DANISH CINEMA: LARS VON TRIER AND THE “DOGME” RULES

March 17, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Posted in Film, History, Philosophy, Research | Leave a comment

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In the special features that accompany the 1991 film DVD “Europa” by Lar Von Trier, from Denmark, he makes reference to the “Dogme” Rules.

Lars Von Trier: Dogme 95

Dogme 95
Years active 1995–2005
Country International, started in Denmark
Major figures Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levring, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Jean-Marc Barr
Influences Realism, French New Wave
Influenced Mumblecore, New Puritans

Dogme 95 is an avant-garde filmmaking movement started in 1995 by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, who created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto” and the “Vow of Chastity”.

These were rules to create filmmaking based on the traditional values of story, acting and theme, and excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology.[1] They were later joined by fellow Danish directors Kristian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, forming the Dogme 95 Collective or the Dogme Brethren.

Dogme is the Danish word for dogma.

The genre gained international appeal partly because of its accessibility. It sparked an interest in unknown filmmakers by suggesting that one can make a recognised film of a quality to gain recognition, without being dependent on commissions or huge Hollywood budgets. The directors used European government subsidies and television station funding instead. The movement has been criticized for being an attempt to gain media attention.

Others hold that Dogme was initiated to cause a stir and to make filmmakers and audiences re-think the art, effect and essence of filmmaking.

History

The friends Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg wrote and co-signed the manifesto and its companion “vows”. Vinterberg said that they wrote the pieces in 45 minutes.[2] The manifesto initially mimics the wording of François Truffaut‘s 1954 essay “Une certaine tendance du cinéma français” in Cahiers du cinéma.

They announced the Dogme movement on March 22, 1995 in Paris, at Le cinéma vers son deuxième siècle conference. The cinema world had gathered to celebrate the first century of motion pictures and contemplate the uncertain future of commercial cinema. Called upon to speak about the future of film, Lars von Trier showered a bemused audience with red pamphlets announcing “Dogme 95”.

In response to criticism, Von Trier and Vinterberg have both stated that they just wanted to establish a new extreme: “In a business of extremely high budgets, we figured we should balance the dynamic as much as possible.”

The first of the Dogme films (Dogme #1) was Vinterberg’s 1998 film Festen (The Celebration). It was critically acclaimed and won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Lars von Trier’s Dogme film, Idioterne (The Idiots), also premiered at Cannes that year but was less successful. Since the two films were released, other directors have made films based on Dogme principles. French-American actor and director Jean-Marc Barr was the first non-Dane to direct a Dogme film: Lovers (1999) (Dogme #5). The American Harmony Korine‘s movie Julien Donkey-Boy (Dogme #6) also was considered a Dogme film.

Het Zuiden (South) (2004), directed by Martin Koolhoven, included thanks to “Dogme 95”. Koolhoven originally planned to shoot it as a Dogme film, and it was co-produced by von Trier’s Zentropa. The director decided he did not want to be so severely constrained as by Dogme principles.

Goals and rules

The goal of the Dogme collective is to purify filmmaking by refusing expensive and spectacular special effects, post-production modifications and other technical gimmicks. The filmmakers concentrate on the story and the actors’ performances. They believe this approach may better engage the audience, as they are not alienated or distracted by overproduction. To this end, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg produced ten rules to which any Dogme film must conform. These rules, referred to as the “Vow of Chastity,” are as follows:[1]

1. Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in. If a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found.

2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed, i.e., diegetic.

3. The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place.

4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable (if there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).

5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.

6. The film must not contain superficial action (murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)

7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden (that is to say that the film takes place here and now).

8. Genre movies are not acceptable.

9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.

10. The director must not be credited.

Uses and abuses

The above rules have been both circumvented and broken from the first Dogme film to be produced. For instance, Vinterberg “confessed” to having covered a window during the shooting of one scene in The Celebration (Festen). With this, he both brought a prop onto the set and used “special lighting.” Von Trier used background music (Le Cygne by Camille Saint-Saëns) in the film The Idiots (Idioterne).

Since 2002 and the 31st film, a filmmaker no longer needs to have his work verified by the original board to identify it as a Dogme 95 work. The founding “brothers” have begun working on new experimental projects and have been skeptical about the later common interpretation of the Manifesto as a brand or a genre. The movement broke up in 2005.[3] Today, filmmakers submit a form online and check a box which states they “truly believe that the film … has obeyed all Dogme95 rules as stated in the VOW OF CHASTITY.”[4]

Criticism

Remodernist filmmaker Jesse Richards criticizes the movement in his Remodernist Film Manifesto, stating in relation to Point 10, “Remodernist film is not Dogme ’95. We do not have a pretentious checklist that must be followed precisely. This manifesto should be viewed only as a collection of ideas and hints whose author may be mocked and insulted at will.”[5] American film critic Armond White also criticized the movement, stating that it was “the manifesto that brought filmmaking closer to amateur porn”. He believed the movement would be rejected as insignificant by film historians.[6]

Notable Dogme films

Complete list is available from the Dogme95 web site (via Internet Archive).

Notable figures

Notes and references

1. a b Utterson, Andrew. Technology and Culture, the Film Reader. Routledge. ISBN 9780415319850. http://books.google.com/books?id=EsVYBL8ytLMC&pg=PA87&dq=Dogme+95&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U3QPeg05053E9LO6MefbvdGpXAFag#PPA88,M1.

2. Krause, Stefanie (2007). The Implementing of the ‘Vow of Chastity’ in Jan Dunn’s “Gypo”. Verlag. ISBN 9783638768115. http://books.google.com/books?id=phzgbBQcBmAC&pg=PA5&dq=Vinterberg+45+minutes&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U26DR6ODq1OT0iLtLSfcp9DE4gPQw.

3. Kristian Levring interview (via Internet Archive)

4. Dogme 95 – Dogmefilms (via Internet Archive)

5. “Remodernist Film Manifesto”, When The Trees Were Still Real, August 27, 2008 Retrieved September 1, 2008

6. White, Armond (2004-03-09). “Digital Video Dogpatch: The king of false movement directs his ice queen”, New York Press. Retrieved on 2009-05-24.

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