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.
The first and thought to be only silent film to win the Best Picture Oscar in 1929 along with Best Special Effects. Until The Artist (2011) swept the board at this years Oscars. Wings (1927) is a part of Paramount’s restoration programme of a number of films being restored. Wings being the only silent so far. Is this an early indication, besides the triumph of The Artist that the silent film has a place in contemporary film? I would like to think that beyond nostalgia silent films could be resurfacing more often.
Or is it a fluke with Wings being released remastered on Blu-ray as apart of Paramount’s centenary celebrations. Only time will tell. Will its release encourage more silent films to be remastered, be that including the BFI‘s remastering of Hitchcock’s early films from his British period Champagne (1928) and Blackmail (1929).
The Artist was seen as a love letter to Hollywood film set on the cusp of the sound era. It’s been proven that silent films can still draw the crowds. Some may say that being a love letter, the Oscar voters were smitten to vote for, a form of flattery. However if the music, action, plot etc are compelling enough, we will engage as an audience with a silent film.
There’s also the novelty factor, seeing a silent is at the moment rare unless you seek out the films that have been archived well across the world, such the full version of Metropolis (1927) found in South America a few years ago. From these silent films, we may find something lacking in todays films, with all the drive for maximum profit and blockbuster films that can lack the substance of a classic of the early sound era. That could just be taste.
I can’t wait to see where this release will take the film industry, more silent films being made, or the classics being restored; cultivating a small but strong following of fans who have been wait for such an opportunity to come to a store near them.