Friday, June 26, 2009


About 10 years ago the Dogme movement emerged from Denmark, attempting to assert a new stripped-down aesthetic in filmmaking. Filmmakers such as Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg embraced a new straight-forward, honest (and presumably cheaper) mode of filmmaking which precluded real actors, constructed sets, post-synced sound or effects, all in an attempt to strip away the over-determined rules that inflected (and infected) normal picture making.

Only natural lighting environments were allowed to be filmed; no extra lights could be added. And only existing objects in real locations could be used. No props or guns or other genre elements to add visual "interest." It all had to be present and available for the filmmakers... or anyone. The idea was to capture the truth as it happened in front of the camera and record it un(pre)mediated as it occurs, with no subjective manipulation, no trickery, no egos. Truth at 24 frames a second.

They were unsuccessful for the most part. While this is an interesting approach to making films - and especially for ones that aren't documentaries - it makes for difficult, overly mannered yet loosely structured and finally rather restrictive results. Such avant-garde narratives - without artifice or production values - are an acquired taste. Without most of the tools of 100 years of filmmaking at their disposal, the dogme-ists paint themselves into an ascetic conundrum in which flights of cinematic fancy are by default precluded.

The last successful Dogme film was 2001's "Italian For Beginners" (and there's consensus that that didn't follow the Dogme vow of chastity rules to the letter either). Yet the spontaneous no-production-value aesthetic has been embraced by a new generation of filmmakers. It's a reflection of our familiarity with streaming videos on YouTube and our small personal devices, lo-fi but authentic. Such above-ground hits as "The Blair Witch Project" and "Quarantine" (by way of "REC") appropriate (if don't rigorously follow) the Dogme ideals of hand-held cameras and off-the-cuff shooting in natural, real-world settings with a documentary narrative drive. J.J. Abrams' "Cloverfield" also uses the videocam reality-t.v. model to great effect, tapping into our voyeuristic tendencies.

(Although it's likely 80% of that film is fake, manufactured by CGI in post.)

Interestingly, and tellingly, all these are horror films.

The Dogme '95 movement was an articulated attempt to capture the spectacle of the real, in unmediated and unfiltered visual terms. It turns out that mode of filmmaking is discomforting.

We like a little artifice between us and reality. The spectacle the camera captures, when allowed to film uninhibited and unfiltered, is truthful, perhaps - but also (or therefore) profound, scary, intense, forbidden, and a bit horrifying.

An unintended progression of those Danes 10 years ago.

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