Screenwriter Cesare Zavattini produced reams of polemicizing to explain what he and Vittorio De Sica were trying to do in Italy in the late 1940s, and the Cahiers du cinema crowd had all their reviews and essays to back them up (along with the complete works of André Bazin). All von Trier & Co. have is ten rules and a page of ill-considered film history that seems to blame the French New Wave for not stopping Pretty Woman from being made — what else is all that stuff about cosmetics about? There's a beside-the-point feeling to the Dogma, and none of the films produced under its conditions brought down the tyranny of production value and special effect as much as The Blair Witch Project — the film that killed Stanley Kubrick — did. Examining the first films made in Denmark under the Vow of Chastity reveals a set of concerns removed from considerations of lighting and set decoration.

A slew of American films from the late '80s and '90s reminded viewers of one thing: America loves a retard. Looking at the Dogma films, it's obvious that Denmark loves one, too. Mifune is director Søren Kragh-Jacobsen's entry, Dogme 3. It features a Mickey Rooney-esque mental deficient there to move the plot so a beautiful prostitute with a heart of gold and her brother can get together with a harried businessman and create a family in the wreckage of the dilapidated farmhouse the businessman and the retarded guy have inherited from their father. Von Trier's entry, Dogme 2, The Idiots, is about a group of latter-day bohemians under the sway of a film-director-like visionary who asks that they abandon the hypocrisies of their parents by acting like imbeciles most of the time. In the first Dogma film, Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration, the children of an abusive father get together at a party for him and — with the ear-splitting emotionality of primal scream — take him to task for the horror he's perpetrated. Harmony Korine's American entry, the preciously lower-cased julien donkey-boy, also serves up some specialness: a schizophrenic young man cuffed and bellowed at by his father, significantly played by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

The prototype for all these films is von Trier's melodramatic semi-sci-fi hospital TV series The Kingdom. It introduced the Dogma look: handheld camera, scenes covered so extensively they look like they were shot from every possible angle dozens of times, washed-out video transfered to film, faces in big closeups gnawing away at their own lips. Just as importantly, The Kingdom introduced the idea that retarded people are extra-wise and have special knowledge hidden from the people who run society, a trope carried over to Emily Watson's character in Breaking the Waves and to a lesser extent Björk's in Dancer, who is merely sweet and unsophisticated. The Kingdom's birth scene gave birth to the Dogma, a movement that wanted to wrest control of the movies not just from standard Danish practice, but from a worldwide industry the Dogmatics saw as strangling filmmakers in their cribs. They wanted to thrive as innocent newborns whose approach to filmmaking would deny the empty sophistication that had made movies as oppressive to them as their families and their country. Their Manifesto extends this into film history. It wasn't just their fathers or the Danish movie industry holding them back, it was the failure of a previous generation of filmmakers — the New Wave — too. Herzog, his appearance an earnest homage, is a stand-in for them all.

Looked at that way, the Dogma becomes a necessary phase that von Trier had to go through in order to become his own man, instead of the facile imitator of his favorite auteurs he was when he made Europa and The Element of Crime. With his first completely successful film, he emerges fully, having publicly (and wrenchingly) executed the humble mother played by Björk, a woman he has realize it's better to be dead than blind. He and Zentropa, his production company, have — in a weird Freudian turn — now decided to make pornography. At least three of their porn films, (Constance, Pink Prison, and Hot Men, Cool Men) have been released so far. And in the same way that Dogma wasn't really a movement ("It's just to kick some ass in this sloppy business," von Trier's producer said in a documentary), and just as Dancer in the Dark wasn't really a musical (The Sound of Music, a musical set in motion by the Nazis, "symbolizes the fakery of musicals," von Trier told an interviewer, and is therefore evoked in Dancer to bring out the non-fakery of Björk's life in Washington, Sweden), this porn is anti-porn. It even comes with a manifesto called a Statement on Women and Sexuality, in which Zentropa indicates that they don't want to see their heroines suffer. It must be a Danish tradition. Like the heroines in the work of the world-roaming Danish directors Carl Dreyer and Douglas Sirk, directors von Trier specifically invokes, his heroines are only allowed to suffer for art.


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courtesy of Slotcar Hatebath

pictures Terry Colon

Slotcar Hatebath