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SAMMY: "That's democracy?"
May 16, 2005 10:30 AM   Subscribe

"I am an American, so that is why I make films about America. America is sitting on our world, I am making films that have to do with America (because) 60% of my life is America. So I am in fact an American, but I can't go there to vote, I can't change anything. We are a nation under influence and under a very bad influence… because Mr. Bush is an asshole and doing very idiotic things."
Lars Von Trier introduces his new film at the Cannes Film Festival: «Manderlay» picks up where «Dogville» left off, with the character originated by Nicole Kidman -- now played by Bryce Dallas Howard -- stumbling onto a plantation that time forgot, where slavery still operates in the 1930s. The film (5 MB .pdf file, official pressbook) ends, as Dogville did, with David Bowie’s Young Americans played over a photomontage of images that range from a Ku Klux Klan meeting to the Rodney King beating, George Bush at prayer and Martin Luther King at his final rest, American soldiers in Vietnam and the Gulf, the Twin Towers. More inside.
posted by matteo (69 comments total)

 
Manderlay's trailer

Von Trier: "You only respond strongly to a provocation if there is something to it".

____


A conversation between Lars von Trier and Paul Thomas Anderson
PTA: If Bush invited you to the White House, would you go?

LVT: It wouldn't make it easier for me to sit in a plane.

PTA: But we knock you out, give you a couple of pills, everything's over, we wheel you into the car.

LVT: I'm sure Bush has the power to bring me to the White House if he really wants to.

PTA: But if Bush called you and said, "I want you to come to the White House, talk to me about what you're saying," would you go?

LVT: Uh, no. [laughs] You?
posted by matteo at 10:35 AM on May 16, 2005


I like Von Trier, and would forever defend his right to make movies about America. He could just make a film called "America Sucks" and just run three hours of flags burning - I don't care.

But his resistance to even visiting the place that he's so obsessed with clearly marks him as a very stubborn, closed-minded man - perhaps even more so than the object of his hate (GWB). At least he just makes movies.
posted by fungible at 10:43 AM on May 16, 2005


I love the way that he's a great expert on America, despite the fact that he's never actually been there. It kind of reminds me of a lot of the neocons who are anti-French, but have never actually been to France.
posted by unreason at 10:55 AM on May 16, 2005


Just to take the side of devils advocate for kicks, with the way the media operates, it wouldn't surprise me if he knew more about America than many Americans.

I've only been to Orange County, Washington, upper Idaho, and Portland but the US "cultural" machine has locked a shitload of knowledge in my head. Yes it's nothing compared to actually being there, but it sure seems pretty close.
posted by futureproof at 11:23 AM on May 16, 2005


But his resistance to even visiting the place that he's so obsessed with clearly marks him as a very stubborn, closed-minded man

You know he can't fly, right?
posted by mr.marx at 11:23 AM on May 16, 2005


Shut up, Mr. von Trier, and go make the Kingdom III already.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 11:29 AM on May 16, 2005


Why is everybody so down on AmeriKKKa? The U$A ain't the worst country in the world; it's just the country responsible for keeping the worse off countries worse off, that's all. Imagine what our society might look like if we weren't busy ripping off everybody we can! E.g., having slavery overseas is better than having it here again, as if you wouldn't rather be enslaved in your own country than kidnapped to Alabama!
posted by davy at 11:31 AM on May 16, 2005


Kingdom III won't happen as long as Ernst-Hugo Järegård refuses to, well, resurrect.
posted by mr.marx at 11:32 AM on May 16, 2005


You tell him, ch3ch20h! We ought to bomb every country whose citizens make unpleasant movies about our Homeland!
posted by davy at 11:33 AM on May 16, 2005


Well unreason that's a pretty reasonable thing to say. After all the effect that France has over the world is comparable to America. Oh wait, no it's not. This guy probably knows more about America than most Americans.

Still, what LVT is doing sits wrong with me. People shouldn't believe what they see on TV.
posted by nixerman at 11:37 AM on May 16, 2005


But his resistance to even visiting the place that he's so obsessed with clearly marks him as a very stubborn, closed-minded man
---
You know he can't fly, right?


If he's really that obsessed with America there are other ways to get here. Granted, a boat will take a lot longer and cost more than a flight, but you still end up in America in the end.
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:39 AM on May 16, 2005


Fungible: By your logic, if my neighbor is intentionally hurling feces over the fence into my kitchen window, I'm being closed-minded if I don't accept his invitation to dinner to "discuss it reasonably."

I don't think the things that Von Trier dislikes about us are on the "playing the stereo too loud on weekends" annoyance level.
posted by elderling at 11:39 AM on May 16, 2005


Von Trier is known for having a number of phobias. One includes traveling by plane, which is what they are talking about in the conversation w/ PTA (knock you out...etc.). For the scenes from "Breaking the Waves" (which is not about the USA) shot on board an oil rig out in the sea, Von Trier could not go due to his intense phobias and had to direct the shoot via two-way radio.

Stubborn? Von Trier? Of course - one of the reasons he's a great director. Close minded? I don't think so.
posted by aether1 at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2005


If he's really that obsessed with America there are other ways to get here. Granted, a boat will take a lot longer and cost more than a flight, but you still end up in America in the end.

But you don't get it. His point is he is already there.
posted by mr.marx at 12:04 PM on May 16, 2005


unreason: you seem to have avoided his point. He's saying what a lot of people have said, although he's saying it in a somewhat obtuse way. He's saying that America has such huge influence on the rest of the world outside its physical borders that the rest of the world doesn't need to actually go to America to know quite a lot about it.

I think that's broadly true.
posted by Decani at 12:11 PM on May 16, 2005


What mr. marx and decani said. Go ask Rammstein.
posted by Panfilo at 12:25 PM on May 16, 2005


But you don't get it. His point is he is already there.

Oh, I get it alright. My point is, he is not.

If you're surrounded by Japanese cultural artifacts all day, if your life is dedicated to studying Japan, if your entire political and social outlook is based on what you know about Japan, is that the same as going to Japan? Not even close.

It doesn't matter if he's "annoyed" with us or "hates" us. (I don't think he actually hates America, it's probably more of a love/hate obsession thing.) But if you're gonna spend that much time ragging on something, get to know the real thing first.

The plane and boat phobias are a cop-out. The guy has more money than God, if he really cared he could find a way. Kubrick was the same way, you know, but at least he started out here.

We've all ridiculed Bush for having no curiousity about the world - how, despite having an ambassador/CIA man/VP for a father, he never travelled anywhere before becoming president. And how he now presumes to know every place he's never been.

Well, Von Trier's the same. Much smarter, much more clever, makes great if pretentious movies (that's a compliment), but the same. We all become the thing we hate, I guess.
posted by fungible at 12:31 PM on May 16, 2005


I don't mind von Trier's distanced anti-Americanism; he could push it even further. I have no problem with allegory, and I loved Dogville's set, the perspective of public life versus privacy, and the warping of space and time. The concept was brilliant!

However, the script sucks, characterization is non-existant, the acting is worse than a first read-thru, the movie is too long by at least an hour, and shortened, would have still maintained its redundancy, and the plot twist was straight out of a soap opera ala that lampooned in Tootsie. And so with such shoddy execution, someone actually funded a sequel?!

Are devotees of art film so starved for quality product that they have to embrace such putrid horseshit?
posted by mischief at 12:32 PM on May 16, 2005


Ah, but Rammstein has actually been here.

This guy is no more an expert on America than I, as a lifelong resident of NY who has never spent more than an hour south of the Mason-Dixon (with the exception of Disneyworld) am an expert on the Deep South. Yes, I have my opinions on it, and most are pretty well grounded in reality, but I wouldn't feel qualified to present myself to the world as an expert by directing films all about the South.
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:50 PM on May 16, 2005


Eh. I thought it was great. No accounting for taste, I suppose.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:50 PM on May 16, 2005


So von Trier wants to make films about "his" imaginary US. I accept that Lucas makes films set in space and Ridley Scott makes films set in Ancient Rome. What's the big deal?
posted by Panfilo at 12:51 PM on May 16, 2005


Oh, I get it alright. My point is, he is not.

But, Fungible, you know what follows? It follows that you couldn't possibly know if he's right or not, you being an american, and thus unable to feel the american influences on your particular country and culture.
posted by mr.marx at 1:03 PM on May 16, 2005


Also, his movies aren't really about America, are they? He uses it as a backdrop, but the characters and situations are broad and universal. It certainly can't be read as a commentary on modern America: the USA trilogy films are set in the 30s. The only part of Dogville that could reasonably be read as social commentary is the closing credits (even that would be a stretch, I think). The rest was straight-up Christian allegory, with a chunk of apologetic theology thrown in for good measure.

Maybe that's the trick: I don't know of a more explicitly religious director working today. Could be he uses the "anti-American controversy" angle to distract from his religious themes, which might not be nearly as appealing to the majority of his audience. That's just base speculation, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:05 PM on May 16, 2005


So von Trier wants to make films about "his" imaginary US. I accept that Lucas makes films set in space and Ridley Scott makes films set in Ancient Rome. What's the big deal?

Exactly. People don't like him because he focuses on the shitty parts of us/our history instead of the good. And mr_roboto is right too--he tells universal stories about humanity and human nature and could really set them anywhere--since we're the 800-pound gorilla, why not set them here?
posted by amberglow at 1:42 PM on May 16, 2005


fungible, um, what is your point? Are you saying people can only make movies about places they've been? You seem more intent on ridiculing Von Trier rather than finding any gaps in his methodology.

Von Trier considers himself an American and considering all the nuances of the word, I'm inclined to believe him. The only real question is if the America he experiences day in and day out, the America of television and books, is the real America.
posted by nixerman at 1:50 PM on May 16, 2005


Ah yes, but how does he know that I know that he knows what I know about what he knows that I know about America? So typical of the fucking Danish. (kidding)

Like I said, he can make all the movies and sweeping political pronouncements he wants. I'm not stopping him. I like his movies. But he needs to stop being so lame and actually do the legwork.

If you like the Rammstein song btw, the video is awesome. I think it's on iTunes too.
posted by fungible at 2:01 PM on May 16, 2005


I recently saw Dogville for the first time, and was completely blown away by it. I was up all night afterward reading about it online, hooking into some of the interpretations I did not make about it myself. I'm kinda of the opinion that the viewer owns the interpretation of the film more than even the director, and so I wouldn't tell someone what to think about it, but I will say that I think to call it anti-American is an oversimplification and is a distraction from a wide array of powerful debates the film provokes. Whatever LVT's personal views are, and how one reacts to them, I would hope people don't ignore the films on this basis, as there is much to be missed. I've been looking forward to the next films in the series.

I have to congratulate matteo on putting up some really good resources here. That .pdf file alone will keep me busy quite a while.
posted by troybob at 2:17 PM on May 16, 2005


I agree with Ingmar Bergman, who said that Lars von Trier "does not understand what a genius he is".

was blown away by his first big movie 'Europa', but he lost track and produced dreadful flicks like 'Breaking the Waves'.

Manderlay sounds very interesting, must see that one.
posted by Substrata at 2:17 PM on May 16, 2005


As an aside, The Five Obstructions was one of my favorite films of last year. Absolutely fascinating.
posted by Espoo2 at 2:21 PM on May 16, 2005


"I recently saw Dogville for the first time, and was completely blown away by it."

You should love "All My Children" then, shown weekdays on ABC. I'll bet you liked Magnolia as well. ;-P
posted by mischief at 2:28 PM on May 16, 2005


PTA: But we knock you out, give you a couple of pills, everything's over, we wheel you into the car.

Lars Von Trier plays B.A. Baracus in the Dogme remake of The A-Team. It would be his best work since The Idiots.

"In 1960 enough was enough! A crack commando new wave was sent to militaristic prison by a bourgeois cinema they did not create (it is no accident that the phrase 'avant-garde' has military connotations). These men promptly escaped to the anti-bourgeois cinema underground. Today, still wanted by the US government, these filmmakers counter the individual film by presenting a set of rules known as The Vow of Chastity. If you have a problem, and you're willing to film in Europe, maybe you can hire the Dogme Team."
posted by eatitlive at 2:31 PM on May 16, 2005


What do we talk about when we talk about America?
for us non-USians it is indeed a trick question -- I can understand Von Trier's attitude ("I am an American"), because for us it's hard not to be deluged by America's culture. pop culture of course, but political culture as well -- "globalization" is not really just about sneakers, but about cultural/political dominance. most non-USians know their own leaders' names, but America's as well. because it is the current leading empire -- and everybody knows Caesar's name. in that sense, everybody's American too -- Bush and Rumsfeld and Rice matter as much, if not more, than our own politicians for our lives. this works in a way that, for example, pacifist Japan will never be able to, no matter how many manga fanboys they manage to convert in the West (and I do indeed appreciate the appeal of Sailor Moon, but still American influence in the world is King Kong compared to Japan's tiny pint-sized Pikachu. at least until people all over the world start creating Shinto temples and watching sumo en masse and start developing the wish to import Japan's Imperial Tradition the way people -- even in the developing world -- seem eager to import America's own tradition.
a European like Von Trier, fear of flying and all, doesn't even need to travel to experience America.
Iraqis certainly don't, either. the difference is, some parts of the world experience America's influence in a less, let's say, intrusive way. but very few nations, if any, are immune. post-1945 Europe certainly isn't.

and then, what's a real American? I keep hearing that foreigners who only visited DC and NYC and other big cities didn't see "real" America either. and then, most Americans I know either were born close to a big city or moved to one and have little desire to come back to smalltown rural "true" America. so I gather a few million Americans aren't "true" Americans either if experiencing rural, smalltown USA is a prerequisite.

for me, part of what makes Von Trier's work interesting is the difficulty to box it in.
Dogville was as much anti-American as Breaking the Waves was anti-oil rig, which is to say not much. if Von Trier is anti-anything, well, he may be seen as anti-men (his men are usually rapists, pimps, or cowards, regardless of national origin). certainly not a misogynist (his women end up being innocent victims of male brutality, or male cowardice. every once in a while, they pay the men back, see

SPOILERS Dogville's massacre END SPOILERS)

of course if you shoot a movie about 1950's death penalty like Dancer in the Dark, it's easier to place it in a country like America where the use of death penalty is still massive. and the slavery metaphor makes the 1930's segregated South an obvious choice -- not enough blacks in 1930's Denmark, I guess.
not to mention, Von Trier is far from being a folk hero in his country -- his work is accused of being anti-Danish as well.

oh, and he may be gleefully fucking with American sensibilities in his "Young Americans" photomontages. yes, but then according to many viewers they're among the strongest parts of his films. Jacob Holdt's Danish as well.
Von Trier will never risk being dixie-chicked because I gather his films don't get much play in the rural American South the way the Dixie Chicks get air time on country radio. he certainly doesn't make US right-wingers as nervous as Michael Moore does.
hence, he is seen as much less dangerous.
posted by matteo at 2:40 PM on May 16, 2005


The movies also don't ever play in wide release here--only arthouses--he's not very well known at all. I have to say that i was underwhelmed with Dogville--there was something too stilted and mannered about it, in a different way from Dancer in the Dark, which was also very mannered and stilted, but more emotional and compelling. The way he set it all up in Dogville removed it from real life too much, i thought. I still think the Kingdom is his best stuff (but then i'm a lowbrow anyway). : >

definitely looking forward to Manderlay...
posted by amberglow at 2:52 PM on May 16, 2005


Nobody should be pissed at or take seriously Von Trier's cartoonsish impression of America any more than they should by Tarantino's cartoonish view of Asia.

He's artist and he just makes movies for gawds sake. Artists have to distill and simplify subject matter - unless they want to make 10 hour movies or something.

And Dogville WAS pretty brilliant conceptually. But I wouldn't read to much "sociological" insights into it.

I actually agree with him in the sense that the world has been Americanized. I disagree that that is necessarily a BAD thing. Sure there is the crass commercial culture... but I think somebody, given the nature of media technology, would be pushing that on the world if we were absent. America has gifted the world with higher expectations; proven the power of the individual; and to some degree shown the world a model for the liberation from traditional old world class and gender models. Not to say that we haven't slid from these ideals. Or even fully implemented them. But we were the first to make them (at least in rhetoric) policy and enter them into public discussion. I think all that has eeked out into the collective unconscious of the world in quite a revolutionary way through our popular art forms. Von Trier IS an American - he is a lone wolf and rebel. Nothing more American than that.

It is natural that people want to hate on the high and mighty and want them to fall. I certainly can't fault for that showing up in somebody art. I just say... Your welcome. And that's that.
posted by tkchrist at 3:40 PM on May 16, 2005


Can't judge the film work as I haven't seen it (it's on the to do list- I'm always open to correction) but thematically he seems to have taken the easy way out. Potshots at America real or imaginary, is that right? It's beginning to sound quaint. Always good for riling the patriots and heartening the traitors (joke), of course, but a little predictable.

And safe.

Unlike, say, this.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:52 PM on May 16, 2005


It's not potshots at all, Indigo--watch it and see. Much more pervasive and embedded.
posted by amberglow at 4:21 PM on May 16, 2005


Ok. Let me try explaining this one more time. Stuff that people see overseas about America does not equal American culture. Just seeing American television and eating a Big Mac is not sufficient to understand America. It is the equivalent of saying that you understand Shakespeare because you read the Cliff's Notes. If I watch anime, I might come to the conclusion that the average citizen of Japan fights interdimensional alien tentacle beasts with a samurai sword on a daily basis while wearing a school girl outfit. I would be wrong, and I would have no idea as to the true nature of Japanese culture. Lars Von Trier's fear of flight is nothing more than a cop out. He just doesn't want to have to actually risk having his stereotypes challenged. While he remains safely away from the US, he can continue to populate his fantasy United States with ugly, fat Americans who always validate his belief system.
posted by unreason at 4:24 PM on May 16, 2005


While he remains safely away from the US, he can continue to populate his fantasy United States with ugly, fat Americans who always validate his belief system.

Actually, most of the actors he uses are slender and attractive.

And: what the fuck are we talking about here? Could anyone put into plain language one of Von Trier's "criticisms" of America, and explain how this criticism is portrayed in his films? I just don't see it.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:30 PM on May 16, 2005


wait -- Bryce Howard, James Caan, Willem Dafoe and Lauren Bacall are ugly and fat?

(Nicole Kidman is an Aussie but played an American's role for Von Trier -- she's neither ugly nor fat)
posted by matteo at 4:30 PM on May 16, 2005


... he can continue to populate his fantasy United States with ugly, fat Americans who always validate his belief system.

Like Catherine Deneuve and Bjork and Nicole Kidman? have you seen any of his movies?

(and on preview, what matteo said)
posted by amberglow at 4:44 PM on May 16, 2005


If I watch anime, I might come to the conclusion that the average citizen of Japan fights interdimensional alien tentacle beasts with a samurai sword on a daily basis while wearing a school girl outfit.

You might, but I don't think it's an adequate parallel to what he's suggesting. A more reasonable conclusion to draw might be that the average cartoon-watching Japanese citizen finds stories about swordfights with interdimensional alien tentacle beasts appealing.
posted by juv3nal at 4:51 PM on May 16, 2005


Politics aside, I thought Dogville really, really sucked. To be fair, I only got through about 30 minutes before stopping it, ejecting the DVD and blasting it to pieces with my 30.06. Ok, I didn't shoot it...but I wanted to.

It will remain, a least in my mind, as The Most Pretentious Movie Ever Made. Can anyone think of other contenders?
posted by zardoz at 5:00 PM on May 16, 2005


LVT is not trying to be a spokesperson, or even really commentator: he's trying to be an artiste. His vision of America is deliberately provocative, and highly personalized. He's neurotic, but he's also trying to distinguish himself as personality.

One of the things European film-makers find hard to take about the U.S. is a very literal, factually based reception of films. Art film is not about creating fantasy, or selling a dream. It's about personal expression.

I didn't see Dogville (I don't think Kidman can act, and I've read our town; VT's remake didn't seem worth $10 bucks), but i assume that his trilogy isn't a documentary, but an exploration of his own relationship to Denmark's super-power ally.

I do recommend Breaking the Waves. I may even give this American nightmare a try.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:12 PM on May 16, 2005


It will remain, a least in my mind, as The Most Pretentious Movie Ever Made. Can anyone think of other contenders?

Derek Jarman's Blue: an unchanging blue screen for 80 FUCKING MINUTES.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:21 PM on May 16, 2005


PinkST, by the time he made it Jarman was fucking blind. a few months later, he was fucking dead
posted by matteo at 5:25 PM on May 16, 2005


It's not potshots at all, Indigo--watch it and see. Much more pervasive and embedded.

Will do, Amberglow. Mostly I was reacting to the reports read and comments made, and what sounds like posturing but may be merely publicity. But you're right, art must stand on its own two feet. As a corollary, is there any particular criticism on it that you can recommend, pro or con?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:33 PM on May 16, 2005


It will remain, a least in my mind, as The Most Pretentious Movie Ever Made. Can anyone think of other contenders?

The Matrix trilogy.
posted by eatitlive at 5:49 PM on May 16, 2005


these reader reviews are all pretty good, Indigo, but i wouldn't read too much about it before seeing it.
posted by amberglow at 6:19 PM on May 16, 2005


I am curious about the film because of the idea of an alternate history of slavery, but I am skeptical of someone who hasn't been there trying to write about America. It would be like me setting a novel in a green and pleasant England that does not, and never has, existed.

The best thing I have ever read about the USA, really trying to think about the United States, is Neil Gaimen's American Gods. It's not the most perfect novel, but it really gives deep thought to what the mythos of the US might be, from the mind of someone who was not born but has become American (and who thus has both sides, to an extent).

That said, I was annoyed that apparently there was utter vacuum north of the 49th parallel. But then, that is truly American.
posted by jb at 7:08 PM on May 16, 2005


PST - watch BLUE again. it's not an unchanging blue screen. this is important.
posted by oog at 7:40 PM on May 16, 2005


Thanks for the post, matteo.

I love the way that he's a great expert on America, despite the fact that he's never actually been there. It kind of reminds me of a lot of the neocons who are anti-French, but have never actually been to France.

What a ridiculously ignorant comment. You haven't a clue what you're talking about. Your "clarification" is equally dumb and misinformed.
posted by dobbs at 8:00 PM on May 16, 2005


1)PinkST, by the time he made it Jarman was fucking blind. a few months later, he was fucking dead


2)PST - watch BLUE again. it's not an unchanging blue screen. this is important.

1) Really, this means nothing to me. It doesn't convert Blue into a good film, maybe because I don't particularly value Jarman's work. I thought Jubilee was unspeakably dull too, and I haven't felt compelled to investigate his stuff any further.

2) That may be, but I think it would be a waste of my time to try to listen to Blue again and idly stare at a subtly changing screen when there's over a dozen Herzog (for example) films I haven't seen.

As always gentlemen, de gustibus etc.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:12 PM on May 16, 2005


I think I've figured out why Lars is afraid to come to America. He's probably afraid that if he spent a month in the heartland, he'd have to lose his misanthropic outlook and actually come to respect Americans as people.

Well, as someone who's spent plenty of time travelling across America, I'm here to tell you, Lars, you have nothing to worry about. If anything, you'll find your hatred of humanity reinforced. So go for it!

(Of course, I'm making wild assumptions here about LVT which have nothing to do with reality. I'm sure he would completely approve.)
posted by fungible at 9:13 PM on May 16, 2005


Noted, Amberglow, and thank you.

Fungible, can't tell how much you're joking. Again, though, I really do think it's part of a pose. (Making assumptions of my own, of course.) He has product to push, and this is clearly a good way to get yourself talked about.

Mind you, if he were really hip, he'd have no problem with visiting, living in the USA. Look at John Lennon....
posted by IndigoJones at 4:17 AM on May 17, 2005


perhaps Lars is not referring to America the place (with the real humans in it), as America the story that gets rammed down our fucking throats every day. That's what we means when he says he's 60% american already.

The first arm of US colonialism is its mythmakers, and myth and media are the battlegrounds that Lars is fighting on. I'm fairly sure that the success of the US is very largely dependent on it's storytelling abilities, which has convinced its' populous and a high proportion of the world at large of it's manifest destiny. That's how people can say things like "they're just jealous of our freedom" without everyone just falling about laughing.

Don't forget that 90% of the world ALSO won't get to see the *acual* america. Just like Lars they only get to see what they see on TV, and hear about in the news. The only thing they see are the endlessly repeated stories of the american dream, where no one is poor (or if they are they're dangerous punks who deserve to be shot by unconventionally brutal cops), and where everyone has learned by the end of the show that the important thing is to believe in oneself and then all your dreams come true.

What do you think the average arab, african, asian or even european thinks about the way that the average US director shows their countries ? Do you think those directors often go to visit, to check that that they aren't accidentally misrepresenting the culture ?

And I HAVE been to the US, quite a bit, and I have to say I agree with Lars to a large extent. I would venture to say that the average european possibly has a better overview of US culture than the average US citizen. In my experience most people who live in the huge scary bit in between the two US coasts know almost nothing about the rest of the world, and have had almost no exposure to any non-US culture, and so have no perspective with which to look at themselves.

Now - how much impact do you think Lars' little film is going to have compared to the thousands of hours of sugary McFluffy TV sold at very little cost to every nation on earth and effectively repressing pretty much all local media production ? Do you really think you need to deny him a bit of petulance ?
posted by silence at 5:52 AM on May 17, 2005


silence, you're missing the point. America is the Center of the Universe. So the "average arab, african, asian or even european" does not matter, their opinions do not matter, and more importantly they must pay tribute to the myths.

Everyone has to know their station. Things would be so much better in the world if non-Americans, especially the Europeans (like von Trier), would tow the line and understand the inevitable March of History. Just like the Spanish, who sang a little ditty when Napoleon came in to liberate them, "Down with liberty, long live chains!"
posted by gsb at 6:27 AM on May 17, 2005


It may be set on an Alabama cotton plantation, but so few African-American actors would touch Lars von Trier's latest film, premiered in Cannes last night, that nine of the 12 black actors cast as slaves are British.
"We tried several [Americans] who thought it was a good thing that the film was being made and that it was interesting. But they didn't take part it in because it's explosive stuff in the USA," said Von Trier, whose Manderlay is vying for the Palme d'Or.
"The English actors were completely relaxed about it, and they said 'yes massa' to me every morning. They had a laugh," he said.
posted by matteo at 9:34 AM on May 17, 2005




I always hope for some idea or culture to come along to reinvigorate our hopes and dreams, and then I read ignorant statements like:

In my experience most people who live in the huge scary bit in between the two US coasts know almost nothing about the rest of the world, and have had almost no exposure to any non-US culture, and so have no perspective with which to look at themselves.

and I think, nope, the world is still fucked.
posted by MillMan at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2005


well, MillMan, I did say "in my experience" - It's entirely possible that I have chosen particularly bad times or places to go to. I've spent a bit of time in the US, and can feel relatively comfortable in NYC, or even San Francisco, but the times I've been to the middle bit have been quite shocking to me. Of course, I'm not saying that everyone who lives there is willfully ignorant, just that the average lack of understanding of other cultures and global issues was extraordinary and frightening. I would be interested to know if other people's experience is different - like I said, maybe I just went to the wrong bars.....
posted by silence at 10:07 AM on May 17, 2005


silence, what are these "middle cities" that you have been to? My experiences in Boston (current place of residence), NYC, DC, LA, SF, and Seattle are not significantly different than my experiences in Minneapolis (where I grew up), Chicago, St. Louis, etc. The cultural divide is urban vs. rural, and even that is a gross exaggeration. I am continually blown away by this asinine binary red state / blue state idea continually pushed by the media and everyone else who doesn't care to spend more than 2 minutes confirming their own suspicions. And here you are having actually spent time here coming to the same conclusion? What were these radical differences you saw? Perhaps we're paying attention to different things.

The city of Worcester where I work (40 miles west of Boston) reminds me a lot of rural Minnesota...a lot of pick up trucks with "support the troops" bumper stickers.
posted by MillMan at 10:38 AM on May 17, 2005


perhaps you're right - my understanding of US geography certainly isn't as complete as yours, and by "middle bits" i was obviously being somewhat facetiously vague - I was talking about Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona. Perhaps it's a north/south thing. Perhaps I just didn't get to know people well enough, but I've travelled to a fair few different parts of the world - enough to get a flavour of each of the places I've visited - and the flavour I got from there left a nasty taste in the mouth. It's not that the people there were bad in some kind of fundamental way (many people i met were quite sweet), it just seemed as if they lived without much concept of the rest of the world - much more than anywhere else I've ever been.
posted by silence at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2005


I don't think you're getting it. You are us. You are ours. We dreamt you, and you're living in our dream. We don't have to go there, any more than you have to step into the computer and join your Sims.
Now, what time did I set the alarm clock for?
posted by TimothyMason at 12:01 PM on May 17, 2005


Let's be serious: This guy is a huge douche.
posted by Jeff_Larson at 12:44 PM on May 17, 2005


silence: "That's how people can say things like "they're just jealous of our freedom" without everyone just falling about laughing."

First off, the statement 'they hate us for our freedom' makes a lot of sense, since 'freedom,' for traditional cultures, isn't really that highly regarded. And maybe rightly so. Look where it got us. If you asked Osama bin Laden what he hated about 'the great satan,' he'd say something like, "they let their women /children /people do whatever they want, and have no sense of decency or the sacred." That is to say, "they have the freedom to do all kinds of awful stuff."

It is the height of western arrogance and provincialism to believe that everyone across the globe wants to live in the same way we do, and to think that our precious 'freedom' is what everybody wants. We should be somewhat open to the possibility that that freedom is actually an object of disdain. Look around-- the fruits of 'freedom' aren't really very pretty.

"Don't forget that 90% of the world ALSO won't get to see the *acual* america. Just like Lars they only get to see what they see on TV, and hear about in the news."

By that token, those of us in America ought to be spared such awful filmmaking, since it's really for people outside this country anyway. Don't get me wrong, I agree that there's a film about the dark depths of the American psyche out there somewhere waiting to be made, but it won't be put together by the ponderous Mr. von Trier. David Bowie and black-and-white montages? How touching. "Dogville" was one of the most ridiculous things I've seen in my life, and this new thing promises to be even... better.

Believe me, I see all sides of this. I saw 'Weekend,' and it's magnificently awesome, even if it is Maoist and cruel and hates the United States and the rest of the west with vengeance. Maybe what bugs me the most about Lars is that he's a reminder that Europe has lost a good bit of its honesty since the '60s. That is: it used to be that they criticized themselves along with us when they got fed up with the way things were in the world. Now, suddenly, in a world where France still makes deals with Iraq for oil, where Italy manufactures bullets for both sides, where everybody's hands are in the muck, they're the spotless ones, and we're the enemy.

"In my experience most people who live in the huge scary bit in between the two US coasts know almost nothing about the rest of the world, and have had almost no exposure to any non-US culture, and so have no perspective with which to look at themselves."

And in my experience, Europe seems awful. I've lived my whole life here in the US, and I've met maybe three or four Americans who were outright racist; whereas the vast majority of Europeans I've met was pretty blatant in their hatred of other cultures. Not two weeks ago, my roommate, a Czech, was telling me that "all Chinese people are liars."

Now, I know this isn't very fair, and that a great tradition of equality and cross-cultural thoughtfulness exists in Europe, even if I don't see it first-hand. But you can understand, I hope, that it sort of miffs me when Europeans are always making dark allusions to 'middle American ignorance' and 'the reigning provincialism of the United States' when, by all accounts, we're in pretty much the same boat, governmentally, socially, and economically.
posted by koeselitz at 1:05 PM on May 17, 2005


koeselitz, are you deliberately acting like von Trier to make a point?
posted by gsb at 1:11 PM on May 17, 2005


gsb, i think you're right.
posted by amberglow at 1:13 PM on May 17, 2005


Hey, come on - we're just as disdainful of each other as we are of you.
posted by TimothyMason at 1:20 PM on May 17, 2005


we're in pretty much the same boat, governmentally, socially, and economically.

quod erat demonstrandum
posted by matteo at 2:25 PM on May 17, 2005


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