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April 21, 2007

Theory Is The New Rock And Roll


Around the two thirds mark of Sofie Fiennes' riveting, rollicking A Pervert's Guide To Cinema, Slavoj Žižek delves into the differences between male and female sexual perspectives vis-à-vis Ingmar Bergman's Persona. He highlights what, to his mind, is one of the most erotic scenes in cinema's history: the one in which Bibi Andersson tells Liv Ullman about her orgiastic encounter with two young men on a beach. Žižek claims that this anecodote illustrates a propensity men lack; for them, sexual impulse is a straightforward trajectory that comes to an abruptly physical conclusion. Women, on the other hand, are able instantly perceive the narrativity of the sexual act, to essentially put it within a three-act structure, complete with consequences. Andersonn's extended anecdote, then, is a continution of the dalliance it is about; she was cataloguing the event and putting it into narrative form even as it happened.

Which got me thinking, because that's exactly what writers do. Always considering things outside the most immediate context, filing the most personal moments away for future exploitation (if I had my copy of John Gardner's On Becoming A Novelist on me at the moment, I'd offer up his marvelous passage on this phenomenon). I hesitate to make any explicit connections at this point, but I think what parallels can be drawn go a long way towards rationalizing artistic sensitivity (or, in other words, why even the most caustic, hard-as-nails novelists generally tend to be bleeding hearts).

On a more general note, Fiennes' film really is one of the best I saw at the festival; it's not often that talking-head documentaries could be called thrilling, but between Žižek's mile-a-minute personality and the ideas he expostulates on (not to mention the clever cinematic context which Fiennes places them in, exemplified by the image above), I think this fits the bill. All I've read of his work are various essays and reviews (beginning, two years ago with a piece entitled The Revenge Of Global Finance - once again, Star Wars has proven a marvelous conduit), but I came home from Florida last night to find a copy of his magnum opus, The Parallax View, waiting for me in the mailbox.

Sophie Fiennes is really cool, too (the title of this post was culled from her Q&A). And she was wearing No Sweat shoes!

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The other two-and-a-half hour documentary I saw at the festival was Tony Kaye's epic documentary on the abortion debate. It's easy to criticize the film for being too long and too repetitive, because it is - but at the same time, it works, because it completely breaks down how hopelessly gray the entire argument is (the greatest moments of clarity, predictably, come from Nat Hentoff, Peter Singer and Noam Chomsky, and even they have widely divergent beliefs on the matter).

The film's greatest achievement, in my opinion, is in its last hour, when the scope becomes more singular. Kaye follows a 28-year old woman through the entire abortion process; as she shows up for the appointment, as her mental state is evaluated, as the instruments are inserted adn whatever's inside comes out. And then she sits down for an interview, and it's one of the most heartbreaking sequences I've ever seen in a film. The camera holds on her, and as she breaks down and tries to come to terms with what she's feeling, right and wrong go clean out the window.

Posted by David Lowery at April 21, 2007 4:58 AM