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The Grace Of Wrath
March 22, 2004 5:40 PM   Subscribe

"The people of Dogville are proud, hypocritical and never more dangerous than when they are convinced of the righteousness of their actions" (NYT link) "The movie is, of course, an attack on America—its innocence, its conformity, its savagery—though von Trier is interested not in the life of this country (he’s never been here) but in the ways he can exploit European disdain for it." (The New Yorker). Lars Von Trier's new movie, Dogville, is under attack from critics who consider it anti-American. Von Trier, of course, has never been to the US but he counters that he knows more about U.S. culture through modern media than, say, the makers of "Casablanca' knew about Morocco. Kafka hadn't been to Amerika either. Should non US-ian artists leave America alone if they've never been there? Von Trier says that "in my own country, I'm considered anti-Danish - again, that's more about politics than issues of nationality." (more inside)
posted by matteo (42 comments total)

 
Dogville travesties Thornton Wilder's Our Town and glosses its evil twin, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," in which the inhabitants of an idyllic New England town hold an annual ritual to stone one of their citizens to death. But the most interesting of von Trier's inspirations—referenced for maximum impact at the movie's end—is Jacob Holdt's multimedia presentation American Pictures, an unsettling mix of The Lower Depths, On the Road, and the Book of Revelation that played continuously for years in Copenhagen. Holdt's visceral sense of America as an unjust, racist, violent society—blighted by the primeval curse of slavery and defined by its black underclass—lurks under Dogville's surface to explode with magnum force as the movie ends.

For movie buffs: the movie was shot entirely on digital, with minimalist, Brechtian sets. Nicole Kidman is in it, but she won't act in the sequel -- Richie Cunningham's daughter will be the star
posted by matteo at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2004


Shirley Jackson's text is here and here
posted by matteo at 5:48 PM on March 22, 2004


I can't wait to see this...and of course he can depict us however he wants--he was very close to perfect in some ways with Dancer in the Dark (and hey, we're big boys and girls--we can take it). It's always interesting when a foreigner looks at us and what they see or don't see--from De Tocqueville thru Dickens on. (And we do it to the rest of the world too--how most of us think of many places on earth is because of movies and tv.)
posted by amberglow at 5:50 PM on March 22, 2004


Von Trier's director of photography talked to Wired

Buy the zone-2 dvd (the movie came out already in Europe) here
posted by matteo at 5:53 PM on March 22, 2004


<-american

I saw this about 3 months ago in Brighton, it struck me as more of morality play than anything else, with an almost greek sentiment to it. The conversation between Kidman and Caan in the end really brought it together - it's the struggle between a just God and a forgiving one.

It's ultimately about the necessity of holding others to the same standard the you hold yourself. Kidman's failure to do so throughout the length of the story is what necessitates its infamous climax.

The film is a mirror, I think. It all depends on how you want to read it. Hell, I could make a pretty good case for the film as an argument in support of the War on Terror, but I seriously doubt that was Von Trier's intent.

'course, the end credits are just tacky.

I dug it, but then everyone else I was with was deeply disgusted (and some almost physically ill), so what do I know?
posted by leotrotsky at 5:54 PM on March 22, 2004


Should non US-ian artists leave America alone if they've never been there?

Nah. It's always interesting to get a different perspective, but I would take the fact that he's never been here into account, as well.

Interesting that you mentioned Jacob Holdt. I happened upon a copy of American Pictures at a bookstore on 50th street when I was 19 and was walloped by images and the sheer work involved in what he did.

I don't necessarily agree with all his political conclusions, but his compassion and sympathy for all his subjects is incredibly moving.

Jacob Holdt's multimedia presentation American Pictures, an unsettling mix of The Lower Depths, On the Road, and the Book of Revelation that played continuously for years in Copenhagen. Holdt's visceral sense of America as an unjust, racist, violent society—blighted by the primeval curse of slavery and defined by its black underclass—

Yeah, America was and often still is all of those things. To be fair, it is hardly unique in that regard. Not that I'm making excuses. Holdt also devotes little space to the large white underclass in America, mainly because as he acknowledges in his book, poor whites are the Americans most distrustful of outsiders.

Also, while we are often racist and violent, we also are a lot of good things as well or at least we want to be, if the ideas we are putatively founded on mean anything. While we've never come close to making those ideas a reality, that desire to make them so gives me some hope. But maybe I'm a fool.

Good post at any rate.
posted by jonmc at 6:02 PM on March 22, 2004


course, the end credits are just tacky.


SPOILER WARNING for those who wanna see the movie
but I guess it's OK for those who just won't see it: you see a montage of dust-bowl-era Dorothea Lange style b/w photos of the American poor, then more recent ones, as David Bowie sings "Young Americans"


the NewYorker's snooty "he's never been here" (damn David Denby, I really wish they had let Anthony Lane review this, for once) made me think of Bill Hick's "you ain't from around here" alien bit, I don't know why:

Anyway, I'm curious about UFOs, so I asked this guy who was there what it was like. And the guy said, "Oh, man, it was incredible! People came from miles around to look at them! A lot of people came armed." People are bringing shotguns to UFO sightings. Kind of brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, "You ain't from around here, are you, boy?" I said to the guy, "Why do you all bring shotguns to UFO sightings? It seems to be there's going to be a point in our development or evolution when you put your guns aside." You know what I mean? Don't you think that should happen, I mean just fucking once? The guy said, "Well, we didn't want to be abducted." I'm thinking, Yeah, and leave all this. Dude, if I lived in Fife, Alabama, I'd be on my hands and knees praying for an abduction every goddamn morning, all right.

posted by matteo at 6:03 PM on March 22, 2004


nothing to add, but just want to bookmark this as a "best of". thanks.
posted by poopy at 6:29 PM on March 22, 2004


Without reading the links I was going to say:
Don't know much about this, but the "the makers of "Casablanca' knew about Morocco." line seems a weak to me. I never thought Casablanca was much of a commentary about Morocco.

But reading the links, it seems a better analogy, but not much so. Casablanca could have been placed in any number of exile cities in different times. This movie seems more directed at a specific culture. But, he's doesn't seem to be talking about the existing US, but his outsider, almost literary view of it. The US as an idea, a vision. From the nytimes link:

"To call these various works dreams is to caution against taking them too literally, and also to suggest that they may be most interesting for what they reveal about the dreamers."

I haven't seen it, but will. Damn good cast, but I prefer good cinematography over handheld stuff(ugh digital). I think the anti-american critiques and perhaps the slant of this post as america vs. Von Trier are a bit overplayed. I think critiques of his movie as not truly representing America may be valid, but I think he's mostly just a really arty director more interested playing with the abstract idea than the concrete truth. Could be wrong. Just some bablings of of an outsider.

I liked some of Dancer in the Dark ( love Bjork's music ), but didn't really see it as a statement on the US. I didn't get a specific country vibe from it, but maybe that's because I'm within the culture.

That said, if he's really portraying himself as truthfully critiquing the US, he must visit.
posted by superchris at 6:35 PM on March 22, 2004


There nothing new about filmmakers creating films about countries they have never visited or have little knowledge of. Hollywood produces this shite all the time.

Dogville is one of the best films I've recently seen. Lars von Trier is a friggin genious.
posted by plebmaster at 6:40 PM on March 22, 2004


thanks for the post
posted by yerfatma at 7:09 PM on March 22, 2004


In fact, most Americans don't leave the country much, and are happy to pass judgment on the rest of the world.
posted by divrsional at 7:22 PM on March 22, 2004


Imagine if you weren't allowed to post in an I/P thread if you'd never been to the region.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:41 PM on March 22, 2004


How does visiting the US give a filmmaker a better sence of it's overall history or place in the world? What would he gain from being in a mall in anytown, USA that would have added to his film?

Occupying physical space on a certain point on the globe is becoming less and less important in my opinion.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:42 PM on March 22, 2004


In fact, most Americans don't leave the country much

Most Americans see very little of their own country, let alone the rest of the world. I have every confidence that a well-read foreigner can be more qualified to speak about the US than most Americans.
posted by jpoulos at 7:47 PM on March 22, 2004


I saw this a few weeks ago at the Indianapolis International Film Festival. I didn't see it as anti-American. It has a very dim view of human nature, yes, but its criticism applies to all humans, and it would be the height of arrogance (one of the themes of the movie) to interpret that criticism as being directed at Americans alone, just because the movie is set in America.

I can see that some people, either those who already have a poor view of the U.S., or those who are overly sensitive to perceived criticisms of the U.S., might view the film as anti-American, but that doesn't make it so, any more than the fact that some people perceive anti-Semitism in The Passion makes it anti-Semitic.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:00 PM on March 22, 2004


How many of the twats bad-mouthing France last year do you think actually have been to France. Or eaten French food or have seen a New Wave film. I think it is very clear that having travelled is not necessary for commentary on the 'other'.

That being said I loved it. I wanted to go to SXSW just to see it, but whaddayaknow, it was at the video shop.
posted by jmgorman at 8:00 PM on March 22, 2004


I hate Texas and southern California and I've never been there. I think that's ok.

Also, it seems that Van Trier hates traditional filmmaking more than his perceived hatred of america. He seems to want to find a medium between theater and film and to openly shun the overwrought and silly modern conventions of filmmaking today (ie. overused filters, swelling music scores, special effects). Part of me thinks he's brave for taking these steps, and part of me thinks he's just some pretentious bastard who hates much of what makes cinema great.
posted by graventy at 8:10 PM on March 22, 2004


I hate it when The Lottery is mentioned and its ending is spoiled in the same sentence.
posted by botono9 at 8:35 PM on March 22, 2004


I forget... the chick was a guy, right?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:42 PM on March 22, 2004


What a surprise, David Denby has found another movie to piss and moan about. I particularly enjoyed the way he managed to complain about other movies ("Kill Bill" "The Passion") that have so offended his delicate sensibilities. He needs to get a job reviewing PAX and Lifetime movies.
posted by subgenius at 8:45 PM on March 22, 2004


Imagine if you weren't allowed to post in an I/P thread if you'd never been to the region.

That sounds like a pretty darn good policy! [/offtopic]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:11 PM on March 22, 2004


I *leftanglebracketthree* Lars von Trier. Thanks for the links, matteo!

That Steven King 'Kingdom' blah thing on the boob tube was is based on one of his series, too, btw. I'm off to rent the originals as soon as I can.
posted by carter at 9:28 PM on March 22, 2004


I can't believe anyone has mentioned this (I guess since most people haven't seen the movie) as the thread has devolved to "If you hated this movie, you're a provincial American", but I found Dogville to be gratuitously misogynistic.

[Spoiler alert for Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Dogville]

It's pretty clear that von Trier is one sadistic puppy who gets off on dragging his female protagonists through the mud to make some cliched European point about Western society. The first von Trier movie I saw was Breaking the Waves, which I really admired. Sure, von Trier strips Emily Watson of any sort of dignity, turning her from religiously devout woman to a cheap prostitute for no other reason but to make some point about religion and sexuality. But at the time I thought it was truly courageous filmmaking.

Then next I saw Bjork in Dancer in the Dark. While I appreciated Bjork's acting and musical numbers, there was something about the plot that really bothered me. The plot turn which allowed von Trier to crucify Bjork on his altar to anti-capitalism felt way too contrived. Yes, Bjork's performance was harrowing, but it was to what end? What was von Trier trying to do by torturing Bjork besides make some stale point about American capitalism?

In Dogville, von Trier seems to have even less of a point. While I completely disagreed with the polemics of Dancer in the Dark, at the very least it was a cogent point of view. In Dogville, von Trier once again drags his female heroine through the mud, this time literally making Nicole Kidman the sex slave of a small American town. For what purpose? Does he really believe that small-town Depression-era America was like that?

[end spoiler]

I don't hate things for misogyny lightly. You won't hear me making this sort of argument about gangsta rap. But Dogville has got to be one of the most offensive movies I've seen since Birth of a Nation.
posted by alidarbac at 9:53 PM on March 22, 2004


I've liked the von Trier films I've seen, particularly Breaking the Waves, but it really makes me wonder why he feels the need to keep making films where the main character is a vulnerable women who is degraded, tortured, and killed during the course of the film. And, if Bjork is to believed, he likes to degrade and (psychically) torture his actresses as well.

He may be a brilliant filmmaker, but methinks he also has some serious personal issues.

on preview: although I haven't seen Dogville, I totally agree with alidarbac on Dancer in the Dark.
posted by boltman at 10:02 PM on March 22, 2004


Von Trier, of course, has never been to the US but he counters that he knows more about U.S. culture through modern media

Because we all know, of course, that TV and movies offer completely objective/evenhanded/true points of view about every aspect of a culture.

(Haven't seen Dogville yet, but want to.)
posted by Vidiot at 10:47 PM on March 22, 2004


You won't hear me making this sort of argument about gangsta rap.

Why not? I mean, I don't want to derail the thread, and I totally agree with you about Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, but things are fucked up all over.
posted by subgenius at 10:47 PM on March 22, 2004


I AM
Expat American teacher in Korea
leftist
inconsistently pacifistic
Euro (make that exo) phile

I AIN'T
Movie reviewer

That said, I liked the movie (well, no, not liked, I thought it was good, kind of like my reaction to Schindler's List). I didn't think it had anything at all to do with America per se (and I'm the sort of person who would have appreciated a bit of thinly veiled satire about the Patriot Act or whatever). The point, in my opinion, was the futility of human goodness. Paul Bettany (who incidentally stars in a movie in my mind called English Guys who are Cool with Jason Statham and Clive Owen), in the role of the other central character, manages to rationalize every abuse which Kidman's character suffers as being for her own good. The rest of the townsfolk are similarly deluded.
I felt that the movie was essentially about me.
posted by Octaviuz at 11:41 PM on March 22, 2004


Self-link to my review.
posted by muckster at 12:04 AM on March 23, 2004


Because we all know, of course, that TV and movies offer completely objective/evenhanded/true points of view about every aspect of a culture.

...or maybe just because the ways in which a culture's tv/movies/media choose to distort reality reveal more about that culture than any enumeration of truths or facts..?
[/partial devil's advocate]
posted by juv3nal at 1:01 AM on March 23, 2004


I didn't like this movie much at all. It is visually dull. Five minutes into it, you realize you are going to be looking at the inside of an empty warehouse for three hours. This is a epic cinematic vision of a rehersal. And a third of it is voiceover.

I guess this would be fine if the themes of the movie had anything at all to do with this odd visual style, but come the last hour of the movie, you begin to realize it will not. The reason why they shot the rehersal is never going to be explained. It is done that way purely to annoy you, or to challenge you, as they say in the arts.

There is only one shot in the film which is visually inventive and that is the static aerial shot of the applecart. (It is interesting that the best shots of Breaking The Waves are the static landscapes--maybe Von Trier respects painting more than movies?)

So why did Von Trier make a movie like this? I can only guess that it is the same rationale that is behind Dogme, which seems to be a school of filmmaking which has concluded that the apparatus of cinema is totally corrupt and must be purified and made basic and spartan by ditching "unneccessary" thing like locations and props and color and beautiful sets, which will allow us to rise above spectacle and decadence and visual pleasure and ruminate on the "essence" of the story, which seem to be always about a very pure soul who is doomed to fall because, alas, we are all brutal and corrupt. Which is fine if you think like a Northern European Puritan, but I think Mel Gibson does it better, or at least more cinematically.
posted by dydecker at 2:56 AM on March 23, 2004


I put myself through watching this film twice, and was left thinking that that as much as I thought it was brilliantly acted, and scrupulously clinical in its twists and turns, it is unforgivable to force-feed an audience its conclusions like that.

Dogville could be America, sure. But it could be anywhere - the story applies to racial tensions in Britain, and is almost an exact representation of the immigration situation in France. To tell an audience that the film is about America pointlessly narrows its scope.

What's more, Von Trier had kind of "done" anti-Americanism already, much more neatly and subtly, in Dancer in the Dark. This kind of sledgehammer moralising just leaves me a little cold.
posted by creeky at 3:25 AM on March 23, 2004


I have to partially disagree with dydecker. There's one particularly chilling scene--I won't spoil it here, but if you've seen it you know the one I mean--which makes excellent use of the "empty warehouse" set. Having said that, I'm not sure that one scene justifies doing the entire movie in that style.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:07 AM on March 23, 2004


He's just a terrible filmmaker, which has nothing at all to do with Americanism or anti-Americanism. Interesting art can come out of cultural fictionalization (Brecht's Alabama) or even misunderstanding. But to squander Bjork in the crappy let's-kill-the-blind-girl melodramatic way he did is a crime against aesthetics.
posted by skimble at 6:48 AM on March 23, 2004


Meanwhile, von Trier's TV masterpiece "The Kingdom" is being Steven King-ified on ABC. Since the Danish originals are a fav of mine, but I don't have a TV, I'm wondering if any of the von Trier fans here have been comparing King's version.
posted by Zurishaddai at 8:25 AM on March 23, 2004


...or maybe just because the ways in which a culture's tv/movies/media choose to distort reality reveal more about that culture than any enumeration of truths or facts..?

Good point, though to make that argument I'd think you'd have to have some first-hand, empirical knowledge of the "reality" of that culture AND the mass media of that culture, so you could contrast them and figure out the extent and manner of distortion.
posted by Vidiot at 8:43 AM on March 23, 2004


I'm wondering if any of the von Trier fans here have been comparing King's version.
I couldn't bring myself to watch it--the originals are so great...apparently many others aren't watching either.
posted by amberglow at 8:47 AM on March 23, 2004


Von Trier, of course, has never been to the US but he counters that he knows more about U.S. culture through modern media.

Because, you know, all those films set in NYC and written and directed by people who have been there are such an *accurate* portrayal of life in the city for most people. Please.

I didn't even realise Dancer in the Dark was not filmed in the U.S. until I was looking for which state it was in the closing credits, and saw it was actually Sweden. It's kind of like saying since Shekhar Kapur never lived in Elizabethan England, he had no credibility to direct Elizabeth.

I thought Dancer was pretty much a clear condemnation of both cold American-style Capitalism and Iron Curtain-style hard-line Socialism. Wasn't that the point? It was rather Fassbinder-esque in presenting the imbroglio of Selma's situation. She could have stayed in Czechoslovakia, where she was guaranteed a job and everyone had free healthcare, but lacked the technology to get her son the operation. Or she could come to America, where Capitalism had enabled more modern technological advancements in medicine - but she would have to work herself to death to try and afford to pay the doctor.

Judging from von Trier's past work, I doubt the film is as simple as to be dismissed as "anti-American." As others have noted, it could just as easily be viewed as anti-European, anti-socialist, anti-Asian . . .he tends to present the absurdities and contradictions of any type of society as they reflect the inherent injustice and existential absurdity of human nature in general.

Thus, I'm surprised by the reviewers' simplistic dismissal of the film as anti-American. Could it be they're currently overly-sensitive to the overwhelming anti-American sentiment in much of the world at the moment, and thus myopically saw only one interpretation of the story? Of course, I'll have to reserve judgment until I actually get to see the film. But my guess is even though some version of America past may anchor the setting for reference, the issues addressed are more universal and humanistic than simple condemnation of some current political fad.
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:30 AM on March 23, 2004




I guess this would be fine if the themes of the movie had anything at all to do with this odd visual style, but come the last hour of the movie, you begin to realize it will not. The reason why they shot the rehersal is never going to be explained. It is done that way purely to annoy you, or to challenge you, as they say in the arts.

I just watched the 177 minute version of the film and must say that I completely disagree with this assessment. There are specific shots which make tremendous use of the "empty" warehouse. In addition, I find it hard to believe that anyone couldn't see that Von Trier was obviously throwing mud in the eye of "no one knows what goes on behind closed doors"--a tenent of "community", not to mention the hell that many women live with as a result of such ignorance.

If you're hard pressed to imagine why he used the warehouse, try and picture this film shot in a normal fashion. It wouldn't have had the power that it did if shot with walls and rooms and "real sets" or "on location".

As to the poster who called this film (and his others) misogynist, I say "Nonsense!" How is the film at all misogynist? A female character enduring hardships does not make the director a woman-hater. I'd argue that if anything Von Trier is one of the few male directors revealing some of the true horrors that women face(d) as a result of their sex. In order for his (or any) film to be misogynist does their not have to be a judgement passed in favor of these hardships? If not, please explain why not. If so, please point them out.

Personally, I think it's a tremendous film and an amazing accomplishment. I've been a Von Trier fan since his first film, and though I don't always love his movies (hated most of Dancer in the Dark and much of Epidemic; haven't seen Medea or Idiots yet), his films always have something interesting to offer. There's a list of filmmakers who are doing fascinating things with movies these days. Unfortunately it's a short list but most certainly Von Trier is on it.
posted by dobbs at 5:23 PM on March 28, 2004


FOR ARCHIVAL PURPOSES:

great cover story in LAWeekly
. there's amazing stuff in it, emphasis mine:


The night before meeting Trier, I have dinner with Dogville’s producer, Vibeke Windelov. She tells me that Trier is an avid gardener and extremely intelligent. (Everyone emphasizes his intelligence.) He is also a family man, with a wife and four children. Whenever she has a practical problem — plumbing, computer — she calls Lars for advice on how to fix it. What kind of movies does he like to watch when he just wants to relax? I ask. Things like The Matrix, she answers. Definitely not Bergman, not the heavy stuff.

In other words, nothing like Dogville. Shot on a nearly bare sound stage, with chalk marks on the floor to indicate streets and houses, and actors miming the opening and closing of nonexistent doors, the film is a Brechtian mix of theater and cinema unlikely to pack ’em in at the multiplexes. “Eighty percent of what enters my skull is American in origin,” Trier once said, and Dogville is his attempt to construct an imaginary version of the country out of all that clutter. Like many of his films, it’s a kind of fairy tale — he hails from the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen, after all — and technically, it’s a tour de force of fluid camerawork and minimalist imagination. The film co-stars Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Chloë Sevigny, Ben Gazzara and Philip Baker Hall, among others. It’s a near-A-list Hollywood cast for a film that Hollywood wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot, Teflon-coated pole.


and:

“So you’re the anti-American?” growled Miramax titan Harvey Weinstein when he ran into Trier at Cannes. “I wrote a film starring me and Russell Crowe. It’s about Ping-Pong. The players are me and Russell Crowe, and you’re the ball!”

“I thought that was very funny,” Trier says, referring to Weinstein’s comment. He’s tucking into what is listed on the hotel menu as a “Von Trier Special” — steak and fries liberally smeared with mustard and (in this case) washed down with beer and schnapps. “Lauren Bacall said to me, ‘You are one of the prominent anti-Americans!’ Then she said something very good, which I would like you to quote if you can: ‘But if you get all the anti-Americans in America to see the film, you’ll be home free!’”

Trier —who added the “von” to his name when he was still in film school — pours himself a glass of O.P. Anderson, a Swedish aquavit, and offers me one. “Peter Aalbaek’s father died with a stomach full of this,” he says, referring to his business partner at Zentropa Productions, Peter Aalbaek Jensen. “That’s why we drink it, in respect.”

posted by matteo at 1:44 AM on April 7, 2004


for archival purposes, again:

Dafoe joins von Trier's 'Manderlay'

Willem Dafoe has joined the cast of "Manderlay," the second installment in Lars von Trier's "USA -- Land of Opportunities" trilogy.
Dafoe will play the father of Grace, the central character played by Nicole Kidman in the series' first film, "Dogville," and played by Bryce Dallas Howard in "Manderlay."
Dafoe joins Lauren Bacall, Jean-Marc Barr, Jeremy Davies, Isaach De Bankole, Danny Glover, Udo Kier, John C. Reilly and Chloe Sevigny in the new production, which is set in the American South during the 1930s and explores the repression of blacks.
The film is being produced by Vibeke Windelov for Denmark's Zentropa. Nordisk will release the film in Denmark and Sweden, with Trust Film Sales handling international distribution.
Like "Dogville," "Manderlay" will be shot entirely on a stage. The technique was inspired in part by von Trier's childhood viewings of theater productions broadcast on television and also shows the influence of Bertolt Brecht as well as a move away from the modern-day use of computers in creating film.

posted by matteo at 2:38 PM on April 12, 2004


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