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M. Dale Prins

The Three-And-A-Half Obstructions.

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There's yet no thread about von Trier's latest film, apparently (although PTC has written a reviewlet) perhaps because y'all, like I, found it the weakest of Lars' films of the last ten years. (The mesmerizingly horrible The Element of Crime, von Trier's 1984 debut, will always be his worst.) It's not bad, mind -- I'd likely give it a B -- but it's not as nearly as interesting as its perverse premise might suggest.

More later today.

Dale


Metalfoot on Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee's Noel: "...this album is...monotony...bland, tripy fare..."

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I kind of like it really, but I view it more as a character study of Von Trier himself than anything else. If you want to get a grip on the psychology behind the Dogme movement, this is you rbest shot, because Von Trier's whole mission here is to break down Leith the way the Dogme directors intentionally broke themselves down ... it's very valuable on that front alone. I reviewed it here.

Anybody seen the HVE release of Epidemic? That's the only Von Trier film - including his student stuff - that I haven't seen and I didn't even realize they'd released it until a couple days ago ... I need to go shopping ...


twitch

independent and cult film.

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(The mesmerizingly horrible The Element of Crime, von Trier's 1984 debut, will always be his worst.) 

You know, Stef


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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(The mesmerizingly horrible The Element of Crime, von Trier's 1984 debut, will always be his worst.)

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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M. Dale Prins wrote:

: . . . PTC has written a reviewlet . . .

I might as well re-post it here:

- - -

Today, I caught The Five Obstructions (Denmark, 90 min.), in which Lars von Trier professes his love for Jorgen Leth's 1967 short film The Perfect Human and gets Leth to remake the film five times, each time under a different set of "obstructions" designed to make the filmmaking process somewhat difficult. Von Trier's penchant for amusing (or self-amused) sadism is definitely on display here, though it runs out of steam fairly quickly. The FIRST film is made under four stipulations: (1) every cut must be less than 12 frames, (2) it must provide answers to the questions which were asked in the original film, (3) it must be filmed in Cuba (simply because Leth had never been there before), and (4) no sets must be built for the film (simply because Leth made the mistake of describing, for von Trier, the sort of set he would like to build). The second film similarly has four stipulations: (1) it must be filmed in the most "miserable" place on Earth, which is apparently a red light district in Bombay, (2) the setting must not be shown, (3) Leth himself must play the titular man, and (4) the film must focus on the meal that the man eats -- the point being to push Leth into an ethically uncomfortable place, eating a fine dinner while surrounded by utter poverty. Leth kind of compromises on this last point, eating his meal in front of a semi-transparent screen through which we can actually see people watching him, and von Trier is a bit ticked to see that stipulation #2 has not been followed as strictly as he would have liked. After this, the "obstructions" become rather slack. The third film, in fact, has only ONE stipulation: either it be filmed in Bombay the way von Trier wanted it to be, or it be filmed with "complete freedom" -- and, interestingly enough, Leth DOES seem to consider this an "obstruction" of sorts, since "complete freedom" means he has nothing to "hang onto" in terms of fulfilling von Trier's wishes. The fourth film has an even simpler stipulation, i.e. it has to be a cartoon; apparently this is perceived as an "obstruction" because neither Leth nor von Trier like cartoons, but as a cartoon buff myself, I found this segment really intriguing (and I think the animation was done by the same folks who worked on Waking Life -- it had that look, and the animator(s) were based in Austin, Texas, so...). And the fifth film is basically written by von Trier and edited by him from the existing footage -- all Leth has to do is read the narration that von Trier gives him. So, an interesting lark, but not exactly profound, and the "climax" to which it builds feels a little lame, especially considering the sheer outrageous absurdity with which the film begins.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Me?? Gun?? I wouldn't "gun" for anyone. cool.gif I will however, mention to Dale that I know that he sometimes heads my direction for the holidays, and that if he comes this year I would most certainly exhort him to give The Element of Crime another chance, and that I will arrange for the screening. Time and distance will prove his love for yellowish tint. You heard it here first.

I will say this, that I loved Five Obstructions and look forward to seeing it again. I think it's a film-lovers' film as well as great insight into the mind of Von Sadist himself. It also introduces us to Leth, and I now find myself starving to see the original The Perfect Human, in its full form, as well as anything else Leth has done.

The 12 frames section was amazing. As was the cartoon, and quite humorous, too, considering how the two men loathe cartoons. And that's the point of Leth in the film, isn't it? He represents a man who transcends every obstruction. He's never beaten down, regardless of how unfair the rules enforced on him are; he is constantly found thwarting his own mental strongholds in order to make a worthwhile viewing experience. The process of battling and overcoming himself was a celebrated, and Lars playing Lars with his mentor was quite insightful.

FWIW, I don't think Von Trier has made a bad film yet. This coming from the only person I know who has seen Epidemic in the theater, as well as everything else available by him. While he's certainly not for everyone, it's still good to look at how he changes every few years, from where he started in art-house, and the process of stripping it all down in dogme, to what is now the process of meeting his audience somewhere in the middle. We're watching a director who cares about what he gives -- he is in search of perfection, and willing to take risks in order to get there. Von Trier is more like Leth than we probably originally thought. He's been forcing these rules on himself for several years now, and somehow, he always rises above his own restrictions.

I don't know what to make of this homo-porn thing, though. I'm a little bothered by that, to be honest. It's a shame that the guy I've always defended is involved with peddling porn of any kind. I'm left defenseless all of a sudden.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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PS. Since I'm back in school it's been harder to post as often, so please excuse me, but know that I do lurk... I've also dedicated myself to a new position on capitalizing my I's... It's part of a grown-up philosophy I'm working on... smile.gif


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I'm short on time -- and I promise a fuller review in the next couple days -- but does anyone else agree that the cartoon pretty much sucked, just like Lars and Jorgen expected?

Dale


Metalfoot on Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee's Noel: "...this album is...monotony...bland, tripy fare..."

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You have got to be kidding me. My wife and I sat there in wide eyed amazement. We seriously loved that portion, and it makes me want to go back and rewatch Waking Life. I don't love any cartoons, ever. And I really loved that part of Five Obstructions. So according to you I would only love sucky cartoons. But it doesn't feel that way to me.

So I'll tell you what -- you, who never responded to my challenge. I will have you over and I will retry Waking Life (I tried three times and fell asleep, but all were due to late starts) and you retry The Element of Crime. Dealio?

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I just watched The Five Obstructions the other day and found it to be quite intriguing -- and, yes Stef, the cartoon version was exceptional.

I thought the first obstruction was easily the best, though, and the film seemed to be a sort of air-propelled rocket, leaping off the launcher but immediately losing momentum. I expected increasingly challenging and stimulating parameters, but found instead that they were more easily satisfied -- to the point that Leth did NOTHING for the final obstruction. And, although I enjoyed the cartoon itself, it really looked as if someone else made that film, an easy obstruction for Leth.

And that fifth obstruction, as a von Trier film, should have been really something, and I thought it was easily the weakest part of the film.

Strange to say, but I also didn't fully buy into their arrangement. von Trier chides Leth for his second effort, and it came off like a cult leader badgering a young convert. I mean, is this an academic exercise or therapy? Which brings me to the other puzzle... Leth seems to acknowledge some failure of mental health (or depression or breakdown of some type); that put a whole new meaning in the excercise, but I suddenly felt awkward, as if Leth's desperation was being answered for entertainment value. Not that such an arrangement oughtn't have been filmed, but I would have liked to understand Leth's motivation earlier on. I'll watch it differently the second time.

(And BTW, does anyone else think Leth looks like hockey coach Glen Sather in profile?)

Edited by Tim Willson

"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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Strange to say, but I also didn't fully buy into their arrangement. von Trier chides Leth for his second effort, and it came off like a cult leader badgering a young convert. I mean, is this an academic exercise or therapy?

Film making is therapy for Von Trier. He talks quite regulary about how he deals with things via film that he can't begin to touch in real life. The Kingdom is essentially a list of everything Lars is afraid of. The whole point of the Dogme movement was to force him out into the open and not allow him to hide behind technique any longer ... the entire process of the 5 Obstructions is designed to do the same thing to Leth, which is what Von Trier is trying to tell him in the fifth film.


twitch

independent and cult film.

news. reviews. discussion.

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twitch:

The whole point of the Dogme movement was to force him out into the open and not allow him to hide behind technique any longer ...

So, are you implying Von Trier may be a masochist as well as a sadist?


"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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twitch:

The whole point of the Dogme movement was to force him out into the open and not allow him to hide behind technique any longer ...

So, are you implying Von Trier may be a masochist as well as a sadist?

You could put it that way, yes. Though I don't know that I'd really call him a sadist ... it's not that he derives pleasure from other people's pain, it's more that he tries to force them into uncomfortable positions to get a genuine response from him. He hates actors who act, basically, so he tries to force them to behave like actual people, which generally means putting them in situations that will generate the same emotional responses that he wants from their characters on film ... he's like an extreme 'method' director ...

Oh ... and don't hold your breath for an interview any time soon ... I emailed his personal assistant yesterday. He flat out will not entertain any interview requests for Antichrist any time in the near future and won't take any at all until he's in the press junket for Manderlay .... unless someone's got a personal connection straight to him he's not talking ...


twitch

independent and cult film.

news. reviews. discussion.

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: We seriously loved that portion, and it makes me want to go back and rewatch

: Waking Life.

I felt almost exactly the way about Obstruction Four as I did about Waking Life: I wouldn't have liked it as a live-action film, and there was virtually nothing about it as an animated film that adds to the experience of watching it. (Slightly off-topic, and I'm going to get chastised for this, no doubt, but I thought Waking Life was aesthetically shockingly uninventive; visually, it was just the same blasted thing over and over. Obstruction Four was more visually inventive, but equally unilluminating.) Further, while I think there are concrete themes to One and Two -- themes touched on in the original and expanded in the remakes -- I have no idea what Obstruction Four is about other than its own coolness. (I'm pretty ambivalent toward Obstruction Three as well, actually. But "Obstruction" Five rocks.)

: I mean, is this an academic exercise or therapy?

Yes. Which is why "Obstruction" Five rocks: It's where the two explicitly collide.

Dale


Metalfoot on Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee's Noel: "...this album is...monotony...bland, tripy fare..."

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I will take you up on that. There is a new R2 disc floating around which actually contains the Europe Trilogy: The Element of Crime, Epidemic and Zentropa. My R2 DVD player just died -- yes Russell this is a warning to you as well as I believe we have the same kind of DVD player and we have both recently purchased them -- but as soon as I pick up a more reliable player I will ask you, Dale, to buy these discs for me as a Christmas present. Don't worry about mailing it, you can just bring it in person when you are visiting for the holidays, and we will watch it together, in complete and utter awe. smile.gif

I dedicated 13 minutes of my valuable time to The Perfect Human the other night, freed of any Five Obstructions to "obstruct" my viewing of it. I enjoyed all 13 of those minutes for what it's worth, and I'm still trying to come to terms with what the shaving actor says about the white ring that appeared around his hand. You could tell that the beatnick thing was happening right then, yes, even in Denmark.

For those of you with little kids, I happened to watch The Perfect Human with Genesis Elise, now all of 21 months old, and she LOVED this film, I kid you not. Plus they've redone the narration in English, and that's probably what caught her attention. "This is an ear." "This is a mouth." "See the man fall," etc. It was as good as any See Dick Run book I had when I was a wee-toddler.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I watched The Perfect Human after The Five Obstructions and enjoyed it, too. I agreed with Leth that Claus Nissen was able to create a lot from the nothing he had to work with. (I think he mentioned it in the director's commentary.) But it seemed as if the aspect ratio was messed up for TPH. The opening titles didn't fully appear on the screen, for example, and it made me think I was watching a fullscreen version of a letterbox production.


"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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Tim, did you watch the DVD extra on the Five Obstructions disc or something else? I didn't notice any problems with the version on the DVD.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I will take you up on that. There is a new R2 disc floating around which actually contains the Europe Trilogy: The Element of Crime, Epidemic and Zentropa. My

WHERE!?! Link! Please!


twitch

independent and cult film.

news. reviews. discussion.

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I will take you up on that.
Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Tim, did you watch the DVD extra on the Five Obstructions disc or something else?  I didn't notice any problems with the version on the DVD.

-s.

It was the one on the disc (a studio screener, but that shouldn't make a difference). I'll look at this again when I have a minute.


"Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

« Nous connaîtrions-nous seulement un peu nous-mêmes, sans les arts? »

Quoted on Canada's $20 bill; from Gabrielle Roy's novel La montagne secrète. The English translation, The Hidden Mountain, is by Harry L. Binsse.

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: But it seemed as if the aspect ratio was messed up for TPH. The

: opening titles didn't fully appear on the screen, for example, and it

: made me think I was watching a fullscreen version of a letterbox

: production.

Yes.

Also, does anyone know which was original: The English audio track to "TPH" used in the bonus feature, or the Danish (I presume) audio track to "TPH" used in the snippets within T5O? Regardless of which came first, the English-speaking dude was far, far better.

Dale


Metalfoot on Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee's Noel: "...this album is...monotony...bland, tripy fare..."

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I love this board.

I've just watched The Five Obstructions for the second time in three days, because my first viewing was conducted under a cloud of sleepiness (which settled before I sat down to watch the movie, not after) that didn't allow me to fully appreciate the film. After watching it in a more lucid state, I have that dazed feeling that comes over me when I've seen something exceptional. This film is really quite great. And in the aftermath, I can type "The Five Obstructions" into the "search" field here and get instant feedback on what others thought of the film, and why.

I could watch The Five Obstructions five more times and probably learn something new every time.

A couple of questions, followed by a few random thoughts:

--As mentioned above, The Perfect Human is contained as a DVD extra (cropped, yes) but is never shown, start to finish, during The Five Obstructions, right? As North American viewers, were you: (1) distracted/offended by this "oversight" while watching the film; (2) not phased whatsoever, because everybody who's anybody has seen The Perfect Human multiple times -- just ask von Trier!; (3) patient enough to realize that the original film isn't really the point of the new film?

[Christian's answer: (1) -- but he feels foolish that it's not (3), which seems so obvious now]

--Touching on choice "(2)" above, did it seem to you that the Danish trailer for TFO (included in the supplements) did indeed assume that everyone was familiar with the film, while the American trailer (also in the supplements) downplayed The Perfect Human? Tricky, tricky.

--Do you think this film will be remembered years from now as a prime example of (1) von Trier's aesthetic/personal concerns; (2) Leth's status as a mentor to a younger generation of filmmakers; (3) silly boy! -- this film will be quickly forgotten, or overshadowed by von Trier's other films!

Question for Stef: What did your 21-month-old think of the lovemaking sequence in The Perfect Human? biggrin.gif

As for the animated sequence, I thought it was fabulous. And this comes from someone who hated Waking Life, yet instantly recognized the technique in TFO and, knowing Austin, Texas, was the residence of the animator, put two-and-two together without any help -- because I'm brilliant, just like Lars. But I digress.

Von Trier's entry was wonderful. The only "obstruction" I found less than fascinating was Leth's film in front of the curtain, with images of Bombay in the background. It was aesthetically interesting for about 60 seconds; after that, I was watching the clock, waiting for that film to be over.

By the way, the film is said to be directed by both von Trier and Leth, but other than the four Leth entries, is it not safe to say that TFO is a Lars von Trier film? Of course, von Trier directed the fifth obstruction, but he also directed the interaction scenes between the two filmmakers, right?

Last, TFO was the overwhelming choice as Best Documentary of the year over at Indiewire.

Thanks for indulging these just-watched-it-and-loved-it riffs...


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Very cool, Christian.

I never got hung up about the fact that TPH wasn't shown in its entirety. I guess I thought it'd either be easy to find (it turns out it is not), or I thought it'd be a part of The five Obstructions DVD release (it turns out that it is). The thing that frustrated me about TFO's release is that several of Leth's films are not seen from start to finish in Von Trier's film, and this is quite sad, for they seem very good. But we only get snippets. I thought that the DVD release would at least allow us to see these shorts from start to finish as extras. It doesn't.

Hmm. Were there nude scenes in Leth's film? I can't remember, to be honest. I know there were humans that were portrayed in the skin of humans. I don't think I would've let the girlie continue watching had I seen something that is inappropriate (you are dealing with a man that barely lets her watch television). She's seen a couple of nude scenes, but nothing that I would consider graphic. She's seen Guy Maddin nude scenes (she absolutely loved The Heart of The World) and this. But these nude scenes are like calling works in a museum "nude scenes." Such a phrase is hardly justified. I don't remember any lovemaking in TPH. Had it been too graphic or not artistically meritorious, I would have turned it off immediately.

Besides, I'm relatively sure she likes The Wiggles more, anyway.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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