"Hate" is too weak a word for how I feel about Dancer in the Dark, an abomination of pretentious art-house filmmaking that is really the only cultural artifact in existence that lights in my soul a blazing double rage rainbow so intense and so vivid that I can see into the mind of psychopathic mass-murderers and serial rapists.
Movies are supposed to make you feel, but Lars von Trier pulls out all the stops to create the most emotionally manipulative movie I’ve ever seen, a melodrama of epically absurd proportions cloaked in a cape of grim self-importance.
Not only is the protagonist an impoverished, mildly-retarded, immigrant single-mother who works at a dangerous factory punching holes into sheet metal (or some such), it turns out she’s going blind, and so is her helpless, doe-eyed son.
She is fired from her job and then her friend, a cop from whom she rents a dilapidated trailer on his property, steals the money she’s scraped together for her son’s operation. Then the cop’s wife accuses her of sleeping with her husband and kicks her out of her trailer and then the cop tries to shoot her but ends up killed in the struggle, and then she is found guilty of murder and then put on death row.
It would take like two seconds for her to avoid death, like maybe proclaim her innocence ONCE in the entire movie, but she’s such a self-sacrificing martyr that she ends the film a corpse, and her son an orphan going blind. Uh-huh.
If I pitched this plot to you, you’d expect it to run on Lifetime as a TV movie starring Meredith Baxter Birney and Richard Greico. Rather than own up to this implausible soap opera nonsense, von Trier wraps it up in shakey, grainey, handheld camerawork. He dirties it up a bit and calls it art.
Inserted into the movie are musical numbers meant to give us a break from this bleak horror. This is a cheat, of course, because most movies have to change our emotions through plot and character development, not just by randomly inserting unrelated diversions to cheer us up. It’s about as subtle as a clown in a children’s hospital and I might say about as enjoyable. But even these musical numbers would be OK if they were shot and edited by anyone with a sense of rhythm or musical grace. As is, they are hacked and jerky and only seem worth a fuck in the context of the rest of the shitpile movie.
If that’s not enough, the movie can be read as a commentary on feminism (apparently, to be a woman is to be a self-sacrificing idiot masochist) and moreover, on the US: the difference between the American dream and the reality, and the brutality of capital punishment. That such ridiculous political statements are coming from a Danish asshole who’s never even visited this country is more than insulting.
Furthermore, this incredibly manipulative piece of garbage was created by the leader of Dogme 95, a film movement that is supposedly all about purity and lack of artifice.
But what really REALLY puts me over the top is how many people thought it was good. The acclaim this film received completely eroded my belief that real, true art will stand out, and that bullshitting impostors will ultimately be undone. If von Trier wasn’t an established filmmaker with one serious artful movie under his belt (Breaking the Waves), and if he wasn’t part of some high-brow film movement, the film would be judged on its own. But he was, and it wasn’t.
It’s the first time I came away enraged with Roger Ebert (otherwise, one of the absolute best writers on popular film), who gave the movie 3-1/2 stars in a maddening review that describes many of the films problems but nonetheless calls the film a “brave throwback to the fundamentals of the cinema.” Hoodwinked like the rest of them, he never actually says that he ENJOYED the movie. Instead, he closes like this:
"Dancer in the Dark" is not like any other movie at the multiplex this week, or this year. It is not a "well made film," is not in "good taste," is not "plausible" or, for many people, "entertaining." But it smashes down the walls of habit that surround so many movies. It returns to the wellsprings. It is a bold, reckless gesture. And since Bjork has announced that she will never make another movie, it is a good thing she sings.
What a crock. It’s a reckless gesture because it’s different, but it’s also a throwback to the fundamentals? No, it isn’t. It can’t be both. It is neither.
True auteurs interested in challenging convention - Lynch, Cronenberg, Truffaut, Cassavetes, Bunuel, Kubrick, others - try to engage us in their narrative DESPITE the fact that they’ve abandoned certain touchstones. They make their films more difficult by avoiding the easy tricks. They find a new way of telling. This is what makes them art. This is what makes them important.
By contrast, Dancer in the Dark is a simple and blatantly manipulative movie built entirely on sneaky tricks. It’s no more artistically pure than a Michael Bay action movie, and a whole lot less sincere. It is a cheat and a fraud, and if you like it, we can’t be friends. It’s kind of an it or me kind of thing. ;)
One day, my son is going to come up to me and call something punk and he’s not going to mean that it was raw and angry, like, Johnny Rotten or long-haired Henry Rollins. He’s not going to be referencing straight-edge or emo or pop-punk or crust-punk, or egg-stiffened mohawks or spiked leather jackets or steel-toed boots.
No, he’s going to mean that some everyday item was remade out of plumbing detritus and a fuck-ton of unnecessary tubes. He is going to mean steam-punk and I’m going to slap the ever-loving shit out of him. Sorry, son, but this is the way it’s got to be. There is school and then there are lessons.
To each his own, hippie hugs and all that, but why did those motherfuckers have to arrogate a word that actually means something to me?
What is so “punk” about steam-punk? Nothing. Steam-punk is punk in the same way that Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City on Rock and Roll” is rock and roll, which is to say that both are in fact the antithesis of their namesakes; they represent the watering down and simple representational appropriation of potent and socially scary original ideas for the sake of predictable entertainment.
Steam-punk should be called steam-polka.
What I’m saying is that I cannot unsee that stupid goddamn steam-punk Optimus Prime and it makes me want to cave someone’s aeronaut-helmeted skull in with a monkeywrench.
Polanski’s Death and the Maiden opened my eyes to the psychological damage and political expedience of torture. It also helped me understand rape as an act of power, violence, and abuse, rather than the popular and erroneous convention of it as an act of sexual desire.
Boys Don’t Cry helped me understand transgender issues in a way that went beyond the intellectual, in particular the dangerous plight of being LGBT in rural America.
(Uh, OK, so I just named two rape movies. Interesting.)
The movie that probably changed my mind the most, though, was probably Glory. When I saw it, I was a kid, maybe fifteen or so, and until then, I saw American history as a white history. That is, I saw it from the unoriginal perspective of a white kid in a 99% white school.
Glory just hit me in that sweet spot. Wait, there were black soldiers? And they faced discrimination from the side they were fighting FOR? It made me realize that there were other stories I’d never heard, other perspectives, other histories. It led me to Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. It led me to me becoming very suspicious of mainstream interpretations of the past, as well as of news coverage of the present. These suspicions are central to my politics.
I haven’t seen Glory in years. I wonder if it would hold up. I’m sure the acting was excellent, but the story? Twenty years later, would it seem too archetypal? Too conservative?
The public doesn’t understand specific policies but it does understand stories that link them together. The stories give the policies context and meaning, and thereby show where policymakers are taking a nation (and, by implication, where the opposition would take it).
Republicans lack specific policies but they have a story. Obama and the Democrats have lots of specific policies but don’t have a story. That spells even more trouble for Democrats.
Reich is right on about the problem, though I think he’s naïve about the solution.
Most older comedies simply don’t translate anymore, but I can watch this one over and over again. Jack Lemmon is brilliant, Tony Curtis holds his own, and Marilyn Monroe is charming and funny. The last line, a doozie: “Nobody’s perfect.”
"Mr. Jones, in a lengthy interview at his church, said he sincerely hoped that his planned Koran-burning would not lead to violence." (nytimes)
“Your country? It can’t survive like this. It won’t survive like this. America is fucked. You’re fucked. I can’t think of a single area in which you are not fucking failing. You’re going broke. Racists and bigots run rampant. You’re Norma Desmond, okay? You look in the mirror and you see something that at best used to exist, at worst only existed in grande speeches rife with rosy rhetoric. It is not going to get better without incredible, drastic change. And I can’t be alone in thinking that change is never, ever going to come.”
I wish I could argue, but I really can’t. And I don’t have it in me to be part of an aggressive opposition to racists and bigots and homophobes. I don’t have the hatred and vitriol in my core for them that they have for me. I don’t have stones to fight aggression with aggression, hate with hate. Maybe that makes me a coward. In fact, it probably does. I can only hope that people more intelligent than me with a stronger will to oppose destructive ignorance and hatred are successful, and that the good in people that I still believe is there finds some way to overcome.
But I’m scared. I’m scared for my daughter, I’m scared for this country’s future. I’m scared by a country that responds to, in the case of our president, a groundbreaking display of just how far we’ve come, with a level of hate, fear, and potential violence that only leaves us looking like a country firmly and irrevocably divided.
Yes, oh God, yes, but wait, no, actually, no. In 10,000 words or less:
This is not particular to America. Switzerland passed, by popular referendum, a constitutional amendment banning minarets. Because they look like missiles. Most European countries have recently passed laws restricting or banning Islamic dress, particularly the hijab (though often wrapped up in gender equality issues, there is clearly a religious issue here). Violent attacks have been documented throughout Europe. Spain, England, Netherlands, Germany, more I’m sure. There are major anti-Muslim factions in their political parties who decry the “Islamification” of Europe and want immigration stopped from Islamic countries.
Canada is like 85% white and was not attacked on 9/11. The US is 75% white and was attacked on 9/11. Not that this justifies the bullshit, but let’s at least be honest about the fact that we are a diverse and diversifying country that remains the target of Islamic extremists. We have to confront issues others don’t. While we’re at it, where is the black Canadian Prime Minister? While we’re at it, where is the black European head of state? Granted, we are behind in electing a woman, and our elected officials still don’t adequately represent our demographics, but let’s not get too hasty here.
We should recognize that so much of this insanity is misplaced anger and rage driven by economics, and that in recessions, people are always angry at whatever government is in charge. Obama was elected in large part because of this, and now he must face it himself.
This is not a groundbreaking display. History tells us that progress overcomes, but never without a fight. Those stripped by progress of their sense of superiority ALWAYS fight tooth and nail for the scraps. There are always small-minded people who blame those of another gender, race, religion, or sexuality for all of their problems. And there has never been a shortage of politicians, small-minded or otherwise, willing to take advantage.
A black President. Muslims in America. Gays marrying. Scary times if you’re an asshat. Scarier if you’re a racist, uneducated, born-again Christian without decent job prospects.
These are depressing times, but I remind myself that it used to be so much worse.
Just one example: it’s worth remembering that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were preceded by an unprecedented decade of activism and violence. Following Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Woolworth-inspired sit-ins; Campaigns in Albany, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama; the March on Washington; the “I Have a Dream” speech. (And more.)
But also: The Southern Manifesto, signed by over 100 Senators and Representatives, called using any lawful means necessary to prevent school integration; the “Little Rock nine” and Eisenhower calling in the 101st Airborne; George Wallace standing in a doorway until Kennedy sent more men in uniform to intervene. Selma. Billy clubs and tear gas from the police. And murder. To stop a march. Lots of murder.
Democrats famously lost the South for a generation or more. MLK lost his life. So did both of the Kennedys. So did a lot of people.
For all of history, forever, the books will read that in 2008, America elected a black man to be President. This is kind of a big fucking deal. Book burnings, cardboard signs, racist t-shirts, tea party rallies. Those assholes can’t ever change that.
The fringe is scary, but remember, they didn’t used to be the fringe. They used to be the majority.
As the nation moves, silently and glacially, towards a better future, those most opposed to change become louder and more reactionary. The inevitability is frightening to them; they cannot change the future, so in a last gasp, they burn books and wave racist signs.
We need to recognize that when we see a growing fringe movement, it is NOT because things are getting worse, but in fact because, in the long run, things are getting better.
I do not mean to be glib, but I think it’s true: two steps forward, one step back.
Progress may be inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it just happens.
The civil rights movement didn’t happen simply because it was the right thing to do. People fought for it. With their bodies, with their voices, with their hearts, and yes, with their wallets. But we, and I mean to include myself only in spirit, in the long run, we won. And we are winning.
Progress is not a train we hop on. We don’t look out the window and watch the landscape fly by, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties. No, we get out and push it forward. It’s hard work. Sometimes we grow weary, and don’t have the strength, but always we push, for ourselves and for our children.
This is what our parents did, and this is what we do: we push the fucking thing up the fucking mountain, to get to the other fucking side.
CTHULHU ART DILDO?! if you're not being serious, i'm going to be so so sad.
Please do NOT make me draw one in MS Paint.
I think this one is clearly Cthulu-inspired, but why bother with a Cthulu dildo if you aren’t going to put giant, fully-articulated batwings on it? I mean, if someone’s into the macabre, it seems to me they’d be ready to really explore new things, such as the pure unfathomable terrorgasm of stuffing a ten inch silicon monster with giant flapping Rapturewings™ into their most sensitive and delicate of portals.
Extremely NSFW. It’s a freaking rotten penis dildo.
"Horror Film Inspired Art Dildos: Hand Crafted"
It’s that last part that gets me, the part after the colon, you see it right there? Outrageous. I am proud to say that I built a machine to mass-produce my Cthulu art dildo because I’m a REDBLOODED AMERICAN ENTREPRENEUR and not some EUROTRASH DISCO ARTISAN from the 1600s. Jeesh.
30DMC: Day 07: The Most Surprising Plot Twist or Ending
It’s kind of tough to beat “Luke, call me daddy” or “This motherfucking spinach dip is made of motherfucking people!,” but there are just so many of these. M. Night version: Casper the Friendly Child Psychologist, the village is a theme park, Sammy J Jr. is an evil nemesis, the aliens that landed on a planet that’s 2/3 water turn out to be allergic to it, homicidal tree pollen. Fincher version: that’s not my dick in that box, it’s all just a game after all, there is no Tyler Durden. Keyser Soze is a fake gimp, Ed Norton isn’t crazy after all, Norman Bates wants to be his mama, Christian the magician has an identical twin! Lady is a dude!
But for me, it’s between Angel Heart and Oldboy, and if you haven’t seen either, don’t read further (SPOILERS COMING ON YOUR FACE). Because, honestly, it really can’t get much worse than realizing you’ve been fucking your own daughter.
In version one, you sell your soul to the devil, come back in another man’s body, then unknowingly go on a killing spree, fuck your daughter Denise Huxtable, eventually shoot her in the vagina, and then realize the truth. Bummer, Harry Angel.
In version two, you are imprisoned for 15 years, released, go on a hammer-wielding rampage, fall in love with a waitress, learn that she’s your daughter and your captor had hypnotized you to fall in love with her as part of his elaborate plan, cut out your tongue with scissors, and then in a final double twister choose to hypnotize yourself so you don’t remember that the girl is your daughter. You know, so you can keep fucking her.
Many elements in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World appeal directly to these video gaming and comic booking parts of me.
I also like Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Spaced), so I believe I would have liked the film despite numbers 4 and 5 above.
I’m annoyed the film didn’t make more money at the box office. Critics recommended it.
I’m also annoyed that I’m annoyed. I paid to go see it, enjoyed it, my stake in the film’s success is over. I played my part. If it didn’t do better, that ain’t my fault and there is nothing I can do it about other than tell others that I liked it, which I have.
I think there were too many preview screenings.
I think that as much as we’d like the actors in my generation and younger to be considered stars, they are not. We may be all tired of Michael Cera, but most people have no idea who he is, and aren’t going to see a movie with him. Downey Jr. is a star. Cruise is a star. They make people leave home and go to the movies.
The above points (11 and 12) are poor attempts to explain why no one saw this fun movie. I don’t know why no one did and I’m afraid its one of those situations where the studio, and other studios, won’t take risks on material or filmmakers because they learned some lesson from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
I haven’t seen it yet, but hope to later this week. Date night. Babysitter. Hole in the popcorn bucket. You get the picture.
You are old. Kids aged 12-24 comprise about 35% of paying moviegoers even though they comprise only 19% of the population (MPAA).
The meaning of “star” is questionable. This summer, Cruise’s Knight and Day was a bust, while Karate Kid and The Last Airbender blew up despite horrid reviews and no major stars. Angelina Jolie sold tickets, Zac Efron did not.
I doubt there were too many preview screenings. For a movie like this to do well, it needs great word of mouth, and you need screenings to build it.
I don’t think the studios knew how to market it.
They catered far too much to the comic-friendly crowd who were going to see it anyway, and didn’t adequately pitch it to the broader public.
They should have pitched the story as a relatable romantic comedy with a twist, but instead they went all in on the fantastical action elements. It’s one thing to look original, but not if people don’t know what the fuck is going on. Is it an action movie with romance? A comedy with fantasy elements? A romance with action? It can be more than one, but a consistent message helps.
Another marketing failure: to adults it looks like a kids movie (Cera looks twelve and the movie has a very young, hipster style) and to kids it looks like an adult movie (seven exes is quite a bit and these are definitely not kids still in high school).
Critically acclaimed movies, like Scott Pilgrim, tend to do much better in rental as older viewers care about this stuff more, and as word of mouth builds over time.
My second reaction is Lonesome Dove, one of my favorite made for anything anythings, but at 384 minutes, I guess calling it a movie is a bit of a stretch. But I LOVE Lonesome Dove something serious. Just take a look at that cast. The only thing that sucks about it is that it Blue Duck, a psychopathic part-Mexican Comanche, is played by a white dude with a spray tan.
Jason said BSG, which I totally agree with, but it was also a mini-series and so I’m gonna try to stay pure here and pick a movie. Back to… uh?
I had to Google it to find anything. And there it was, Pirates of Silicon Valley. I remember staying home to watch this biopic about Bill Gates (Anthony Michael Hall) and Steve Jobs (Noah Wyle) in the halcyon days of the computer revolution. Classic. That was a decade ago though, I wonder how it holds up.
I thought that was it but then I was reminded of All You Need Is Cash, the hilarious Rutles mockumentary from the late seventies. A scathing send up of the Beatles, what really makes it work is that the parody songs are just so pitch perfect. The animated segment for Yellow Submarine Sandwich/Cheese and Onions is a classic. As far as I can tell, it was the first of its kind, and it’s obviously the inspiration/foundation for This is Spinal Tap.
The backstory is that The Rutles started in a sketch on Rutland Weekend Television, a post-Monty Python show, and then appeared on SNL when Eric Idle hosted. I never saw any of that stuff, but the movie has a crazy British/American feel to it, and there are a fuckton of genius cameos, including Michael Palin, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Al Franken.
And it is over the top. I mean, there’s a pedophilia joke in the first 7 minutes. BOOM.
Someone’s put the whole thing up on YouTube in like 8 parts. Here’s part 1:
Update: since the YouTube embeds don’t show up in the dash, I’ve included links.