step of the materialisation of a new movement in cinema. The manifesto was bravely asserting to be the foundation of the upcoming future of film. Dogme’ Be truthful, be human, get naked: ‘s groundbreaking manifesto didn’t The Idiots was one of the first films to emerge from the Dogme The pressing question is whether Dogme95, the “Vow of Chastity” a suspicious world to the manifesto’s mix of austerity and tomfoolery.
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I n the grounds of Film City, the converted army barracks in the Copenhagen suburb of Hvidovre, the bleak monotony of the landscape is disturbed by some sweetly eccentric touches. A quartet of garden gnomes has congregated in one corner of the lawn to pee, while beyond the offices of Zentropa and Nimbus, the film companies who finance most of Denmark’s cinematic output, you will find a magnificent tank belonging to Lars von Trier.
He tells me that he received it as a Christmas present, as though such a gift were as commonplace as bath salts. And there it rests, imposing but ultimately useless, manfesto a plaything discarded by a bored, fickle god.
The pressing question is whether Dogme95, the “Vow of Chastity” drawn up by Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, has suffered the same fate. If you arrive at Film City expecting to find the place bristling with the rebellious spirit of Dogme95, you are likely to feel disheartened. It isn’t the premises themselves, which suggest well-organised hippie communes: But it’s hard to ignore the fact that traces of Dogme are not much in evidence these days.
Vinterberg, whose movie Festen first introduced a suspicious world to the manifesto’s mix of manifssto and tomfoolery, is here to finish off his follow-up feature, It’s All About Love, a romantic fantasia which features Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, Sean Penn – and no Dogme-style wobbly cameras whatsoever.
odgme Von Trier is present too, pruning away at his new film Dogville, in which Nicole Kidman, James Caan and Lauren Bacall wander a brazenly studio-bound set intended to represent s America. And don’t look to director Lone Scherfig for signs of Dogme’s continued prosperity.
Her own contribution, Italian for Beginners, might be on the verge of release in Britain, but it’s old news in her home country, where she is already hard at work on a picture steeped in the kind of extravagances expressly outlawed by Dogme95 – sets, costumes, lighting, that sort of thing. Have Von Trier and his fellow provocateurs abandoned Dogme in favour of the new dgome promised by big stars and elaborate productions?
And if so, what happens to a movement that introduced into the perfumed boudoir of modern cinema a bracing whiff of genuine revolution? There is the sense that this miniature insurrection has run manifeeto course, and that a gang of new urchins is required to restore to cinema some of the urgency it got seven years ago when Von Trier called Vinterberg and blithely asked: The origins of Dogme can be traced to a touching scene of nocturnal candour that took place back in between Von Trier and Peter Aalbaek Jensen, the scurrilous co-founders of Zentropa.
Since the early s, Von Trier had been making waves on the international art-house circuit with films that were visually and technically astonishing, but disdainful of spontaneity and human warmth. Dogme95 might reasonably be seen as Von Trier’s earnest rebellion against that poised and precious early work. Something had to change.
But it was Jensen who first heard that word – Dogme – leave Von Trier’s lips back in Then Lars piped up [he affects a weedy voice], ‘I want to do something called Dogme. We had invested lots of money in lighting equipment, so when he said he wanted to go back to basics, I said, ‘You fucking creep! And I was sure it wouldn’t work. Vinterberg, however, felt invigorated. I could hear so much laughter. When the manifesto was made public, there was a suspicion, as there is with anything in which Von Trier is involved, that the whole thing was a tease.
In sophisticated cultural networks, the dread of being duped into applauding the emperor’s new clothes becomes intensified, and much of the media’s obsession with Manufesto revolved around trying to rumble these poker-faced pranksters. Of course, that rather missed the point that the whole thing was both spectacularly funny and of the utmost seriousness.
The reason that Dogme95 was greeted with such intense levels of enthusiasm and hostility was that no one had challenged cinematic language and form so aggressively since the start of the French new wave 40 years before. Without realising it, the world had been in need of kanifesto fresh way of watching and digesting films. Which is not to suggest that cinema hadn’t gone through several stages of transformation in the intervening decades.
As Godard and Truffaut began to show signs of fatigue, and the nouvelle vague became assimilated into the mainstream, young American film-makers were preparing to stage their own insurrection from within Hollywood. What distinguishes the Dogme movement are its political and intellectual underpinnings, and the nourishment it draws from past triumphs and future possibilities. But Von Trier’s revolution was more informed. Not for nothing did he launch the manifesto at Paris’s Odeon Theatre, a key location in the May uprisings.
Von Trier had ostensibly turned up to participate in a conference about cinema, though it’s a wonder now manifeato no one on the door noticed the bags he was carrying.
It felt very historic. My best idea was that after I read out the rules, I refused to discuss them. It was a very boring conference. The next that anyone heard about Dogme95 was at the Cannes film festival, when the first and finest Dogme films – Festen and Von Trier’s The Idiots – were premiered. Festen, which won the Jury prize, was a country-house psycho-drama rendered still more intense by the hand-held video camerawork, which made it entirely plausible that at any moment we might bang heads with a member of the cast.
It’s no accident that Richard Kelly, in his Dogme journal The Name of This Book Is Dogme95, describes the cameras used in the film as being “the size of a fist” – the implied violence suits a visual style that incorporates punishment and intimidation.
The Idiots was even better, and its story mwnifesto a loose collective dedicated to public displays of “spassing” feigning doogme disability created a thrilling marriage of form and content. You were never certain how far the characters would go, and the explicit sex confirmed that Von Trier manifestp their distaste for boundaries. For a time, Dogme95 enjoyed a honeymoon period, prolonged in no small part by a happy coincidence: Suddenly, it seemed that everyone and his dog was turning Dogme.
Martin Scorsese called Von Trier “a wonderful film-maker. He got furious, threw everything up in the air, and said, ‘Look, let’s start from nowhere now. Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey Boy Dogme 6 was a brave experiment, even if it was finally unable to disguise its longing for a conventional plot. Spike Lee pared down his usual hyperbolic style to shoot Bamboozled on digital video, rediscovering his old, undiminished fury, while the immediacy of Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland also smacked of Dogme.
Meanwhile, Von Trier got out his best notepaper to rattle off letters to 10 of the world’s greatest directors, inviting them to make a Dogme film. Only Kurosawa, who died while the note was in the post, had a good reason for not responding. Of the rest, you can assume that the likes of Bergman and Bertolucci felt it to be irrelevant, or a young man’s game.
Vinterberg met with Steven Spielberg, and exhorted dogm to join the cause. If Spielberg’s reluctance is unsurprising, we should at least credit him for the back-to-basics rawness contained in the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. The third and fourth Dogme films – Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune and Kristian Levring’s The King is Alive – confronted less inflammatory themes and manifesfo than its Dogme predecessors, and helpfully demonstrated that Dogme was not just “a manifesto for migraines”, as it had been christened by one critic.
But they also provided the first indication that the initial ferociousness could not be sustained – that if it was, it would quickly become as artificial as the conventions against which the 59 was railing. After the rude shock of Festen and The Idiots, there was an inevitable sense of anticlimax compounded by the ghastly ineptness of Dogme 5, Jean-Marc Barr’s effort Lovers never released in UK cinemasand by Von Trier’s decision that the Dogme brotherhood should stop assessing the authenticity of each film, and simply issue certificates to anyone who claimed to have adhered to the manifesto 25 to datea revision which arguably had the effect of removing quality control.
When I suggest that Dogme can’t continue indefinitely, he blasts back: Coca-Cola has been the same since the late 19th century. It’s not Coca-Cola we’re doing here. The Dogme films did indeed rejuvenate the directors involved – especially those who, 59 Von Trier, Scherfig and Kragh-Jacobsen, were searching manifesro a way to shake off bad habits “It’s good for directors who have lost their full erection,” chuckles Jensen.
But at some doyme it became a business: Scherfig’s likeable romantic comedy Italian for Beginners, about a gaggle of misfits finding love, proves that there is life in the old Dogme yet. Mmanifesto one could mistake it for a groundbreaking work – indeed, its producer Ib Tardini tells me: Here, the joke just hangs in the air, reverberating, which is far funnier. Whatever the individual dogje of subsequent Dogme works, the movement is no longer greater than the manifestto of its films.
The doyme who pioneered it have progressed to new challenges.
But despite the absence of a fresh manifesto, or another gang of guerrillas with movie cameras, Dogme’s influence has undoubtedly been felt in world cinema – especially in the steep rise in digital video productions – even if it has yet to inspire another concerted wave.
For now, the improvisatory aesthetic that fuelled the punk movement has found another medium in which to take root. For his part, Von Trier seems unconcerned with, even uninterested in, the manifesto’s legacy. She wrinkles her nose. D espite Von Trier’s efforts to feign indifference – and his habit of subverting a sincere inquiry with an offhand quip – there evidently resides in him an abiding fondness for what Dogme95 achieved. Like any committed artist, he doesn’t want to stand still, and for all the success of Dogme95, it has left him almost as conflicted about his role as a director as he was before its inception.
Since all this Dogme nonsense, it’s like we have to pretend that we don’t manipulate, we just collect things from other people that they want to give us. In my early films, I would say to the actors, ‘Stand over there and say this line.
Dogme is dead. Long live Dogme
But then life is false. On TheIdiots, I made those rules for myself. Look at it as a medicine. It was a medicine that I had had before. I’d put similar limitations on my other work. But this was a medicine I could push on others. I don’t know if she needed the medicine, but it was good for her. In a sense, it is irrelevant whether there will be any more Dogme films, or whether those that are made can measure up to the standard set by the initial batch.
The sorcerers have already worked their magic: But that doesn’t make it any less important. Now you have to fight against it once more. You can’t say, ‘Oh, we invented Dogme back in ‘ and then go back to sleep. It’s a constant renewal process. As an artist you have a duty to be skating on thin ice at all times.
Dogme is dead. Long live Dogme | Film | The Guardian
Perhaps we should look again at Von Trier’s tank, and see it as an incitement rather than a symbol of abandonment. As he goofs around in front of it, I notice that its gun is pointed directly at the editing suite where the reels of Dogville await his attention. You feel certain that he would domge endorse any new cinematic movement, even if it mwnifesto that he would be overthrown in the process.
Italian for Beginners is released next Friday.