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Memory Lane

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The Danish director Lars von Trier, best known in this country for Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, is a leader of the Dogme school of filmmakers, who set out to banish—in a manifesto, no less—any reek of so-called artificiality from their movies: e.g., studio lighting, a musical soundtrack. Dogville retains the Dogme spirit of aggressive minimalism, but its action unfolds on a stage set with the scenery sketched in chalk on a black floor. You can’t get much more artificial than that. The results, however, are surprisingly cinematic, and not just because many of the actors—including Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Lauren Bacall, Chloë Sevigny, and James Caan—are known to us from the movies. Set during the Depression in an isolated Rocky Mountain mining community, the film centers almost entirely on the faces of the townspeople, which Von Trier frames vividly. There’s nothing static about his technique, but everything else about the movie is dreary and closed off. Kidman plays a woman fleeing gangsters who is taken in by the tight-knit community and put to work. The result is like a neo-Brechtian cross between Our Town and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, as Von Trier hammers home—at close to three hours—the startling news that corruption rests deep in the heartland. . . . As small-town fantasies go, I prefer Greendale, Neil Young’s concept album turned concert tour turned movie, which is like nothing I’ve ever seen—at least not in an unaltered state. The film, shot in rural Northern California with an 8-mm. camera, was directed by Young under the appropriate pseudonym of Bernard Shakey, and its actors are lip-synched—both singing and speaking—by Young (who never appears). It all has something to do with a clan, the Greens, and the dismantling of America, but the ten featured songs are worth a listen, and you just might want to save a caribou afterward.


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