Grotesque Anatomy
Friday, March 26, 2004
  In Defense Of A Movie I Haven't Even Seen
Sean Collins has some strong words for Lars von Trier's latest film, Dogville.  I haven't seen the movie yet, but I certainly plan to.  Part of it is that, ever since Moulin Rouge, my wife and I have been big Nicole Kidman fans (which doesn't mean I always enjoy her films (hello, The Hours and Cold Mountain) but I do think she choses interesting projects to be in).  Another reason is that I thought Dancer in the Dark (also directed by von Trier) was an excellent movie.  I'm a fan of musicals, and I found von Trier's twists on the standard song-and-dance conventions refreshing.  Further, given how many movies have sappy, unrealistic resolutions that come out out of nowhere, I also appreciated the film's rather bleak outlook and ending.  Sean, on the other hand, views Dancer as a "crassly manipulative" film which "nearly drove its open-hearted genius of a star Bjork insane."  Now, I'm not quite up-to-date on my celebrity gossip, but, yes, I do remember reading reports of Bjork and von Trier feuding on the set of Dancer.  (I also remember reports of Bjork, several years before she collaborated with von Trier, assaulting a female television reporter who approached Bjork and her son in the Thailand airport.)  I'm not sure how any of that really affects the resulting film one way or the other, though.  Do behind-the-scenes conflicts really matter when judging the work itself?  Does Hitchcock's reported treatment of his actors diminish the appeal or impact of his films?  Does Cerebus fail as a comic solely because of creator Dave Sim's outlandish beliefs?

This isn't to suggest that knowledge external to a work of art (or entertainment, if you prefer) can never enter into one's reactions to said work.  For example, reports about CrossGen's treatment of creators (particularly the long-standing issue of non-payment) may give one pause when one is putting together one's monthly comic order.  But those are considerations of commerce, not art.  Do I want to support this creator (or company) by purchasing his (their) work? not, Does this work, considered on its own, have any artistic merit?

I suspect that what's really bugging Sean is the (in his view) "anti-Americanism" that supposedly pervades Dogville.  How accurate that label is I really can't say.  Again, I haven't seen the film yet, nor am I interested in reading any specific reviews or criticism of the film until I have seen it.  But in any event, can't an artist create worthwhile (i.e., challenging, thought-provoking) art even if his politics disagree with ours?  Or is it now the case that, in art as well as in politics, you're either with us or against us?

UPDATE: Sean responds to my entry.
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