Dogville - Lars Von Trier - USA/Denmark 2004

, 2006-07-30

Dogville - Lars Von Trier - USA/Denmark 2004Dogville is film as machine, a well oiled machine designed to process Nicole Kidman. The machine is heavily larded with John Hurts voice over explaining in detail the sociopathic mechanisms inherent in the design and function of the mechanism( at times it seems he’ll never shut up) Each section of the machine is introduced by an often tongue in cheek title card. We watch the Dogville machine at work adopting its stray dog raw material, shaping it, masticating it and finally trying to destroy it before itself being destroyed by the consequences of its own actions: simultaneously we hear the voice of machine minder sardonically calling our attention to the ever mutating mechanisms of desire that are at work. As machine film Dogville is a parody of the Hollywood movie factory where dreams and delusions and fake states of mind roll off the production line. Dogville as a referential work takes up on one film which is an essential component of Hollywood’s gospel of idealised americana: Our Town. It’s a long time since I saw Our Town, but I instantly recognised its characteristic features: the stock american small town characters of a certain era(1930’s), the cadence of its spoken home-spun words, the set. Sam Wood’s film, shot in a studio built town is a machine(larded by the voice of Frank Craven[whom, unlike Hurt, we do see as a character] ) built on simple socially constructed mechanisms that function as a endorsement of the values and behaviour of real America. The fable that Our Town spins is that there is no real discrepant gap between values and action in this, the real America. Out of this referent with its carefully built and painted sets, camera set ups and artfully contrived lighting all seamlessly edited, comes Dogville like the anti-matter machine with its highly charged strangely named particles of energy - such as hand held digital camera and jump cut. All the action takes place in the crucible of the set which is simply made up of spaces marked out in white chalk which are sparsely littered with emblematic and economically employed theatrical props. Our Town was a big production set that mimicked reality. Its characteristic quality is opaqueness: it comprises of closed spaces characterised by walls doors and other obstacles to lines of vision. The set in Dogsville is open: the light(there is much commentary on light and its nature in the film) passes through and exposes all the set. The action is transparent. In Dogville the translucent set functions as a glass housing for the machine that unchains the dog of desire and examines its effect on smalltown. The overlaid pastiche of stock characters, stock situations and a carefully parodied script produce in the glass crucible of Dogville, a bestialisation of the town. Its nature and the nature of its desire, cock shit and meanness, is open to the light. There is no redemption for the characters who fail to see(or in the case of Tom who understands too late) that they are the components of a desire machine. In case it might seem there is a saving Grace in Dogville, in the form of a canonisation of Nicole Kidman as sainted product, Von Trier, after allowing Nicole and her dad a little philosophical babbling, closes the story grand guignole Hollywood style, with an apocalyptic Old Testament revenge ending. As if it were the destiny of all such machines to destroy themselves. Dogville is moral film literal in purpose and in detail. Each section of the machine has a function and that function can only be understood by seeing each process. Machine films that don’t skip processes can only work through time and generally(I’m sure there are exceptions put I can’t think of any) employ the classical unities and continuities to make them intelligible as machines. Dogville is a wonderful machine but with one irritation the over elaborated dog-matic Voice Over. Perhaps it is part of the dogma to rub the audience’s nose in the shit. - adrin neatrour - 7 March 2004