Guest director defines cinema as 'ultimate pervert art'

This year the folks at Telluride went for broke with their selection of guest director, Slavoj Zizek, and his theory on pervert art.

The Slovenian-born philosopher, cultural theorist, self-proclaimed Marxist and author of more than fifty books defines cinema as “the ultimate pervert art.”

“It doesn’t give you what you desire; it tells you how to desire,” Zizek said in Sophie Fiennes’ 2006 docu “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.” Both he and Fiennes agreed on the title almost as a joke, he said, but realized potential in its meaning. “You want to be an instrument of other’s enjoyment. This is the perversity of cinema.”

Whether passholders will agree with his philosophies, Zizek is bound to spark debate. That’s exactly what Tom Luddy, co-founder and director of Telluride, had in mind when he pitched Zizek the idea.

“Zizek has a certain spontaneous genius that you see in very few people. He makes people see film in a whole new way.”

As guest director, Zizek selected six of his favorite films to be screened over the fest’s four-day run, then will introduce each film. Past guest directors have included Errol Morris, Edith Kramer, Don DeLillo and Stephen Sondheim.

“Our tradition at Telluride is to have people who are in the film world exclusively, and then people who are not,” Luddy said.

The passion Zizek brings to his discussions originated from a childhood desire to direct films. At 15, young Zizek was interested in Soviet cinema and montage editing. He began reading cinema theory and made frequent trips to the local Cinematheque in his home of former Yugoslavia.

“Movies for me are magic in the sense that if you see how movies are shot, it’s almost like seeing how magic happens.”

Zizek has taught at universities including Columbia, Princeton, and Georgetown. He’s also lectured at London’s National Film Theatre and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Yet the celebrated scholar was first denied admittance to university during the Communist regime. “I was too much of a Marxist,” Zizek admits, “which is a big joke, because now I am only one of the few surviving Marxists.”

While working with Zizek on “Pervert’s”, Fiennes was privy to his explovsive charm and sense of humor. The two worked sans-script, showcasing an organized chaos of Zizek’s commentary.

His unorthodox style doesn’t stop at his commentary. Zizek proudly states most of the films he writes about he hasn’t seen, including his early work on Fellini. After writing the book, Zizek admits to buying several Fellini films and being disappointed. “I think they’re absolutely boring. They no longer function today. They are so flatly pretensious.”

“The thing about Slavoj is he’s willing to take risks in the moment,” Fiennes said. “He likes to provoke, but he’s totally charming.”

It’s this charm and provocation that Luddy wants to bring to Telluride. Luddy said Zizek has the ability to incite enthusiasm for the cinema and is certain he’ll fill theaters. “I’m excited to see what he’ll do. He’s kind of a phenomenon.”

As to all that, Zizek chalks it up as unwarranted puffery. “Of course I am nicely surprised. Although secretly I still think this is all one big misunderstanding that will terribly disappoint everyone.”

As to that, the only true disappointment would have been this pervert’s refusal to cinema.

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