Thursday, May 7, 2009

Looking Forward To...

I like Lars von Trier. Or I think I do, at least. I actually still haven't seen the one film of his that most people can at least sort of agree on, Breaking the Waves, and I remember nothing whatsoever about the first film of his I did see, Europa (which went by the name of Zentropa when I caught it), or of the first season of The Kingdom. So almost every scrap of my positive feelings towards him stem from a film that I think only I and three other people liked: Dogville. The hatred directed towards that one really baffles me, as do the charges that it is anti-American. I believe Von Trier probably is anti-American himself (Dogville's asinine follow-up, Manderlay, is evidence of that), but Dogville, while ostensibly set in the US, really has nothing specifically to do with America or Americans -- the film is down on pretty much everybody. It's a deeply, almost cathartically misanthropic film, and I will freely own up to finding such a point of view occasionally bracing. If you don't have a misanthropic bone in your body, then God bless you. I truly envy that. I have one myself -- just the one, though -- and Von Trier's wildly original and gripping film hit it pretty solidly.

(You know, it occurs to me that there's a real danger in taking the old "I don't have a single ______ bone in my body" metaphor in the direction I just took it. I had to re-work that last sentence many times to keep it from sounding like I was talking about my weiner. My misanthropic weiner.)

Point being, a horror film with an honestly, unflinchingly angry or sneering point of view might be interesting, even refreshing, if for no other reason than that most horror films have no point of view whatsoever -- they check the boxes and go on home. Maybe my reaction to Anti-Christ will be to find myself put-off by Von Trier for the way he views humanity, but I honestly believe that's better than hating Anti-Christ because it sucks.

And speaking of Von Trier, don't forget about May's TOERIFC selection, Dancer in the Dark (which I've seen, but will offer no opinion on right now), hosted by the wonderful Pat of the wonderful blog Doodad Kind of Town. That's on May 18th, folks, so mark your calendars.

Finally, I offer a very sincere and hearty congratulations to Fox and Mrs. Fox, who are celebrating their wedding anniversary today. Good on you!

28 comments:

Krauthammer said...

"I offer a very sincere and hearty congratulations to Fox and Mrs. Fox"

Don't you mean Fox and VIXEN haha I hate myself.

Fox said...

Awwwwwww... thanks, Bill! (and Krauthammer too!)

Bill-

I think it's interesting that you like Von Trier. I didn't expect you too. Not that any of us are predictable in their tastes, I just didn't see him as one you admired... or, at least mildly. But that's what makes this whole blogging thing fun and stimulating.

TOERIFC should be great this month. Well, of course it will be b/c it's TOERIFC and they're always great, but Dancer in the Dark should dig up quite passionate views... I think.

I can't argue points on Dogville being anti-American because it's been since its theater run since I've seen it, but I was one of those that saw it as such, at the time. One thing I recall being a big slap was the use of Bowie's "Young Americans" over images of homeless, destitute people during the credits. I read that as a big FU to us.

But I think you're right that Von Trier pretty much hates everybody. Perhaps even himself. Didn't he fall into a deep depression two years ago? Not saying misanthropes are necessarily depressive people, but I think those two characteristics probably hang out together often.

Anyways, I'll go fresh and open-minded into my viewing of Dancer in the Dark. I liked it when it came out, cooled to it later... won't say a peep more out of respect to Pat.

I haven't seen anything he's done post-Dogville.

bill r. said...

Poor Krauthammer...

Fox - I'm as surprised as you are that I liked Dogville. I remember going into the film, feeling sort of obligated to check out a film that got so many people so worked up, and expecting to be pissed off. But I wasn't. And, okay, I'll give you the closing credits -- I kind of have to, because the anti-Americanism is right there in the open. But the credits feel so disconnected from anything that happens in the actual film that it's hard to feel they're part of the same thing (the credits at the end of Manderlay are more closely related to that film's story, but they're no less ridiculous. Seeing images of swastikas and American neo-Nazis, which are shown to us by a European, as though Nazis are somehow exclusively an American problem, is enough to make you think that Von Trier maybe doesn't always think his points through completely. And I'm being kind).

Dogville, as a story and a film, just worked beautifully to me, and whatever Von Trier's specific point might have been could very well have been lost to his greater artistry. What I mean is that I often think that when artists try to make a specific political point through a fictional story, one of two things are most likely to happen: the work of art will be preachy and didactic, tedious and simplistic; or the point well be lost because the artist is too good, their story too complicated in its telling to really make that point the, well...point.

I am not for a second comparing Von Trier to Shakespeare -- good God, no -- but look at Merchant of Venice. That's a pretty profoundly anti-semitic play. But Shylock still gets all the best lines and all the best arguments, and all the genuine pain and emotion. As a result, the play is very odd and disturbing, even though it's supposed to be a comedy. The point is that whatever Shakespeare felt about Jews, he was too great an artist to see his character as anything other than a human being.

So, to summarize and in conclusion, good art trumps political points. Always has, always will.

Ed Howard said...

I must be one of the three other people who likes Dogville. I was quite simply blown away by it. Oddly enough, though I keep meaning to and I have DVDs of both Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, I haven't seen any other Von Trier yet.

And all the accusations of anti-Americanism about Dogville seem to come from that ending credits montage. I don't know. I didn't see the movie itself as specifically being about Americans. And even if it was, so what? It's a great, moving story and Von Trier's formalist rigidity really adds to the emotional impact.

bill r. said...

I didn't see the movie itself as specifically being about Americans. And even if it was, so what?...

Well, the "so what" would be that if Von Trier -- who, by his own admission, has never (or at least had never at the time) been to America -- really believed that Dogville said something truthful or enlightening about America, then he's a xenophobic ignoramus. Which he may well be, but I agree with you that the film doesn't play, for me, the way its detractors claim.

Ed Howard said...

I think the film is truthful and enlightening about humanity, in general, rather than just Americans. My point is that maybe Von Trier intended the film to be a rabid anti-American statement (I'm not saying he did, but it's possible), but I don't really care because the film itself easily transcends any such intentions.

bill r. said...

I agree, which is what I was trying to say in my blatherings about Merchant of Venice.

bill r. said...

Also, Von Trier probably should have dropped "Young Americans" and the images of the homeless, and gone with Nick Cave's "People Just Ain't No Good".

Pat said...

I think the film is truthful and enlightening about humanity, in general, rather than just Americans.Ed, I'm totally with you on that. Alao, being a small-town native myself, I tend to see it as a indictment of the pervasise overly sentimental view of American small town life. In that regard, it's not so different to me than say, Shirley Jackon's short story, "The Lottery."

Pat said...

Oh, and Bill, is "Anti-Chist" a new, upcoming Von Trier film? I haven't actually heard of it before.

Fox said...

But the credits feel so disconnected from anything that happens in the actual film that it's hard to feel they're part of the same thing...

Yeah. Apart from the sentiment that I didn't like, I remember feeling "huh... where did these credits come from?!?". I think that's why it felt like such a jolt and a "slap". It was like someone changed the channel, which made me sit up and pay attention, and then I got mad... which I guess was the point.

You know, I've wanted to see Manderlay just b/c I like to see stuff, but you make it sound like it would be tough.

And I like your point about a political artist somehow losing their aim, or, coming out on the other end, or multiple ends, or etc. For example - and this is an odd one - I recently watched The Raspberry Reich, a gay anti-terrorist chic movie. It was interesting, b/c the director, Bruce La Bruce, is a hardcore Euro-type socialist who seemingly supports violent activism, but in his movie he mocks pseudo-leftist activism of middle class cute boys & girls varierty. (Kind of like Godard's La Chinoise... but only in spirit, b/c Godard's film is a masterpiece, IMO, and The Raspberry Reich is most def not!).

Anyway... what I'm TRYING to get at, is that it was an example of an artist who ideologically I'm probably diametrically opposed to in every way politically, but who was able to step out of his core and make a movie without being preachy about his personal politics. (In fact, he's critical of it). I like that, and I think American political films are lacking that today. Films like Michael Clayton or Syriana seem too agenda driven that they forget that they are movies. The "message" trumps the artistry.

And that wasn't always the case. I don't know where it fell away.

bill r. said...

Pat - Yes, it's a new film. It's in competition at Cannes this year. And remember, Pat and Ed, I'm with you on Dogville. I think it's a great film.

Fox - When Ed (or was it you?) brought up Godard's latter-day films and said they were critical of his earlier radical politics, I must say I became intrigued. Now he's a guy who I am very much at odds with politically, and he's always seemed so entrenched that I wouldn't have thought he had that kind of thing in him. So I may have to look into those films. And I know, by the way, that his politics haven't changed.

I know you don't like this film, Fox, but the way you describe The Raspberry Reich puts me in mind, sort of, of There Will Be Blood. Anderson said that he had a more political film planned when he set out, but when it got down to the actual making (and I assume the writing) of the film, that all fell away, and he found himself far more interested in making a film about the characters. As a result, any attempt to read that film as a political allegory, in my view, is doomed. And that's a good thing.

Also, I liked Michael Clayton. I thought that was a gripping little throwback of a thriller. I'm with you all the way on Syriana, however, which is just a joke of a film.

Fox said...

Bill-

On Godard. Politically, I'm opposed to him too, but he was open to being self-critical while still being critical of the things he detested (like capitalism or Hollywood). I think that shows a maturity in an artist to not believe that his or her way of life or personal philosophy is perfect and without error. Letting go and not being rigid can make for a better artist, in my opinion. (I think, in some ways, Renoir followed that idea. Though, he was def not as hardcore about his politics as Godard would be as he bounced around from ideology to ideology.)

In my opinion - well, in just my reading of Godard's films and in reading interviews with him - Godard is a very open-minded and free artist. "Free" in that I don't think he's scared to fall into phases and movements and various politics. I've always seen him as never totally committed to one ideology and more like a cultural observer.

I mean, I think it's clear that Godard was very anti-American during the Viet Nam war, and you can feel that in La Chinoise, but you can also see him mocking the empty machinations of the French student "Maoists". Seeing them gathered in a room together reading from The Little Red Books is pretty hilarious, if not overtly intended to be. Seeing Jean-Pierre Leaud wearing hipster shades as he espouses commie propoganda to his buddies cracks me up.

And I think Godard was also aware of the politics overshadowing the art. His art is political, for sure, but if he felt that if it wasn't connected to the images on screen then it was a failure. I'll have to search for it, but I remember Godard really ripping into Michael Moore as a terrible filmmaker when F 9/11 came out.

And I think he falls on his face too. Like in In Praise of Love how he goes after Spielberg and Schindler's List for Hollywoodying up the Holocaust. That felt super lame to me, like an old pro shooting blanks.

Ed Howard said...

I liked Michael Clayton, too. A great Clooney performance and nice atmosphere.

Fox - When Ed (or was it you?) brought up Godard's latter-day films and said they were critical of his earlier radical politics, I must say I became intrigued. Now he's a guy who I am very much at odds with politically, and he's always seemed so entrenched that I wouldn't have thought he had that kind of thing in him....

Quite to the contrary, other than in a few of the Dziga Vertov Group films, I don't think Godard's ever been so enthrenched politically that he couldn't also critique the ideas he himself believed. As Fox points out, even in La Chinoise, made at the height of Godard's unfortunate fascination with Mao, he's critiquing and mocking the student leftists in the film, allowing diverging ideas to push off of each other. In that film, for example, one suspects that Godard himself supported violent rebellion for leftist goals, and yet the film contains a very objective debate in which both sides of the issue are cogently presented, and if anything the character expressing the non-violent point of view is more persuasive. I think whatever his political ideas were, Godard's movies have always been infinitely more complicated than his politics.

Many of his 70s films, like Numero deux and Comment ca va?, are very self-critical and self-reflexive, and you can see Godard forming and revising his ideas right there in the films themselves. And in some of his later films (especially Sauve qui peut (la vie)) there's a sense of awareness and sadness about the failures of radical politics in the 60s and 70s. So while it's true that Godard is still a leftist and hasn't really changed his underlying political beliefs, it's also true that he's often been willing to include and discuss opposing ideas.

bill r. said...

Well, you guys have convinced me. I'll check out the Godard films you recommend (although maybe not In Praise of Love. Didn't he also hammer on Spielberg for the fact that Schindler's widow was poor when he made the film? What does Spielberg have to do with that? Did Godard write her a check?)

My previous, and continued, dislike of Godard's films have very little to do with his politics, however. I just haven't liked what I've seen. I can't get into it very deeply right now, without re-watching some of them, but his stuff has just struck me as very self-concious and removed.

Fox said...

I think whatever his political ideas were, Godard's movies have always been infinitely more complicated than his politics....

Ed-

I think that's a great way of summing up Godard's work.

On La Chinoise - again - how about that almost screwball assassination sequence at the end. I love that, and I love the way he handles it. Again, it's not so overt (he doesn't play Benny Hill music on top of it) and that's why it hits on both a humorous and critical way.

Fox said...

...but his stuff has just struck me as very self-concious and removed....

I get that feeling sometimes too, and I think that's b/c he took chances and wasn't scared to fail. I mean, I LOVE Godard, I think he might be "The Greatest", but I can watch Le Gai Savoir or Les Caranibiers or parts of Le Petit Soldat and just be bored to my teeth.

All this talk of Godard is making me want to do one of his films for the next round of TOERIFC.

Bill, are there any Godard films you have liked? I know you said it's been awhile, but just curious.

P.S. Did you guys see that Criterion is releasingf Made in U.S.A. and Two or Three Things... this summer?

Fox said...

btw... I like how a posting of Val Lewton's head and Lars Von Trier poster has lead to two back-to-back comment threads about Godard!!

bill r. said...

Fox - The closest I've come to liking Godard is Breathless, which is a crime film once-removed, and therefore ultimately bored me.

And Made in the USA is pretty high on my no-see list, because -- in case you weren't aware -- it's based, extremely loosely, from what I've heard, on The Jugger, one of Donald E. Westlake's novels, under his Richard Stark pseudonym, about Parker. I haven't read The Jugger (it was just reprinted last month), but you may remember me mentioning Westlake as one of my favorite writers, in the crime genre or otherwise, and seeing one of his books turned into a socialist cartoon doesn't appeal to me. At all.

Ed Howard said...

Fox, I'd love to see you pick a Godard film for TOERIFC. So many great choices. And somehow it'd be too obvious if I did it.

P.S. Did you guys see that Criterion is releasing Made in U.S.A. and Two or Three Things... this summer?Yes! I think Made in USA is a fairly minor work and I already have it on a Region 2 DVD anyway, but I'm super-excited to finally get a DVD of 2 or 3 Things, which is one of Godard's very best films. I first saw it when I was already very familiar with him and didn't think he could still surprise me much, but I was totally bowled over by it anyway.

I get that feeling sometimes too, and I think that's b/c he took chances and wasn't scared to fail.Definitely. So many of his films are experiments in the purest sense of the word, where you can see him working things out right there on the screen, trying out different ideas and ways of doing things. It doesn't always work and there are sometimes stretches that might be "boring," though it's often a productive boredom. Les Carabiniers is a good example: I can't say I really "like" it at all, but I admire what Godard was attempting, and even it has its share of interesting moments.


Bill, if you haven't seen it already, might I recommend Band of Outsiders? It's not as sophisticated or complex as his later stuff, but it's hard to imagine *anyone* hating that film, which is Godard at his most accessible and fun.

bill r. said...

Ed, Band of Outsiders is near the top of the Godard films I want to see, and it may be the next one I check out. It's possible that he ain't for me, but I'll keep working at it.

I've thought the same thing about Bresson in the past, but the big difference there is that, somehow, the very things that make me pull away from Bresson -- the acting, the pacing, the choices of what to show and not show -- keep me coming back to him. I want to know what he's up to. He's compelling in a way I've never encountered, in that I don't much like watching his films, but I never forget them afterwards. That hasn't been my reaction so far with Godard, however.

Ed Howard said...

I've had some problems with Bresson myself. He finally clicked for me with A Man Escaped, but Au hasard Balthazar and Pickpocket both left me with rather conflicted and unpleasant feelings. I do keep returning to his work, though, because there's something strangely compelling about it.

Believe it or not, the pleasures of Godard are much more immediate for me. Yeah, his movies are dense and the narratives are often fragmented, but they always just seem so FUN and lively and vibrant that I go along for the ride with even the most difficult of them.

bill r. said...

I don't know if this is weird or not, but Bresson "clicked" for me, in a manner of speaking, with L'Argent. And sorta kinda with Lancelot du Lac. I started thinking that his color films were my ticket in, but then The Devil, Probably left me out in the cold again.

I don't have fun with Godard. His idea of fun is not my own.

Greg said...

Hello everyone. How is everybody? How many people here from out of town? Ah, that's great. Good to see you all.

So yeah, Godard. Whatcha ya gonna do?

bill r. said...

You know that's right!

Greg said...

Ha, ha, exactly. What is up with this whole Godard thing? Did you ever notice how people who love Godard are all like, "I love Godard." Whoa, I mean, what's up with that?

Krauthammer said...

IF there's any movie that got me into movies, it's Breathless, so I can't be anywhere close to objective on Godard. All the films I've seen of his are either perfect or nearly so, even his detachment is so full of life and eagerness and...I'm not sure I'm making a lot of sense. He's great, is what I'm saying.

Greg said...

Yeah, so what's that got to do with the clever stand-up comedian parody I was doing? Which you've now ruined! Thanks for nothing Krauthammer. Thanks for nothing!

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