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Dancer in the Dark - Worst directing ever?

Old 03-26-01, 02:15 AM
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I've never seen a Lars von Trier film before, but I was expecting to see a drama when I purchased Dancer in the Dark.

When the movie started it looked like a documentary, something I wasn't expecting. The camera was very jerky throughout the movie going from one character from another. I don't know much about directing, but I've never seen a film where the camera moved like that and it was rather hard to watch at times. When the film broke into the musical segments, the color of the film changed as well as the direction.

Being a Bjork fan, I wanted to like this movie and I did, except for the directing...the editing was also the the worst i've seen in a film, but I won't get into that.

Please, share your thoughts and tell me what you thought of his bad directing.

Old 03-26-01, 02:27 AM
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Well, I wish I could tell you my thoughts on Von Trier's bad directing... however, I didn't see any examples of this.

I'm just thanking the dear lord that he's favoring this style over his earlier ascetic directing - also good, but so sterile that I find it as hard to watch as you do the shakicam.
Old 03-26-01, 03:40 AM
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Originally posted by Incubus
Please, share your thoughts and tell me what you thought of his bad directing.
talk about a loaded question. anyhoo, Von Trier is one my favorite directors and i quite like his style. to each his own.

DJ
Old 03-26-01, 11:45 AM
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Von Trier's visual presentation technique does take some getting used to. Having seen Breaking the Waves, I kind of knew what to expect. But in Incubus' defense, I was rather "put off" by BTW for the first 20 minutes or so, in large part because of LVT's "style." I stuck with it, though, and was ultimately rewarded with a terrific film.

DITD, on the other hand, "had me at hello." Great film.
Old 03-26-01, 01:09 PM
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Originally posted by Incubus
I've never seen a Lars von Trier film before, but I was expecting to see a drama when I purchased Dancer in the Dark.

When the movie started it looked like a documentary, something I wasn't expecting. The camera was very jerky throughout the movie going from one character from another. I don't know much about directing, but I've never seen a film where the camera moved like that and it was rather hard to watch at times. When the film broke into the musical segments, the color of the film changed as well as the direction.

Being a Bjork fan, I wanted to like this movie and I did, except for the directing...the editing was also the the worst i've seen in a film, but I won't get into that.

Please, share your thoughts and tell me what you thought of his bad directing.

this kind of direction is a fashion (and a really stupid fashion). it was von trier's way of getting noticed. he had made several movies and wasn't getting any acclaim, so he got really mad and invented a list of set rules to making movies. when the movie world heard about it, they were taken aback and embraced him as a genius. what a bunch of bologne
Old 03-26-01, 02:57 PM
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Originally posted by empire state
he had made several movies and wasn't getting any acclaim
he didn't get any acclaim for The Element of Crime, Zentropa and The Kingdom? ooooookay...

DJ
Old 03-26-01, 03:01 PM
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I'd like to point out that Traffic was also done handheld by Soderbergh himself. Although I'm sure for Traffic "handheld" means steadicam. For von Trier "handheld" means just that: handheld. It takes a little getting used to at first, but you get used to it (hopefully). It seems a shame to put down such a good movie simply because you can't get over a moving camera. I didn't find it to be a problem at all. Of course, I had also seen Breaking The Waves, so I knew what to expect.
Old 03-26-01, 04:04 PM
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I haven't seen Dancer in the Dark yet, but what you describe is what could be considered Von Trier's film style. Here are the cinematic rules of film making he came up with, aka Dogma 95:

I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and
confirmed by DOGMA 95:
1 - Shooting must be done on location.
Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found)
2 - The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is shot)
3 - The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing, shooting must take place where the film takes place)
4 - The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure, the scene must be cut or single lamp be attached to the camera)
5 - Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6 - The film must not contain superficial action (Murders, weapons, etc must not occur)
7 - Temporal and geographical alienaction are forbidden. (That is the film takes place here and now)
8 - Genre movies are not acceptable
9 - Film format is Academy 35mm.
10 - The director must not be credited.
Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a "work", as I regard the instant as more important than the whole.
My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.

Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY.
Copenhagen, Monday 13 March 1995
On behalf of DOGMA 95

Lars von Trier
Thomas Vinterberg
Kristian Levring
Søren Kragh Jacobsen
version française


While not generally included on the list of Dogma films, I think both The Kingdom and The Kingdom II (For those fortunate to have seen it in the US) are prime examples of that. They are fascinating, fast paced, movies that uphold his "vow of chastity."

Old 03-26-01, 04:09 PM
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Empire state, have you ever passed up an opportunity to display your ignorance?

There are obviously two distinct styles at work in Dancer, the first being the immediacy of the hand-held in the grim 'reality' of Selma's existence, and the other being the fixed cameras of the fantasy musical sequences for which von Trier famously mounted as many as 100 DV cameras around the set in an effort to capture the entire sequences 'live'.

The impact of the hand-held style has everything to do with the jettisoning of traditional cinematic grammar. Instead of a reverse cut, we get a swish pan. When we expect a continuous shot, he interrupts with a jump-cut, often to a close-up, and often in mid-pan. He completely throws out the 'axis' (the old rule that kept the camera on one side of the characters, so that A is always to the left and B always to the right, unless and until a new establishing shot reorients them in the frame).

Of course, this is something that Godard did - and Ozu was famous for jettisoning the axis - but von Trier creates an utterly different effect with the weirdly familiar 'home movie' like look of the digital video. Most importantly, the camera becomes something approaching a third character - essentially, the audience. One character makes a statement and the camera lingers on her face... and then it pans over to the other character as though anticipating his response. Or it pans up to catch the look in her eyes, or down to capture the flutter of her fingers. It's impact becomes quite immediate, as though the camera was engaging the actors itself, which is not that far from the truth since most of these scenes were shot with just the principle actors and von Trier sitting down, shooting hours and hours of footage as the performances are hewn into the hyperreal style von Trier was shooting for.

The musical scenes, on the other hand, were intended to be captured in single takes, famously using '100 cameras' (a practical impossibility before the advent of Digital Video). He feels that he failed at this because there simply weren't enough cameras to capture all the images he needed, though he had them mounted just about everywhere. So, these were augmented with intentionally framed shots, generally closeups of Selma, but very often you can feel the impact of what he was trying to do with 'one-take' method... something he sees now as requiring as many as 1,000, or even 10,000 cameras. Though once an absurd proposition, new digital technology has now made placed this well within the realm of the possible.

In the end, you either like it or you don't. But I'd urge you to try to understand what he's doing before you dismiss it out-of-hand. I happen to think he's pointing the way toward something quite new.

And there's been tons written about the cinematography and technology used in DitD, and there are a few, brief features on the New Line DVD that go into this (as well as the commentary track, of course). Here's an interesting article from FILM COMMENT that addresses this and various other aspects of DitD:

http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m10...le.jhtml?term=

When it comes down to it, the director's ongoing project is a spiritual one: the reduction of human experience, and its representation through cinema, to its essence. And on the eve of the cinema's imminent digital transformation, yon Trier has taken it upon himself to purge it of impurity. Dancer in the Dark's premise and raison d'etre is vision itself -- a nearly blind mother's struggle to preserve her son's sight. The allegoric dimension is irresistible -- as darkness descends on film's old magic of chemistry and optics, its offspring, video, is coming into the light. From a more circumspect angle, you might say that it's von Triers good fortune to have his own creative evolution coincide with a pivotal moment of technological change. Come to think of it, that's a fairly serviceable definition of the visionary.
Old 03-26-01, 04:32 PM
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Originally posted by empire state

this kind of direction is a fashion (and a really stupid fashion). it was von trier's way of getting noticed. he had made several movies and wasn't getting any acclaim, so he got really mad and invented a list of set rules to making movies. when the movie world heard about it, they were taken aback and embraced him as a genius. what a bunch of bologne
umm,
i assume you are talking about the dogme 95 principles. lars von trier only made ONE dogme film.
While many of his other films have the "feeling" of dogme films, Breaking the Waves for example, they still break the rules of dogme. There was a post a few months back when someone asked why Breaking the Waves was not a dogme film and someone here listed each rule, and how it was broken in that film.

[Edited by garmonbozia on 03-26-01 at 04:32 PM]
Old 03-26-01, 04:56 PM
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Originally posted by renaldow
I haven't seen Dancer in the Dark yet, but what you describe is what could be considered Von Trier's film style. Here are the cinematic rules of film making he came up with, aka Dogma 95:
note that Dancer isn't a Dogme95 film; as stated earlier, The Idiots is Von Trier's only Dogme95 film thus far.

I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and
confirmed by DOGMA 95:
1 - Shooting must be done on location.
Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found)


i believe Dancer's factory is a set, but i'm not positive. the documentary on the choreography indicates that the machinery had to be brought in.


2 - The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is shot)


this is obviously broken by the use of pre-recorded music and vocals for the dance numbers.


3 - The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing, shooting must take place where the film takes place)


the dance numbers again break this rule.


6 - The film must not contain superficial action (Murders, weapons, etc must not occur)


Dancer, of course, features both a murder and a weapon.


7 - Temporal and geographical alienaction are forbidden. (That is the film takes place here and now)


Dancer takes place in Washington State in the 60s.

10 - The director must not be credited.


like in Breaking The Waves, the audience is greeted with a huge "LARS VON TRIER" at the start of Dancer


While not generally included on the list of Dogma films, I think both The Kingdom and The Kingdom II (For those fortunate to have seen it in the US) are prime examples of that. They are fascinating, fast paced, movies that uphold his "vow of chastity."


i've not seen either part of The Kingdom yet (i plan on seeing them at the Brooklyn Academy of Music during their Von Trier film fest next month), but are the hospitals sets? anyhow, the fact that Von Trier is credited combined with the fact that he never submitted them for Dogme95 approval (esp. considering that The Kingdom was released in 1994) makes the argument moot.

anyhow, an argument might be made that Breaking The Waves and Dancer are both within the confines of the spirit of Dogme95 (whatever that might mean; it would require expansion) if not within the textual confines of it.

for those who are off-put by the camerawork in these films: you're supposed to be off-put by it. but if such a surface element prevents you from deeper thought about the film, i'm sorry that you've denied yourself the opportunity to enjoy something. like most films worthy of thought, they are not so easily dismissed as being shoddily directed. i suggest re-watching with an open (and inquisitive/introspective) mind. to be sure, not everyone has to like it in the end, but i feel there are much better reasons one should have than "i didn't like the camerawork." at most, camerawork criticisms should be supplementary discussions about these films, not the main ones.

DJ

[Edited by djtoell on 03-26-01 at 02:00 PM]
Old 03-26-01, 07:18 PM
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I noticed the color tone change as well through the musical numbers.

I believe this was done to further reinforce the idea that Selma was in her own world during the songs. The colors are more saturated, more dream like, and it really shows that the world the musical numbers took place in is much better than the real world. Not only is Selma in this dream world, but the audience as well.

--POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING--


I hope this isn't a spoiler, but notice that the last song is the only song where the color tone is not overly saturated. Selma may be in the dream world, but the audience is not. It reminds us that it's really happening.
Old 03-26-01, 07:34 PM
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djtoell,
nice comments. are you the person who listed how each dogme rule was broken in Breaking the Waves, or was that someone else. I cannot find that thread in a search and I wanted to read it again.
Old 03-26-01, 08:02 PM
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Originally posted by pantala
I noticed the color tone change as well through the musical numbers.


Not just color, but sound as well. The entire film is monaural except for the music numbers and one sound effect at the end.

Old 03-26-01, 08:22 PM
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BLUE....

is my favorite color!

Very Good film BTW. Bjork was robbed by the Academy!
Old 03-26-01, 09:43 PM
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Originally posted by garmonbozia
nice comments. are you the person who listed how each dogme rule was broken in Breaking the Waves, or was that someone else. I cannot find that thread in a search and I wanted to read it again.
that wasn't me. and thanks for the compliment.

DJ
Old 03-26-01, 10:06 PM
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Just listened to the Dancer commentary, and von Trier said that there's two ways to shoot a film (in his estimation): point and frame. Framing makes you worry about how the image looks. Pointing makes you worry about the content. von Trier, as we know, prefers to point. He also said that the more involved you are in the film, the less nauseating the camera work is. Ironically, he validated his own point as he spoke it. I'd seen the film twice in the theaters, and while I may have noticed once or twice that the camera was in a strange position, I didn't take too much notice, and it didn't distract me. I was somewhat surprised that people were getting physically sick from the camera movement. Well, as I was watching the commentary, I kept noticing how jerky the camera is and how it could easily induce sickness. I only noticed it because I was listening to people talk about the film instead of being engrossed in the plight of Selma. I suggest watching it again, and just try to forget about the camera. It can be done.

Also, why is putting the director's name behind the title "crediting" the director? It doesn't say "Dancer In The Dark: Directed By Lars von Trier." Suppose he has put Kurosawa's name behind the title. Would that suggest Kurosawa directed it? No. Would it even suggest that Kurosawa had anything to do with the film? No. I realize that Dancer breaks the Dogme rules in other ways, but I think that idea of putting a name behind the title and whether it constitutes a credit or not is up for interpretation.
Old 03-26-01, 10:32 PM
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Suprmallet has a good (if arcane) point. However, the end credits clearly say "Written and Directed by Lars Von Trier."

Another bit of arcanity, from me this time: Dancer in the Dark also clearly violates Dogme Rules 5 (the manufactured lenses in the dance sequences) and 8 (the movie is clearly in the musical genre). But, obviously, it was never intended to be a Dogme movie anyhoo...

djtoell, you will probably absolutely love both parts of The Kingdom. However, getting through them might be a chore, depending on how much sitting they're going to make you do at one time. If you've got the stamina, you'll find this to be a revelatory experience. The Stig Hellmer character (played by Ernst-Hugo Järegård) is just so well done that this might be one of the classic characterizations in entertainment history. The pacing of Pt. 1 is very slow and deliberate, but bear with it - it pays off in spades. And Pt. 2 has some of the best chase scenes ever put to film. I'll just leave my comments on The Kingdom here, because if I talk any more about this series I'll just ruin it for you.
Old 03-26-01, 10:48 PM
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Dogme 95......

in my estimation is partly tongue in cheek, but also seriously meant to shake filmmakers/artists up to get back to story tellin & characters and away so much from special effects, technique, artifice, etc.

anybody with gumption can have fun & make a movie!
Old 03-26-01, 10:54 PM
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Originally posted by Suprmallet
Also, why is putting the director's name behind the title "crediting" the director? It doesn't say "Dancer In The Dark: Directed By Lars von Trier." Suppose he has put Kurosawa's name behind the title. Would that suggest Kurosawa directed it? No. Would it even suggest that Kurosawa had anything to do with the film? No. I realize that Dancer breaks the Dogme rules in other ways, but I think that idea of putting a name behind the title and whether it constitutes a credit or not is up for interpretation.
with all due respect, i think that's a bit absurd. the implication that the name in big letters behind the film's title is the director is an obvious one. sure, one could put any name there. but it's not just any name. it's the director's name. it could mean anything, but here it means something. given the custom in film to credit a director in the possessive (e.g., John Carpenter's ____, An Oliver Stone Film, etc.), having Von Trier's name behind the title clearly implies he directed it. suggesting that it might just be a random name is a bit silly to my mind. it doesn't matter much anyway, as it's not the only place where Von Trier is credited. he is credited again at the end of the film, and he is credited on the posters, the dvd packaging, etc. i only referred to the title card as the most blatant (esp. in terms of size) credit that Von Trier gets.

DJ
Old 03-26-01, 11:05 PM
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Originally posted by SaintMax
8 (the movie is clearly in the musical genre)
i considered putting that in my list but decided against it because i don't think it's really a musical at its heart. while Selma clearly imagines herself in musicals, the film is simply (if anything could be said to be simple about it) reporting on her fantasies. as such, i think the film itself is a dramatic report of the development of her character. but this is certainly debatable.

djtoell, you will probably absolutely love both parts of The Kingdom. However, getting through them might be a chore, depending on how much sitting they're going to make you do at one time.
this is how they are scheduled:
April 8 - The Kingdom I (Riget) (1994) 279 min + intermission
April 15 - The Kingdom II (Riget II) (1997) 286 min + intermission

i suggest that anyone in the NY check out BAM's website, http://www.bam.org and click on BAM Rose Cinema for the schedule. the fest (Apr 1 - Apr 15) includes Breaking the Waves (1996), Tranceformer (1997), The Exhibited (De Udstillede) (2000), The Humiliated (De Ydmygede) (1998), The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens element) (1984), The Kingdom I (Riget) (1994), The Idiots (Idioterne) (1998) 117min Unrated version, Europa (Zentropa) (1991), The Kingdom II (Riget II) (1997). note that some are documentaries about Von Trier.

DJ
Old 03-26-01, 11:55 PM
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Just a couple of comments about The Kingdom (Riget and Riget 2, an abbreviation of "Rigshopitalet" which means General Hospital). I saw part 1 at a film festival and was totally absorbed for 4 1/2 hours. I didn't feel the pacing was slow at all. In fact, I found it faster than the pacing of Zentropa or Breaking the Waves, probably because of it's tv origin. It was filmed in fuzzy, nearly monochromatic 16mm film as a Danish miniseries, then transferred to videotape and blown up to 35mm film.
I then saw Riget and Riget 2 twice on tv since the whole series is shown here about once a year. It might not be as visually stylish as some of his other works but this blackly comic, engrossingly soapy tale of hospital mayhem is a lot more fun. The best way to describe it would be a cross between Twin Peaks and ER on acid.

The European DVD release is already OOP but I sure hope that it will get a North american release at some point. Well, at least I've taped it from tv.
Old 03-27-01, 11:38 AM
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Originally posted by djtoell

i've not seen either part of The Kingdom yet (i plan on seeing them at the Brooklyn Academy of Music during their Von Trier film fest next month), but are the hospitals sets? anyhow, the fact that Von Trier is credited combined with the fact that he never submitted them for Dogme95 approval (esp. considering that The Kingdom was released in 1994) makes the argument moot.

DJ

[Edited by djtoell on 03-26-01 at 02:00 PM]
Your right that not all of his films uphold all the rules he set forth, the point I was trying to make was, "well, that's what you get from a Von Trier film."

If you like Von Trier, you'll probably like both Kingdom movies. If they're showing back to back, be warned that since they were both mini-series it will take a good 7-8hrs to watch them back to back! Don't worry, it pays off. By the time their over you'll speak Danish fluently.

It was filmed at a hospital, at least partially. I don't think it was entirely at the same hospital (you'll see why, especially in 2) but the locations were real, they weren't sets.
Old 03-27-01, 11:43 AM
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Originally posted by eXcentris
The European DVD release is already OOP but I sure hope that it will get a North american release at some point. Well, at least I've taped it from tv.
You're lucky they showed them on TV where you live! I've looked into it and have been told and read that there are no current plans for re-releasing The Kingdom on DVD or VHS in the US, and that Kingdom 2 will probably never be released in the US again on any format (video, official theatrical,etc)

The Asian DVD releases of both movies are still available if you have the money and know where to look. For a lot of people, the Asian DVD is about the only way they're going to see pt.2.

The Kingdom DVD is a flipper from HK, I believe and runs about $49 everywhere I've seen it.

The Kingdom 2 is a 2 disc set from Japan and runs about $99 everywhere I've seen it.

I got mine from Scarecrow video in Seattle. http://www.scarecrow.com.
Old 03-27-01, 12:49 PM
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Renaldow, thanks for the info. I'll look into those Asian DVD releases. As for TV, well thanks to Tele Quebec which is our state (province) owned cultural tv station. They mostly show foreign films/series and there's always some good stuff on there (like The Kingdom and the Prime Suspect series from UK for example).

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