Don't Dog ME, I'm American!

Dogville: A Quasi-Review

by Ranier-Atlas Faustbinder

Have you ever read a review by this Roger Roeper guy? Of course you haven’t. Believe me, he is the goddamned worst. I was hoping—like many wee minions and wannabe film snobs like myself—to peep out a review written by Ebert, but this moron Roeper is the one quoted on for Dogville. It isn’t like I think Ebert is great or anything; I check Ebert more out of habit, from back when I was a teenager and didn’t know better. Ebert has turned into a little wuss that rarely gives a thing a thumbs down—but he sure gave this movie one. Regardless of Ebert, I want to snuff Roeper out. I want to punch him as bad as I want to get Bush out of office, or see Michael Moore’s career ended. He makes amazingly pointless statements, and, in said capsule review, says some real harsh things about Dogville—I would have loved to be able to understand why. I’ll be goddamned if he doesn’t even write reviews. That’s precisely why you haven’t read one; they just quote him from that facial makeup-infested show, where he was lucky enough to land when the spot opened up.

Anyway, the reason I start with that shithead is that he is of the idea (like many others) that Lars Von Trier’s (whom strangely enough, I also want to snuff out; when I told this to my friend Renee, she said, “I’m sure he’d invite that”) new film is anti-American. What kind of criticism is that anyway? Who gives a shit? Maybe it is, but America is just as shitty a place as it is good. It’s just like an American to watch a three-hour movie—which is, if nothing else, inventive, original, decently shot, and masterfully lit—and come out saying, “Hey, I don’t like the way he portrayed America. He’s never even been here.” Von Trier has never been to America the same way that Michael Curtiz probably never went to Casablanca or Howard Hawks to Martinique—the only difference is that Von Trier has been schooled on American film, and most likely the literature as heard in the film’s narrative. I would go through a retelling of the story, but then I would be M Faust and this would barely be a review. Basically, it is a tale of revenge, where the actual act of reprisal happens in the last ten minutes. The movie poses questions about small town life in America and all of its hypocrisies. It speaks of the feelings toward women in the early part of this century—a time that we are not as far removed from as one would like to think—not unlike John Stienbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums,” or perhaps more similarly to “Sula,” a book that I don’t particularly care for by Toni Morrison. Nonetheless, it portrays small town life aptly. Women were treated like shit, especially by other women. The gossip, the false feelings of kinship, blah and blah…this may describe city life as well. People can be rabidly vicious, especially towards outsiders. If someone like Grace, Nicole Kidman’s character, will pour sweat out for you, why not make her, and make her suffer while doing so? She becomes a slave of sorts, a foreigner to the land, so it’s much easier for the people to forget that she is human and treat her like filth. Maybe we need Lars, a foreigner to this grand land, to remind us—or at least me—where this country came from. This is especially evident during the final montage, set to the tune of David Bowie’s “Young Americans” and the ending itself. This perspective is something that most of the legal tender-driven sheep forget when they are at Blockbuster renting a few hits for the good old family.

Von Trier? He’s a self-indulgent asshole who loves to look down on actors and the people he is shooting the film for (or maybe it’s just for himself, which is cool with me) from his crane, and says things in regards to actors like, “It's a little bit like filming animals--they are uncontrollable.” This may be true, but how would I know? That is my only problem with him. He is such a dick that he is able to transcend the movie; you can feel his eyes watching, as you get squeamish when Nicole Kidman is raped for the umpteenth time. Yet, that is also what I find so fascinating about the film; it was cynical, negative, and hateful. The Von Trier has no qualms with being a bastard and exploiting these things. Nor does make up for his cynicism in the end. Can one actually fault him for that? He doesn’t tie it up with happiness in the ending. I recently watched a crap-hole of a movie, which I think is exactly the type Von Trier is railing against, called Runaway Jury. The entire movie is this cynical mess of nonsense, but, in the end, it turns into this wonderful story of sweet-tasting revenge. You know, the kind where you can trust human kind after all! Let’s all just face it now. Humankind has gone to hell. Lars is right. If you argue with him, you are as blind as most other Americans that need at least one completely computer-animated character in a flick to get them motivated to go to the theatre. And, of course, it needs to gross over a cold fifteen-mil during the first weekend.

Dogville is barebones filmmaking, not quite as barebones as Von Trier’s trips into the Dogme ideals (he used a freaking crane), but barebones compared to most of the comic book movies that are being shoved down our collective throats week after week. Von Trier gives us a small, claustrophobic tale of being stuck, different from anything we’ve seen. A scene where Grace leaves by truck, and wakes up to find that she is still in Dogville, is almost as creepy as Uma Thurman being buried alive. We are isolated in this place, as if rest of the world doesn’t exist, or just doesn’t matter. It feels like Rio Bravo or Johnny Guitar or even Yojimbo in that sense. We can see the whole town in one shot—which encompasses the entire scenery for the film. The whole town in Dogville is dead though—what I mean is, it is outlined in chalk. Von Trier wasn’t trying to hide that this is what he was doing, which is a credit to the masters who directed the aforementioned films, and who accomplished the same feeling with huge set designs. What Von Trier did is completely strip the story down to the essential: the word. The world outside doesn’t have to exist—the world is what you are seeing, or rather being shown. Though drastically dissimilar, in all of these films you are waiting for someone from the outside world to enter so that things will be normal again. In Rio Bravo, the law is coming to take the murderous Joe Burdette away; in Johnny Guitar, Joan Crawford is waiting on people to come, so she can make her money and live quietly running her saloon—but like Grace, she is an outcast, and previous choices prevent her from moving on in the way she would like; while in Yojimbo they are waiting for the magistrate to come through so that the killing can continue afterwards; and in Dogville, you eagerly await the faceless gangster.

Say what you will about that asshole Von Trier. He does get some awfully amazing performances from actors and especially actresses. I think Kidman was amazing, as well as every other person who set foot in his play. I ask you: are we here to like him? Hell no. Ask him if he cares either. I think I could pretty easily answer that for him. Von Trier films literature like Godard, although perhaps not as well. While Godard was trying to film William Faulkner’s style, and may have succeeded, Von Trier was filming Twain’s style, and I am not so sure he succeeded in that. What he did succeed in is making a highly original film, and the second I’ve seen this year that was divided into chapters. This was done and earned, as we’ve learned now that you don’t need to see the scenery to be moved by a film, like you don’t in literature. Did I like the movie? I’m not sure. However, I will say Dogville moved me in a way that I can’t quite pin down, and somehow that makes it far more compelling. Lauren Bacall was in it for Chrissakes. And the end? I won’t ruin it, but as _____ as the end was, I loved every second of it.

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