or the family of friends on That ’70s Show, there’s no holiday that brings out the comedy in dysfunctional families like Thanksgiving. Before you dig into IFC’s Thanksgiving Day That ’70s Show marathon, check out the 10 best sitcom episodes stuffed full of turkey, laughs and tears.

10. Family Ties, “No Nukes is Good Nukes”

Thanksgiving is ruined at the Keaton household, and for once you can’t blame Alex because it’s his parents Steven and Elyse who get thrown in jail for protesting a nuclear power plant. Unlike his do-gooder, aging hippie parents, the only thing Alex P. Keaton would ever protest is term limits on Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

9. Modern Family, “Punkin Chunkin”

Modern Family Pumpkin


It’s Thanksgiving time, and the intertwined families of Modern Family all have their own squabbles going on. This episode culminates at a football field with a classic Modern Family ending when Jay, Mitchell and Claire doubt that their partners, the self-proclaimed dreamers, can launch a pumpkin through a goal post.

8. Seinfeld, “The Mom and Pop Store”

If this Seinfeld outing was a Friends episode, it would be titled “The One with Jon Voight’s car,” because that is the hilarious storyline that everyone remembers. The Turkey Day plotline revolves around the gang attending Tim Whatley’s pre-Thanksgiving party which happens to overlook the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Any appearance by Bryan Cranston as Tim Whatley is pretty memorable, and in this one he reveals to George who the real Jon (John) Voight is.

7. That ’70s Show, “Thanksgiving”

Kelso Thanksgiving

In the season one Thanksgiving episode of That ’70s Show, the Formans (especially Kitty) dread the arrival of Red’s mother. Laurie returns from college and brings her attractive friend Kate along, who flirts with Eric. The episode creates a classic Eric Forman dilemma as he kisses Kate and then tells Donna. Eric does get another valuable life lesson when he learns that bad things happen to him not because of rotten luck but because he’s, as Red so aptly puts it, a “dumbass.”

6. Roseanne, “Thanksgiving 1991″

Few sitcoms captured the stress of holiday get-togethers like Roseanne, and “Thanksgiving 1991″ has all the family drama and hilarious moments that fans love about the show. Roseanne’s mother Bev reveals that her husband Al has been unfaithful. Darlene is being her usual moody-but-loveable self and stays in her room while D.J. sits adorably alone at the kids table. The appearance of Roseanne’s grandmother Nana Mary, played with crotchety glee by Shelley Winters, makes this episode an instant classic.

5. The League, “Thanksgiving”

In what has to be one of the most brilliant casting choices in TV history, Jeff Goldblum in all his Goldblum glory plays Ruxin’s dad in this hilarious Thanksgiving episode. Sarah Silverman’s appearance as Andre’s promiscuous sister is the icing on the raunchy cake as the guys walk in on Goldblum right before he gives his “vinegar stroke” face. The moment is simultaneously disgusting and hilarious as Goldblum’s look of ecstasy is eerily identical to Ruxin’s look of disgust.

4. WKRP in Cincinnati, “Turkey’s Away”

If you’re old enough to have watched WKRP In Cincinnati, the first thing you probably remember is the catchy opening theme song (and rockin’ closing credits song). But when it comes to remembering an episode, it might be the only sitcom where every fan thinks of the Thanksgiving installment first. This is the show that taught the world in hilarious fashion that turkeys can’t fly, especially when dropped from a helicopter.

3. Cheers, “Thanksgiving Orphans”

A potluck dinner at Carla’s house sets up one of TV’s most famous food fights. This classic moment shows off the gang’s camaraderie in a simultaneous moment of silliness and reflection as they remember the loss of Coach, played by Nicholas Colasanto, who died the year before. The episode also contains the closest thing the audience gets to seeing Norm’s wife Vera, which make the episode even more memorable.

2. Friends, “The One With The Thanksgiving Flashbacks”

“The One With The Thanksgiving Flashbacks” is the Friends flashback episode fans had been waiting for ever since Ross was revealed to be Rachel’s “lobster.” Except in this episode, Monica is Chandler’s turkey in an adorable scene. It’s also the one where we learn why Monica got thin, the one where we find out that Chandler and Ross were way too into Miami Vice and the one where Chandler lost a toe. This episode would’ve been hilarious just for Ross’ “Mr. Kotter” ’80s look alone.

1. How I Met Your Mother, “Slapsgiving”

While the Friends creators obviously loved the fun of Thanksgiving episodes, the How I Met Your Mother writers took it to the next level with the “Slapsgiving” episodes. Slapsgiving was so beloved by fans, it became an epic holiday trilogy. The beloved Slapbet originated in the episode where Robin Sparkles is brought to glorious life, and it continues in “Slapsgiving” as Robin and Ted deal with trying to stay friends during the Thanksgiving following their breakup. Unlike the divisive series finale, Marshall’s Slapsgiving slap of Barney is a “legen (wait for it) dary” moment in the show’s history. If you’ve never seen Marshall’s “You Just Got Slapped” video, you’re in for a Thanksgiving treat.

Happy Gilmore

Spoil Sports

The 10 Biggest Jerks, Bullies and Weasels From Sports Movies

Catch Benders Thursdays at 10P on IFC.

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To the victor go the spoils, and in sports comedies there is no bigger spoil than the feeling of defeating the sports jerk. You know the sports jerk — he’s the kid who tosses snot-nosed but loveable Timmy Lupus into a garbage can in the The Bad News Bears or the guy who shouts “Put him in a body bag!” before Ralph Macchio gets up on one leg to make that famous Crane kick. Before the Benders guys hit the ice tonight at 10P on IFC, check out the ten biggest jerks we love to hate from sports movies.

1. Shooter McGavin, Happy Gilmore

There is no bigger A-hole-in-one than Shooter McGavin, and Christopher McDonald really seemed to enjoy messing with Adam Sandler. Cocky golf pro McGavin was the perfect foil to Sandler’s childlike Happy and helped to update the sports movie bully for the ’90s. You know you’re the bad guy in a movie if behemoth actor Richard Kiel, (aka Jaws from the James Bond movies) thinks you’re a dick.

2. Reese Bobby, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

It wasn’t Sacha Baron Cohen as French rival Jean Girard that pushed Ricky Bobby to become a winner — it was the lack of love and nonsensical guidance from his absentee father, Reese Bobby. No matter how deadbeat a dad Reese Bobby was, you have to love a character that can get thrown out of an Applebee’s. The moment when Ricky Bobby was able to forget Reese’s pearls of ignorance (“If you ain’t first, you’re last”) is when he truly became a winner.

3. Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken, Kingpin

Bill Murray never “pulls a Munson” when it comes to comedy and he basically nailed a split as “Big Ern” McCracken in what is arguably the funniest Farrelly Brothers movie. Woody Harrelson might be the Paul Newman in this hilarious send up of The Color of Money, but Roy Munson would never have received his redemption without his nemesis “Big Ern.” In a bowling buddy comedy adventure where one guy has a rubber hand and the other is Amish, it’s Big Ern and his amazing hair that sets everything in motion.

4. White Goodman, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

In the words of legendary dodgeballer Patches O’Houlihan, “dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” Ben Stiller’s White Goodman surely lives by these words as the Globo Gym douche standing in the way of Vince Vaughn’s rag tag group of misfits. When he’s not torturing himself with electric nipple clamps in order to stay away from donuts, he’s gleefully attempting to prevent The Average Joe’s from taking the Dodgeball championship and making ESPN: The Ocho history. Even though he’s not nearly as tough as his consigliere Michelle, the ’70s porn star mustache alone makes him an all-time sports A-hole.

5. Rachel Phelps, Major League

Charlie Sheen’s Ricky Vaughn might have been called “Wild Thing,” but even he knew to stay away from the team’s diabolical owner. Phelps couldn’t wait to take the Indians to Florida and was more than happy to put the team through hell in a plane that screamed “Buddy Holly.” Despite the fact that her funniest scene was as a cardboard cutout, Rachel was one hell of a villain. Even Jobu hated her.

6. Chas, Back to School

“Why don’t you call me some time when you have no class?” Rodney Dangerfield was the king of one- liners, and Back to School was filled with hilarious Rodney moments as he comes to college to help his son Jason enjoy school. Jason’s obstacle in his path to diving glory was none other than the king of ’80s teen movie A-holes himself, William Zabka. As Chas, Zabka is more frat douche than tough guy, as he can be seen cowering under the table with a pipe in his mouth as a bar fight breaks out. In the end, Jason gets the girl and we get to see The Triple Lindi.

7. Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid

Depending on how you look at it, The Karate Kid is either the ultimate feel good story of a teenager who learns the ancient martial art of “waxing off” in order to stand up to the karate dojo bullying him; or it’s a master acting class on how to act like a teen movie A-hole. William Zabka’s legendary performance as Johnny provides everything you want in a villain, right down to his maniacal grin in a skin-tight skeleton costume. He’s such a great bastard, another member of the Stepford bully group the Kobra-Kai even tries to stop him as he lays a beat down on Daniel-san.

8. Coach Turner, The Bad News Bears

The original Bad News Bears is as perfect a movie as you can get. Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal have hilarious and heartwarming chemistry, and Jackie Earle Haley’s Kelly Leak was definitely “un bandito.” But the real bad news in this movie is Coach Roy Turner, played by the great Vic Morrow. It’s only fitting that Turner coaches the Yankees and the Bears are the loveable underdogs (with a second baseman who has a mouth like a drunken sailor). The shocking moment when Coach Turner slaps his own son on the field elevates him to all-time sports jerk status and makes the audience wonder how this angry guy ever landed a wife who looked that good in bell bottoms.

9. Clubber Lang, Rocky III

While Ivan Drago might be the most ruthless villain in the Rocky series, he was really just a pawn of the Soviet military industrial complex. Mr. T as Clubber Lang, on the other hand, was one seriously bad dude. Where Apollo Creed was cool, Clubber Lang shouted and grunted all of his lines to great effect and trash-talked Rocky by telling Adrian to come find a “real man.” You don’t mess with a man in a Mohawk who predicts “pain.”

10. Judge Smails, Caddyshack

Ted Knight personified snooty Waspy-ness while delivering such classic lines as “Are you my friend Danny?” and “Spalding, get your foot off the boat.” (He also rocked a sailor’s cap like nobody’s business.) In the end, Danny Noonan chose “badness” and with the help of a wily gopher, beat Smails to win the tournament. Cue the Kenny Loggins theme music.


Fred & Horatio Team Up

Former SNLers Work on Latino-Focused Comedy Hub

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