Sophie Fiennes and The Pervert's Guide to Cinema

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By Cathleen Rountree

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, directed by Sophie Fiennes (sister to Ralph and Joseph), was a popular draw at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. A blueprint for approaching cinema through a psychoanalytic lens, the three-part series consists of substantial film clips and tongue-in-cheek, meticulously recreated settings of famous films (Melanie under siege on Bodega Bay in The Birds; a cadaverous Mrs. Bates in the basement of Psycho; a lunatic Frank on the couch in the unquestionably "perverted" Blue Velvet). However, in place of Melanie, Mrs. Bates, and Frank, sits Fiennes's "guide," the world-renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek. The good doctor clearly relishes his role by tossing off such stimulating Freudianisms as: "Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn't give you what you desire. It tells you how to desire." As Thom Powers notes in his Toronto catalogue review, "This doc will make you proud to call yourself a pervert."

Fiennes is based in London. We met just outside the Festival publicity room and sat at a table beside a floor-to-ceiling window on a rainy Wednesday morning. I found the animated 39-year-old, auburn-haired filmmaker bright and articulate, generous and extremely engaging. We share a passion for cinema and a fascination with psychology, especially Freudian and Lacanian. We both have an interest in Jungian psychology, but she admits that, because she "grew up in a Jungian household" (her mother was analyzed by a Jungian), the daughter rebelled by embracing Lacan.

A five-year apprenticeship to the dazzlingly enigmatic filmmaker Peter Greenaway honed her visual and intellectual sensibilities. She then managed the Michael Clark dance company for two years and, in 1999, earnestly embarked on a career in filmmaking beginning with Lars From 1-10 (1999), The Late Michael Clark (2001), Because I Sing (2001) and Hoover Street Revival (2003). The aim of The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, she says, is to "document Zizek's thinking on cinema and perhaps the process of thinking itself as a performance, something caught, alive in its moment." If not a performance, this interview serves as "something caught" and hopefully remains "alive in its moment."


It's great to meet you, and I have a message from Hanif Kureishi: he wants you to call him.

Oh, yes, I ran into him on the street yesterday and we got together.

He's a very interesting man, and gorgeous.

Yeah, he's beautiful.

I loved his short story "Intimacy" that was published in the New Yorker several years ago, and then, of course, made into a film. And The Mother was also devastating.

He's a brilliant writer; and actually, a very close friend of a friend of mine, who is a practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst. Sometimes the three of us get together for lunch.

I completed my Ph.D. in Psychology and Cultural Mythology, but I wrote my dissertation on auteur cinema, or directors as contemporary shamans. So I found your film ultra-fascinating. Much of the information I was familiar with, but Slavoj Zizek certainly contributes his own stamp to the material that's out there. Now I'm a fan and look forward to actually pursuing his work on a deeper level.

And the film is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. He's written so many books. Well, that very area that you're talking about, directors as shamans, is exactly what I'm interested in - as someone who makes films.

Also, how to watch them and what they do to us, the affect they have on us.

Yes, and why they're worth watching.

Right, exactly. About ten years ago, while I was writing my dissertation, I did a lot of thinking and research on the concept of the confluence of cinema and psychology, how cinema mirrors our minds, and how they were sort of twin architects of the 20th century. It occurred to me that the concept of psychological projection, named by Freud in the 1890s, was concurrent with the development of cinematic projection in France and the US during the same time. I actually hadn't read that anywhere. It was a supreme moment of original thinking, which is unfortunately rare.

Yes! They were born at the same time. It's fascinating how things emerge sort of simultaneously. And even the novel during that time, like the Russians, and the form that developed materializes or crystallizes reality.


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