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.
Another film I noticed when I watched documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011), mentioning Festen/The Celebration (1998) in the last episode as film progresses from celluloid to digital. Noted as the first film recorded on domestic home video cameras. At the time a radical move to make, part of a movement of film-making known as Dogme which stripped back film-making to the essentials, the plot which is what I got most out of the film myself.
Of course by todays standard of slick films it visually it comes across as amateur, there’s no lighting, relying entirely on the natural illuminations of the rooms/sets they are in. Yet at the same time we have all made videos on our phones or cameras with little thought, just in the moment. Capturing moments in our lives. This is about capturing whats in front of the camera a little else. Which is a family coming together for a 60th birthday part at a hotel they own, where all hell breaks loose.
From the opening scenes we see two brothers, one Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) walking down the road, passed by his brother Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) in his car with his family. Deciding to throw his wife and kids out in favour of his brother, we can tell already where loyalties lie in the very fractured family who come together, fighting from the moment all three siblings meet at the hotel. We can see what their family is life, just by looking at these three including sister Helene (Paprika Steen). The importance of appearances is very important as they meet all the extend family and friends, keeping the host face on as long as possible.
Sounds like your average family drama with all the big revelations that come out over the next 24 hours. Its intensity is built up in the intimacy of the hand-held camera that can get into angles and places that a hunky standard film camera had no chance. Today we can achieve the angles with ease on a daily basis on our smartphones without even thinking about the meaning of the angle, the emotion, the thought behind it, they are throw away in comparison to this carefully constructed film, just like any other, which threw out all the gloss to leave the camera and the actor. Who themselves had to be the camera-man to get the shots.
It has opened off the possibility of film, who can make film has becoming a universal act. Pick up a camera and shoot, If you’re lucky enough you can get paid for it which is always a bonus. But is that a good thing, when everyone can make a film? I mean are they all worth watching, would they reach a wide audience or just a handful. Some are just home-movies, not open for mass consumption. It has allowed for new forms of film and documentary to be made, how we see the world, when big events happen, we see YouTube/phone camera footage on the news within hours of the story breaking. How we view film has in that context has changed, the speed of production can be a quick as adding a filter to being a two minute film made in one shot. Creativity has blossomed. Yet there is still something in a film that as intimate as Festen that really pushed the boundaries of how we view and shoot a film. It would really be something to see this film projected, how would the quality of the image be affected, would it matter after all when you have such engaging characters all of whom we can relate to?
- 2. FESTEN (1998) (mightyrewatches.wordpress.com)
- Analysis of 1st Dogme movie – The Celebration(Festen) (dogme952012.blogspot.co.uk)
- 925. Festen/The Celebration (1998) (1001movieman.blogspot.co.uk)
- Thomas Vinterberg’s “Festen” — An Analysis (movieretrospect.blogspot.co.uk)