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Slavoj Žižek's 10 Favorite Films In The Criterion Collection


Two quality criteria: Slavoj Žižek’s chosen films within the The Criterion Collection’s catalog.

If Žižek has earned the moniker “pop philosopher’ or ‘the Elvis of cultural theory’ it is thanks to the ease with which he moves between diverse areas of Western culture and with a certain fondness for cinema. He cites films that include blockbusters and art cinema as pretexts to discuss the validity of ideas and concepts by Marx, Lacan, Walter Benjamin and other theorists of critical thinking. Žižek takes scenes from films as a kind of nutshell in which you can find the most characteristic features of our societies.

The Slovenian philosopher does this for various reasons, one of which is very simple: because he has seen a lot of films. Žižek is a great film buff and is also a viewer that sees films differently thanks to his philosophical baggage, from an enriched point of view ––that hermeneutical perspective from which a gesture, a sequence or a detail can hold the possibility of conceptualization. It is not that the films of Alfred Hitchcock, for example, are Lacanian, but certain structures of society can be explained via Lacan’s ideas and, in the same way that films such as Vertigo (1958) or Psycho (1960) fall within those structures, they can be viewed in a Lacanian way.

Žižek recently visited the offices of The Criterion Collection, perhaps the most exquisite brand of movies sold for home viewing. Beyond its commercial success, the The Criterion Collection has somehow established itself as a critical effort; the films in its catalog are always accompanied by material that enrichens the viewers’ experience: unseen footage or out-takes, alternative endings, short documentaries on the filming of a certain movie and audio commentary that is a parallel accompaniment to the film. The latter is one of the most distinctive features of the collection because the people chosen as commentators are perfect for the film in question, either because they directed it, they are specialists in the material or because their profession brings a stimulating perspective to it.

In fact Žižek has been one such commentator. For Alfonso Cuáron’s Y tu mama también (2002), The Criterion Collection chose the Slovenian to provide the voice-off commentary. It is therefore not such a surprise that Žižek would visit the collection’s offices and, once there, choose his 10 favorite films from the catalog, and for each one he has provided a brief commentary, a kind of spontaneous mini-critique attached to his selection.

Here is the Žižek’s top ten, which can be taken as a brief guide to the crossroads of cinema and criticism of the world in which we live.

Trouble in Paradise (1932) – dir. Ernst Lubitsch
“It’s the best critique of capitalism.”

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) – dir. Alexander Mackendrick
“It’s a nice depiction of the corruption of the American press.”

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) – dir. Peter Weir
“I simply like early Peter Weir movies. … It’s like his version of Stalker.”

Murmur of the Heart (1971) – dir. Louis Malle
“It’s one of those nice gentle French movies where you have incest. Portrayed as a nice secret between mother and son. I like this.”

The Joke (1969) – dir. Jaromil Jireš
“The Joke is the first novel by Milan Kundera and I think it’s his only good novel. After that it all goes down.”

The Ice Storm (1997) – dir. Ang Lee
“I have a personal attachment to this film. When James Schamus was writing the scenario, he told me he was reading a book of mine and that my theoretical book was inspiration [sic]. So it’s personal reason but I also loved the movie.”

Great Expectations (1946) dir. David Lean
“I am simply a great fan of Dickens.”

Rossellini’s History Films (Box Set) – The Age of the Medici (1973), Cartesius (1974), Blaise Pascal (1972)
“Rossellini’s history films, I prefer them. These late, long, boring TV movies. I think that the so-called great Rossellinis, for example German Year Zero and so on, they no longer really work. I think this is the Rossellini to be rehabilitated.”

City Lights (1931) – dir. Charlie Chaplin
“What is there to say? This is one of the greatest movies of all time.”

Carl Theodor Dreyer Box Set – Day of Wrath (1943), Ordet (1955), Gertrud (1964)
“It’s more out of my love for Denmark. It’s nice to know that in the ‘20s and ‘30s, Denmark was already a cinematic superpower.

Y Tu Mamá También (2002) – dir. Alfonso Cuáron
“This is for obvious personal reasons. I do the comment. [He recorded the DVD Commentary for the movie] Although, I must say that my favorite Cuáron is Children of Men.”

Antichrist (2009) – dir. Lars Von Trier
“I will probably not like it, but I like Von Trier. It is simply a part of a duty.”

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