COLUMNS

  • Lars von Trier’s Dogville

    THE DOGME 95 “Vow of Chastity” notwithstanding, purity isn’t high on Lars von Trier’s agenda. Dogme’s refusal of certain resources and techniques is aimed less at establishing a “pure” filmic practice than at stimulating greater awareness and more conscious use of conventions. Strict rules can be liberating rather than oppressive, so long as they haven’t hardened into multiplex clichés. Although his new feature, Dogville, isn’t a Dogme film, von Trier has nevertheless imposed strict constraints on himself, shooting entirely on a soundstage. The set consists mainly of outlines and blueprints

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  • The Five Obstructions

    “The hardboiled old men with hearts of stone must die,” Lars von Trier declared in his first manifesto, twenty years ago, fresh from film school and ready to launch a Nordic nouvelle vague by killing the Father—or fathers, Ingmar Bergman in particular. Among the ancients the enfant terrible had in mind to vanquish was perhaps his professor and mentor, Danish icon Jørgen Leth, a poet, novelist, diplomat, and filmmaker whose poetic documentaries form the antonym of von Trier’s aggressive aesthetic. Nursing a grudge for two decades after Leth supposedly snubbed him in the hallway of the Danish Film

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  • Leni Riefenstahl

    NOW THAT SHE IS authentically dead—at 101, felled by a curse from the ghost of Ernst Jünger, who lived two years longer—Leni Riefenstahl has joined the shades she often conjured during a career of ardor, mystification, and, perhaps, subliminal expiation.

    What good would it do to apologize? she asks in the 1993 Roy Müller documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. Apologies don’t turn the clock back or raise the dead from dust. The sensible tactic, in the face of speeding time and mass amnesia, is to move on and hope that everybody forgets about it. But Leni knew they never

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  • Gary Indiana on The Fog of War

    I WILL BEGIN BY ADMITTING that I fell asleep five times during a morning press screening of Errol Morris’s The Fog of War—which received its US premiere at the New York Film Festival last September and is currently playing in theaters around the country—and I left the auditorium with precious few impressions besides that of the spectacularly bad dental work that Robert S. McNamara, the former secretary of defense, exposed each time he was featured in close-up. Having now viewed the documentary three additional times, while fully awake, what ultimately seems most impressive about Morris’s skewed

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  • Nathaniel Kahn’s My Architect

    We do not “own” the facts of our lives at all. This ownership passes out of our hands at birth, at the moment we are first observed. —Janet Malcolm

    LOUIS I. KAHN’S NOT-HUGE OEUVRE includes a disproportionate number of masterpieces: the Salk Institute, Yale’s Center for British Art, the Kimbell Art Museum, the Phillips Exeter Academy library, Bangladesh’s capitol. Modern buildings with the presence of ancient monuments, they exude the timeless, sacred quality that invites you to transcend—not to historicize.

    When Kahn died suddenly in Penn Station in 1974, with illegible ID, the police were unable

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  • Gus Van Sant’s Elephant

    WHEN GUS VAN SANT’S ELEPHANT was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes last May, it was taken by some Americans on the scene as a backhanded gesture. At a festival haunted by echoes of European-American tensions over the war in Iraq it was hardly surprising that the honoring of yet another movie about the Columbine massacre (a year after the same prize had gone to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine) might look like a deliberate statement about America as seen through European eyes: psychotic, gun-crazy, on the edge of meltdown. The irony is that, judged as a movie about the Columbine shootings,

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  • Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand

    SOMETIME IN 1969, during the making of Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper introduced his costar and producer, Peter Fonda, to Bruce Conner, the San Francisco–based artist and avant-garde filmmaker best known for the 16 mm found-footage collages he began showing in the late ’50s. “Bruce’s work was not soiled by any desire to make features,” writes Fonda in his deliriously earnest 1998 autobiography, Don’t Tell Dad. Fonda goes on to describe Conner’s visits to his home in LA. “We screened his movies and talked about our dreams. After watching his films—which I could do for hours—we often played music

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  • James Quandt on Richard Massingham

    HOW IS IT THAT A BRITISH DOCTOR fifty years dead, an oddball amateur who made advertisements and corporate training films, instructional works, and propaganda for the Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Information, is suddenly being discovered as one of the great eccentrics of film history? The coercive power of arcana has seen masters displaced by marginals in many fields, but until recently it did little for the reputation of Richard Massingham (1898–1953). Massingham once seemed destined for posthumous stardom after Henri Langlois, cofounder of the Cinémathèque Française and mentor to the French

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  • American Splendor

    AMERICAN SPLENDOR, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s tatty, tender, volatile, and, yes, splendid biopic of Harvey Pekar, takes its name from the series of underground comic books that Pekar began publishing in 1976. Issued just about annually, the comics are autobiographical. Their subject is the daily life of a working-class autodidact who supported himself for nearly four decades (even after he achieved underground fame) working as a file clerk at a Veterans Administration hospital in Cleveland.

    A connoisseur of marginalia, Pekar homes in on quotidian details of social interaction as

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  • the making of American Splendor

    Last January a movie based on my comic book series, American Splendor, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Man, that’s hard for me to believe. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the movie was excellent, but I’m not used to winning anything. My comics sell so lousy. People are always coming up to me and saying how much they like them. I want to reply, “Yeah, but did you ever buy one?” What I did for a living—I’m retired now—was to be a flunky file clerk for the federal government, mostly for the Cleveland VA Hospital, for thirty-seven years. I mean, it was steady work with pretty good fringe benefits,

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  • Geoffrey O’Brien on The Man Without a Past

    “MY HEAD’S DAMAGED somehow. I don’t even remember who I am.”

    “My, that’s bad. Care for a cup of coffee?”

    This snatch of dialogue sums up quite well the clipped and unflappable tone of Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki’s sixteenth feature, The Man Without a Past, a movie where, within the first three minutes, the worst has already happened: After a few tranquil establishing shots just detailed enough to let us surmise that a stranger is arriving in a city by train, the unknown man whose acquaintance we have only just made sits on a bench and without a pause is accosted by skinheads, who knock him

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  • Spider

    DAVID CRONENBERG’S SPIDER stars Ralph Fiennes as a mentally disturbed man whose web of defenses unravels when he’s transferred from an asylum to a halfway house in the squalid East End London neighborhood where he lived as a child. The film—which premiered at Cannes in May and opens this month in New York and Los Angeles—is adapted from the 1990 novel of the same name by Patrick McGrath, who also wrote the screenplay. An astonishing balancing act, Spider is both faithful to the novel and a distinctly Cronenbergian work. In both form and meaning, it is the most impeccably realized and rarefied

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