Book Review: Dogme Uncut

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
Dogme Uncut: Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, and the Gang that Took on Hollywood: Jack Stevenson, Santa Monica Press, 2003

Dogme Uncut is a new book on the Dogme concept challenge to conventional rules of filmmaking. Author Jack Stevenson who has lived north of Copenhagen for the last decade has written an informative book with a direct style that contexualizes the movement within historical and contemporary film production. Established in 1995, the Dogme concept seemed to be the perfect formula that would allow European film to hold its own against Hollywood, created by Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier. The Dogme Manifesto includes an intriguing 'Vow of Chastity' that filmmakers take upon fulfilling ten select criteria: shooting in Academy 35 mm color film on location with handheld cameras, no special lighting, optical work and filters, no sound produced separately from the images, no superficial action including guns or weapons. The film is to take place in the here and now, and above all the director is not to be credited. Stevenson reveals that Vinterberg actually approached Steven Spielberg and challenged him to make a film by this prescription.
Von Trier insists that the emphasis in Dogme 95 as it is called, is artistic not economic but in a chapter entitled "Dogme Unveiled" some critics find the criteria silly, having nothing to do with making good films.
"I perceive Dogme 95 as an ironic comment on decades of state supported social realist Danish films that lack fantasy", according to filmmaker and Danish Film School teacher Braad Thomsen who remembers that von Trier sat in his lectures adorned with a freestyle. Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki reportedly gave Dogme the finger when asked to be part of the gang.
According to Danish script professor Mogens Rokov, "most film waves don't last for longer than seven or eight years" and Stevenson provides definitive information as to whether this will hold true for Dogme as well. A survey of other successful and influential film movements is covered in a chapter called "John Cassavettes, Jean Luc Godard and the Gang that Influenced Dogme". Von Trier was reportedly thrilled to star Ben Gazzara as a blind dirty old man in his latest film Dogville who he calls 'the great god'. Gazzara starred in Cassevettes groundbreaking films representative of the direct cinema approach of the New American Underground, which like Dogme depersonalized the director and where the camera served as a "passive, invisible tool". Stevenson also elaborates on how Dogme was impacted by the New German Cinema and French New Wave.
Additional chapters include commentary on "Other Danish Dogme Films" and "Foreign Dogme Films", such as Julien Donkey Boy by Sol Korine. In the US, reports Stevenson, Dogme may be seen as a "European intellectual curiosity' and does not seem to have caught on, primarily because only two dogme films, Vinterberg's The Celebration and von Trier's The Idiots received significant exposure, confined to art house theaters. However, the Danish movement is said to have inspired directors such as Mira Nair, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee and Mike Figgis.
Is it the "End of Dogme?" as the final chapter title suggests?
After the completion of the 8th official Dogme film, Open Hearts by Suzanne Bier, the Dogme brothers protested: music was not connected to the images. At the same time, they announced the "Closure of Dogme" in June 2002 because the concept has become a genre formula. Certificates were no longer issued.
What does this all mean, can anyone now make a Dogme film? Stevenson provides the facts in Dogme Uncut, a handheld treasure of the here and now.

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Dogme Uncut