Tuesday, October 19, 2004

DVD: The Five Obstructions (2004)

Lars von Trier is the closest we have to a real life James Bond villain. He’s reclusive, with Zentropa headquarters serving as his lair. He’s got the requisite accent. And his Dogme 95 manifesto has all the hallmarks of a criminal master plan, even if it proved to be the intellectual equivalent of a fraternity prank.

His target in OBSTRUCTIONS isn’t cinema audiences or his fellow filmmakers, but one man. von Trier challenges his mentor Jørgen Leth to remake his influential 1967 short ‘The Perfect Human’ five times under restrictions that von Trier dictates by whim. One version must have no shot longer than twelve frames, another is to be filmed in Leth’s idea of the most miserable place on earth.

Leth follows through, turning each obstacle to his advantage. The result is a spellbinding exploration of the creative impulse, specifically how it flourishes under restrictions. But the movie is also a study of a perverse friendship. von Trier conceived of the exercise as a way of urging Leth out of an emotional and creative depression. The circumstances are a bit hazy; I wouldn’t have minded hearing more about it in the course of the movie. And by the end von Trier manages to turn the focus of the project back to himself. But believe it or not, his heart is in the right place.

The DVD includes an uncut version of Leth’s original 13-minute short. It’s a fascinating relic of its time ... but I’m not sure I get it.

Magazine: The New Yorker, 10/18 issue

Two weeks from Election Day, I offer this quote from political consultant and one-time Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, which appears in Paul Slansky’s back page quiz:

“If I came to you with twenty-five of your closest friends carrying a black box with red buttons on it and said, ‘We have all looked for the best person to take care of this box, and we’ve decided that the only one who can protect it is you – if anything happens to it, if you lose it, the entire planet blows up,’ most of us, I mean, two hundred and eighty million of us, would say, ‘No! I don’t want the goddam box anywhere near me! Take it away!’ Yet every four years a bunch of seven or eight guys come out screaming, ‘Give me the fuckin’ box!’”