I’ve just finished a book I bought from my local independent cinema, which has started a small shop. The book I bought was Dogville Vs Hollywood: The War Between Independent Film and Mainstream Movies by Jake Horsley was on the basis it would go into what the title suggest, look at the battle between directors who are either considered auteurs or independent of the Hollywood system. Building on Peter Biskind’s fascinating Easy Riders, Raging Bulls which was an entertaining and in-depth look at the American New wave which began with Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and ending around Raging Bull and Heavens Gate (1980). Dogville covers much of the same ground coming up to 2006 (when the book was published).
I remember when I first started reading this book I had a gut reaction to the harsh critical tone that the writer who didn’t check his facts, saying Citizen Kane was released in 1942 – was 1941, and Hitchcock’s first sound film was The Lodger (1927) – it was Blackmail (1929), I found a few more errors but these two stuck in my mind. It shows how fast this book was written, with passionate anger and disregard for accuracy, when talking about the history of any medium in such detail he got things off to a bad start.
The first chapter was an extended review of Lars Van Trier‘s titular film Dogville (2008) which he uses the basic framework for the book. A film made in response to the current state of Hollywood. A film that is devoid of likeable characters, a set that’s limited to suggestion and a dog that it’s just a drawing on the ground. Most notably an all American cast. I do see the film in a new light now which explains a few things. It’s a dogme that had teeth to bite back.
There were sections where pages where the main body of text was fighting the foot notes that were almost half a page long in places. Why didn’t here just incorporate his research into the main body or minimise it, they became not so much backing up the quotes legitimacy but they were points of trivia which pulled you away from the main body. Eventually I just stopped reading them, noticing that Horsley lifted a lot of quotes from two of Biskind’s books; Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures, showing an over-reliance on superior books on the subject. (I haven’t read the second one yet).
Lastly the overall tone of the book was scathing on just about any director whose mentioned in the book. I agree on some points, the state of Hollywood has not changed in ten years, relying on franchises, special effects and remakes – nothing new there, showing that the argument still stands up. However hardly anyone gets off lightly, unless its a director you’ve never heard of yet. The established directors – Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola etc are seen in varied shades of black. They’ve either sold out, burned out or just faded away. He blame critics for helping Hollywood in the dumbing down of audiences, their expectations and their thinking of a film. You could say Horsley is a film snob who has an axe to grind, has he been burnt in Hollywood and fighting back? It would explain the horrible tone and the scathing attack to practically everyone, he can be fair in places which is rare, whole chapters and sections are rants, building up individuals before bringing them back down to earth with a bump.
I’ve not really learned a lot, except who Horsley hates and hates not so much. I hope in the 10 years since it’s publication he has mellowed.
I was a little nervous about tonight’s crit group, however I found it rather helpful. I have a few directions to take the work in, even taking it back to Melton Mowbray where it originated.
- The tests weren’t that violent, even tame, find more with blood, guts and gore etc and emphasise those elements, removing the guns and the shots to focuses purely on the result of violence
- Take a violent scene, construct a set of that scene and project scene in that, adding context extra depth to the scene.
- Work with Melton to put together a performance piece, linking the film High Plains Drifter (1973) and the historical event. I really want to around the town with a pant brush – I would be more than likely arrested for it though.
The third test video was liked the best as made more use of the street set-up, I still feel it separates the antagonist and victim, I would have to mix them up for that to work. Even using two projectors to achieve it. Also arranging the models to face each other traditionally. I was encouraged to really get into cowboy character, which is becoming more tempting, maybe even playing Clint, his role in Drifter could be a fun role, and very dark.
- We discussed the position of the genre and the potential of making a piece that looks at its current position, how it reflects contemporary times – maybe even a feminist Western, which a few do exist, such as Meeks Cuttoff (2010), The Homesman (2014) and Unforgiven (1992) looking more at the female presence which has been very much underplayed in the genre. I have enjoyed the female focused western.
I’m really open to see where things go, the saloon I have started may now be scrapped, unless I can adapt it to a scene, the first one that comes to mind is the ending of Unforgiven, which would allow me to see how this idea first works out. I am also considering approaching galleries in Melton to look at possibilities there. The end piece should be shown there, it feels right that it returns to it’s roots, seeing the connection of a phrase and a film brought together. Editing footage to focus on the result of violence, to see the death, the blood etc is going to be exciting to see too. Just a shame I have to wait to the weekend to start anything.