Here’s what Steven Spielberg can learn from Lars von Trier
After seeing Lars von Trier’s extraordinary new movie ”Dancer in the Dark” on the eighth day of the Cannes Film Festival, one thing is clear: Every filmmaker, regardless of stature, ought to be required, as a matter of DGA membership, to make one movie following the elaborately austere rules of Dogma 95.
By now the list of do’s and don’ts is probably familiar — only hand-held camera work is allowed, scenes must be shot on location, using available light, etc. etc. Since his ”Breaking the Waves” broke new ground in storytelling several years ago, the self-imposed strictures originally dreamed up by von Trier and his fellow band of merry Danes have been employed to tell, for example, riveting stories of family disintegration (”Celebration,”), societal provocation (”The Idiots,”), and the power of love (”Mifune”). Certainly getting his grimy paws on a copy of the Dogma Manifesto was the best thing that could have happened to young American-grunge provocateur Harmony Korine, who made a giant artistic leap using the Scandinavian blueprint in ”julian donkey-boy.”
”Dancer in the Dark” isn’t a Dogma project — how could it be When Björk — yes, the Icelandic wonder — plays a Czech immigrant factory worker in 1960s America, slowly going blind, who escapes her misery by withdrawing into the dream world of classic Hollywood musicals. The director stages big song and dance numbers in which Björk is joined in verse by such unlikely costars as Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Joel Grey, and Zeljko Ivanek — and the movie is shot in wide screen, on video, with a haunting Björk-ian soundtrack.
But the freedom and expressivity of ”Dancer” — which is bound, in its very obsessiveness and uncategorizability, to turn some people off as strongly as it thrills others — is, I think, directly related to the energy and clarity accrued on the good nutrition provided by a slimming Dogma diet. Certainly for a dispiriting display of what happens when filmmakers gorge too regularly on swells of music, sumptuous sets, big-ticket stars, and ”safe” middlebrow aspirations, by all means drink of another Cannes premiere, ”The Golden Bowl” (starring Uma Thurman), an adaptation of Henry James’ subtle last novel by the Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala machine that’s as obvious and tone deaf as it is gilt laden.
It’s been said that Steven Spielberg has expressed an interest in making a Dogma movie. Ditto Joel Schumacher. Good for them; they top my list of clients who might benefit from some quiet time spent experimenting with simplicity. But I hope others will also sign up for the Dogma spa experience — Ridley Scott, Michael Mann, and the Coen brothers among them — because I think all moviegoers would benefit if these guys were to get tough on themselves. At a jammed press conference following the first screening of ”Dancer in the Dark,” von Trier was asked what could be done to prevent the spread of inferior Dogma movies. ”More good non-Dogma movies,” he said, with perfect simplicity.
For which a jump into an icy Danish pool of rules may be just what the doctor ordered.