Guilty Pleasures

Abstract: Zizek presents several motion pictures that he enjoys, including Topaz (1969), Top Hat (1935), Cossacks of the Kuban (1949), The Black Cat (1934), and Freddy vs. Jason (2003). He believes that these motion pictures, although considered as insignificant commercial trash, political propaganda, artistic failures, or, in the best case, charming commercial films not to be taken seriously, are to be taken seriously.


#Žižek: 'Zabriskie Point or Cries and Whispers—two candidates for the worst film of all time.' Click To Tweet

The problem is that I never feel guilty about enjoying films that are generally dismissed as trash. I would have felt truly guilty only for enjoying pretentious art frauds like Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point or Bergman’s Cries and Whispers—two candidates for the worst film of all time. So the films listed here are not only films that I enjoy immensely, but films that—although considered insignificant commercial trash, political propaganda, artistic failures, or, charming commercial films not to be taken seriously—are to be taken seriously.

Topaz (69)

One of the standard exercises of Higher Hitchcockian Criticism is to pick the master’s “failure” and proclaim it his great masterpiece: in France, there is a whole school of thought that claims Under Capricorn, the ridiculous historical melodrama set in Australia, fulfills the role; Fredric Jameson’s choice (from the same period) is Stage Fright; and so on. As far as I am aware, nobody has dared to consider Topaz, the anti-Communist spy story generally dismissed as Hitchcock’s worst film (at least after WWII). Although critics usually praise some scenes, they dismiss Topaz as a clumsy, over‑long mixture of rehashed Hitchcock motifs and anti-Communist clichés. However, what if we re‑perceive Topaz as a European art film—with its complex love triangles, “cold” marriages where affairs are tolerated, echoes of the old camaraderie of the Resistance, chamber‑drama atmosphere, and strangely twisted non-linear narrative? This shift allows us to appreciate the film’s qualities properly.

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[Extract. Appeared in Film Comment, Vol. 41, No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 12-13.]

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