Format: DVD

Distributor: ICA

Release date 28 April 2008

Director: Astra Taylor

USA/Canada 2005

71 mins

Among Slavoj í…½ií…¾ek’s many occupations, celebrity academic should, as this documentary makes clear, be ranked first. In perfect post-modern fashion, he has been criss-crossing the globe for twenty-odd years, delivering his offbeat but witty thoughts and provocative theories on ideology, global politics and late-capitalist economics to a growing fan club.

Astra Taylor’s debut film í…½ií…¾ek!, which is now released on DVD, makes a bold attempt to explore the phenomenon that is í…½ií…¾ek by trying to document both his public and private life. That the film fails to reveal much about the latter says more about the personality of its protagonist than any of the scenes that show him proudly displaying his son’s toys or shopping for DVDs in New York.

In Sophie Fiennes’s too rarely seen three-part TV documentary, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, í…½ií…¾ek embarked on a highly energetic Lacanian ride through cinema, which included some wonderfully ruthless low-budget re-enactments of famous scenes played by the bustling philosopher himself. By contrast, Taylor here opts for a rather modest, if straightforward, approach to her interviews with í…½ií…¾ek. With her presence limited to a few minor walk-ons, í…½ií…¾ek is given the time to chase his racing thoughts wherever they go, which seems to leave the young filmmaker at a loss for what to do with her exuberant subject. Whether lecturing, analysing Lacan’s body language on TV, showing us around his house or philosophising naked in a hotel bed, there is undoubtedly something compulsive and calculating in the way he appears before the discreet camera.

However, í…½ií…¾ek appears mindful of his role at all times, and the strongest idea to emerge from the film is his own sense that the intellectual must stand precisely apart, seeking neither endorsement nor personal peace. His big worry, he admits, ‘is not to be ignored, but accepted’. Although he is always deadly serious about his subject matter, he clearly loves to baffle his audience as much as to challenge them. Nothing is sacred for í…½ií…¾ek and absolutely everything is potential fodder for the high-energy stream of thought that runs through his mind, spawning one digression after another until the philosopher seems as unclear as the viewer about the point he was trying to make.

To her credit, Taylor recognises the irony in trying to capture the true spirit and soul behind the exposed persona. The documentary footage therefore is interspersed with animated anecdotes by Molly Schwartz, thrown in to help the viewer enter the í…½ií…¾ekian universe. But with its tight editing and brief running time (71 frantic minutes), the film feels almost too short, and occasionally í…½ií…¾ek seems to have been cut off mid-thought. Which is a shame since – despite his blustering demeanour – his typically drawn-out digressions reveal a very sceptical sadness in his criticism of modern society. Nevertheless, Astra Taylor’s spot-on profile shows the extent to which í…½ií…¾ek is both intimidated by the responsibility his celebrity brings and irked by the impact it has on his intellectual standing. Watching this fresh, brief and enjoyable documentary on DVD is brilliantly stimulating and prompts one to think further about í…½ií…¾ek’s original, politically incorrect and ultimately vital analysis of society.

Pamela Jahn