Academic journal article Post Script

Naked Film: Stripping with the Idiots

Academic journal article Post Script

Naked Film: Stripping with the Idiots

Article excerpt

"The illusions are everything the movie can hide behind."

--(from the Dogme 95 manifesto)

On the afternoon of the 20th of March 1995 at the Odeon Theatre in Paris a directors' symposium was held to mark the centennial of film and to discuss its future. When it came to Danish film director Lars von Trier's turn to speak, he announced that he represented the group Dogme 95 and, in a dramatic agitprop gesture, threw a handful of red leaflets bearing the Dogme manifesto off the stage and stalked out of the theatre. (1)

Dogme had begun, and the manifesto, written by two of the Dogme "brothers," Lars von Trier and the younger Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (a graduate of the same film school as von Trier), quickly made its mark.

"Dogme 95 is a rescue action!" it claimed, with the "express goal of countering 'certain tendencies' in the cinema today." Film had become cosmetic, illusionistic, and overly-reliant on expensive special effects, and Dogme was invented to combat this. To this effect, a list of ten rules was developed which challenged filmmakers to shoot with natural lighting only, using hand-held cameras, in natural locations and "found" props, and without the benefit of post-production polishing or the addition of sound or music not recorded on location. (2)

The aim, as Vinterberg said on the official Dogme website, was to "undress film, to reach the 'naked film'" (n.p.). Deprived of their customary box of tricks, film-makers would presumably be thrown back upon their own (and their actors') resources and forced to go back to the basics: story (or more appropriately scenario, since traditional dramaturgy is eschewed), (3) setting and performance.

Lars von Trier's provocative and controversial Dogme film, The Idiots, was finally released in 1998, three years after the manifesto was written. Although it purports to be a film about a group of young people searching for their inner idiot by "spassing" (acting mentally disabled), The Idiots is actually more a film about film-making and about the Dogme project itself. "If I have to describe the real aim of the project, it is a sort of search for authenticity," Von Trier remarks in the Intimate Journal which he dictated throughout the making of the film (46). (4) The Idiots is a relentlessly reflexive film, deconstructing itself even as it is constructed. The film is merciless in its scrutiny of the Dogme ideals, of the titular idiots whose antics it "documents," of the actors who play those roles (the distinction between actor and character is deliberately unclear), and most cruelly of von Trier himself as an individual and as a director. Von Trier, his actors, and the characters they portray are stripped naked (figuratively and literally), ruthlessly exposed in the unlovely natural light and the results are "captured" on stark, unfiltered video. It is a fascinating, surgical, laboratory experiment, painful and extraordinary to watch. It is rawer than naked: this is a vivisection.

Technically and aesthetically the The Idiots could not be truer to the ideals expressed in the Dogme manifesto. The film's realism consists of a constant process of baring at every level. The film is raw, rough, and deprived of any of the cosmetic tricks that might take the edge off the unfiltered, handheld video images. Sound is limited to natural on-location audio, and editing is typically harsh and abrupt. The Dogme rules explicitly prohibit any cosmetic finishing in post production (the manifesto states that "optical work and filters are forbidden") and it also prohibits the addition of non-diegetic sound in post-production ("sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa" and music "must not be used unless it occurs where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place.") This prohibition applies both to sound effects and to what French filmmaker and father of Jean Rouch referred to almost half a century before as the "musical sauce" so frequently and insistently used in both fiction and documentary film (94). …

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