Sunday, May 27, 2007

Red Road and Dogme 95; New Wave

The film “Red Road” directed by Andrea Arnold, from Zentropa and distributed in the US by indie company Tartan Films, is cited as a good example of the filmmaking credo “Dogma 95” (or Dogma 95) started by Danish filmmakers Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levring and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen. (The film is supposed to be the first of a trilogy called “Advance Party”.) The concept is simple “real time” filmmaking using real locations without props, without background scores, hand-held cameras, and focusing on concept, characters and storytelling. The wiki article is good: and Dogme itself has its own site at

The digital video film encapsulates its story through the security cameras, focused around the “Red Road” high rise housing complexes and nearby businesses in a working class area of Glasgow, Scotland. Security police watchperson Jackie (Kate Dickie) sees a man Clyde (Tony Curran) who harmed her family, and much of the film deals with her ventures into this confined neighborhood to set things right. It makes a story, and the creep, grainy world with its natural reds, browns and grays, usually against a cool drizzly Glasgow sky, imparts the appropriate claustrophobia to the audience.

But is this so new? Alfred Hitchcock had experimented with this kind of concept in his films Rear Window (1955) and even Rope (1948). And there have been some other modern thrillers in real time, such as Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2002, 20th Century Fox) and even John Badham’s Nick of Time (1995, Paramount). Also, don't forget the recent thriller about Muslim stereotyping, Jeff Renfroe's Civic Duty (2007). This style of storytelling tends to be well regarded by both critics and executive producers seeking investors.

Lars von Trier’s earlier films experiment with variations of the Dogme concept. The best known is the nearly three hour “Dogville” (Lions Gate), a title that surely suggests the concept. The film is a drama set in 1930’s small town sheltering a woman on the run from the mob, gradually raising the level of risk for everyone. America laid out on a huge stage as if it were a Mr. Ree game board. The story is strictly structured in nine parts and humorously narrated by John Hurt. By definition, stage plays have props, so is this film really an example of Dogme 95? At least, it is a concrete concept. This, too, is a trilogy called “U.S.A. Land of Opportunities”, followed by Manderlay (2005) and to be followed in 2007 by Washington.

There have been other plays copied to film directly (Robert Cassler’s Second in the Realm), and some plays, when you watch them on a stage, seem almost like movies (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Velvet Sky (2005), and Don Scime’s The David Dance (2003).

With some of my material, I can see the idea of laying out some sets (like college dorm rooms, a dean’s office, a submarine interior, a classroom, even an outdoor rally), and unfolding a sequence of incidents that conveys a particular concept. But this is not quite the same thing that Dogme defines, even if there is similarity in the underlying technique.

One can even imagine a film set on a large model railroad set (like Roadside America on I-78 in Pennsylvania), with claymation or small dolls as characters.

One of Van Trier’s earlier films anticipate these ideas. Epidemic (1988), in low budget and grainy black and white, anticipates the pandemic with ouiji boards and seances before opening up to the desolation along the Autobahn. Then there is the related but non-linear “New Wave” of Jean-Luc Godard. In Praise of Love (Eloge de l’amour) is in two parts, the first where artists try to bring their work together in a series of collages (with a famous scene with a book with blank pages), with the black and white part followed by color with existential discussions that took place two years earlier. Then there is Godard’s Notre Musique, taking from Hell (the Holocaust) to Purgatory (Sarajevo) to Heaven.

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