56th BFI London Film Festival – Seven Psychopaths/The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

Posted October 19th, 2012 by Thomas Grimshaw

I should point out that I’m not trying to do a Zizek and link two disparate cultural properties, it’s merely that the second review is quite short and seemed too lacking in content to warrant it’s own post.

However if anyone would like to have a go at trying to find comparison then be my guest.

Seven Psychopaths

In his follow up to In Bruges, Martin MacDonagh has written and directed a film about a screenwriter named Marty/Martin. The level to which this annoys you is in perfect correlation with how much you will enjoy Seven Psychopaths; a deeply smug, confused and somewhat enjoyable romp through the creative process and the LA underworld. Colin Farrell starts as Marty who whilst attempting to flesh out a script for his latest project called Seven Psychopaths ends up involved in his best friend’s dog-napping business. The dog-nappers played with a high-degree of unhinged likeability are Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken whilst Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Olga Kurylenko and Abbie Cornish flesh out the supporting cast of killers, mobsters and – eh – psychopaths.

Now- a certain appeal is undoubtedly found in rounding up such a rich and distinctive cast of charismatic cinematic crazies and everyone on the whole acquits themselves with a level of gung-ho bravado, especially Walken who trades in his usual sadism for a milder naive eccentricity. He wears a cravat! However the males in this specific line-up, (unfortunately the women have very little to do, which the film, in an annoying po-mo aside crudely acknowledges), their careers have often relied upon a certain consistency between the professional and the personal, for example Tom Waits as musician, actor or man about town all conflates to being a singular Tom Waits persona and I think the same can be extended to Rockwell, Walken, Harrelson, Stanton and even Farrell. It’s not so much acting as just being. The problem arises though from our understanding of these ‘personas’ and when a whole film is populated by them, we feel that there is little room for surprise. Everyone is essentially doing what we expect them to be doing and nothing more.

The film’s other big problem is that it appeals to a certain contemporary tendency which dictates that any film that tackles the creative process will inevitably tumble down the postmodernist rabbit hole. Whilst Spike Jonze’s Adaptation which also looks at the blurring of reality and fiction, had the intelligence to submerge us gradually into its temporal and spatial shifts. Seven Psychopaths never gives us the pleasure and instead confuses the central narrative with excepts  from Marty’s script and grand guignol tales told by passing characters that all distort and reflect one another. The problem with this is an issue of expectation. When as an audience you approach a film by Lynch, Tarkovsky or any number of highly distinctive filmmakers our knowledge of their work helps us to read the text. Here though, the stock crime narrative, its larger than life villain, the excessive bloodshed and its cynical, witty humour all act as markers for us to view the film through the prism of a decent Tarantino-esque comedic-thriller, yet these are entirely at odds with the other direction the film is trying to pull us in, which is far more elusive and metaphysical and when the two clash it completely ruptures the film’s diegesis, sucking out any momentum or intrigue.

It’s a shame because for brief moments the filmmaking is distinctive; both breezy and freewheeling whilst snapping along at a taut pace. It’s just these moments of ingenuity and wit have nowhere to go, sitting awkwardly in a framework that isn’t so much poor as completely non-existent.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

In The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, Martha Fiennes and Slavoj Zizek reunite for another compelling cinematic essay. Whereas the focus of their first film was a psychoanalytical enquiry into cinema, here the goalposts have been broadened taking in the elusive concept of ideology, whilst retaining his passion for popular culture as a way of breaking down complex ideas to more palatable bite-sized chunks.

It’s gripping stuff, where the nimble gymnastics of Zizec’s comparisons and reference points are as heart stopping as any plot twist. By the end you feel pleasantly bludgeoned by the overwhelming power of his arguments. Dynamically moving from James Cameron’s Titanic to the Prague Spring, from Jaws to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany and most bizarrely the inherent pleasures of The Sound of Music (one of his favourite films) to those found in a Kinder Egg. There is an argument that there is a gimmicky conceit to his melding of low culture and philosophy, but his passion and enthusiasm for wanting to universalise the dry and academic and his by-any-means-necessary-tactic for getting the point across is ultimately a noble one. He’s a hypnotic orator as well where the timbre of his voice has the unworldly power of making you feel like you’re not being lectured to but having the information gentle massaged into your face.

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