I once videoed Lars Von Trier’s Dogville off the TV. Never watched it. Here is my review:
Is there any symbol of Hollywood’s decadence, any totem of its brainless overexhaustion of every cinematic cliché, any example of its fake-assed, phoney-bosomed artifice more potent than the wall or ceiling? Even the decent Hollywood films are ruined by the distracting presence of these architectural abominations. How are we supposed to focus on Kowalski’s proud Polish face in A Streetcar named Desire when in every scene a wall or ceiling leers into shot, hogging the screen with its offensive horizontalness or verticalness? How can we enjoy the shadowy copulations of Tom Cruise and his flight instructor in Top Gun while ever these loathsome sheets of absurdity hover in the background? ‘Why’, as Laurence Olivier once exclaimed, ‘must I put up with this fucking shit?’
One director stands apart. His name is Lars Von Crinklehorn Von Buckleathon Von Frumpstein Von Trier (He was christened Lars Trier but his peers at film school gave him the nickname ‘Lars Von Crinklehorn Von Buckleathon Von Frumpstein Von Trier’ for a number of reasons too European to repeat). Von Trier, as a member of the Dogme circle of directors, vowed to remove all unnecessary ornaments from film, beginning with the despised ‘wall-ceiling matrix’, as he and his fidgeting foreign friends referred to it.
Hence it is that Dogville features no walls or ceilings. If Von Trier would have had his way, it wouldn’t have featured floors either, but he relented after Nicole Kidman astutely commented ‘Oi cahn’t flipping floi’. With the walls and ceilings went all natural or unnatural lighting, coherent sentences, clothes, bodily movements and camera shots. In the masterful fingers of Von Trier, cinema was stripped down to its very essentials.
Hollywood was so enraged by these subversive innovations that it tried to assassinate Von Trier. But ‘you can’t kill a ghost’, as Von Trier remarked from beneath a white sheet, seemingly in an attempt to convince his would-be murderers that he was some kind of avant-garde European phantasm and not just a bog-standard, flesh-and-blood Dane.
Von Trier wanted to take this minimalism to its logical extreme and chop off all of Kidman’s limbs and her delicate Australian tongue, but Kidman, after consulting her agents, decided not to go through with it. Luckily for Von Trier, his next leading lady, Charlotte Gainsbourg was more committed to her craft, and let Von Trier set savagely about her unmentionables as might a jittery Edward Scissorhands on prom night.
Dogville, however, features none of the spirited smashwanking and knackerbashing of Antichrist. It is a well-informed meditation on something depressing that I couldn’t quite make out. It shows us that Lars Von Trier has not always had to rely on mutital genitation and other spicy parlour tricks in order to convey a powerful message powerfully.
If you liked this film you might also like: ‘Wrongo in the Congo’, ‘Santa Buys a Flugelhorn’, ‘Stepmom’ and ‘Fuzzy Peaches’.