Den utilpasse von Trier

- I anledningen af udgivelsen af Lars von Triers Europe Trilogy bringer vi et interview med Jack Stevenson, der har skrevet flere bøger om instruktøren.

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Dette interview blev bragt i Mellemrummet nr. 9, 2005.

Han er forfatter til og redaktør på en længere række bøger om film. Blandt disse finder vi de to bøger, Lars von Trier fra 2002 og Dogme Uncut – Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and the gang that took on Hollywood fra 2003, som tager fat på dansk filmkulturs mest stilsættende skikkelser. Endvidere har han blandt andet skrevet Land of a Thousand Balconies - Discoveries & Confessions of a B-movie Archaeologist, der ser nærmere på begrebet om b-film, som er et af Stevensons yndede områder. Ud over disse bøger har han været en flittig skribent i diverse tidsskrifter i Danmark, Sverige, USA og en stribe flere lande. Han har tidligere undervist på Ebeltoft Filmskole. I dag benytter han sin tid som skribent, alt imens han kører et distributionsselskab med fokus på kult, horror og undergrund. Her har vi haft fat på ham for at få et udefrakommende blik på Lars von Trier i anledningen af udgivelsen af dennes Europe Trilogy, som indeholder Triers tre første film The Element of Crime, Epidemic og Europa,plus en ekstra bunke ekstramateriale, som man kan bruge mange timer på at gå på opdagelser. Her bringer vi interviewet i sin fulde længde på engelsk.

Is Lars von Trier a Danish director, cinematically speaking?
At the start of his career he was always defined as being so 'un-Danish', that was his big distinction in the beginning, although that necessitates defining what Danish cinema is (or was) perhaps ever more so than what von Trier is and that's difficult. Since then he has had a big influence on Danish cinema, so after the fact and in a round about way he has become 'more Danish', even if nobody has managed to (or has wanted to) duplicate his style. Content-wise, as opposed to his style, he can today be considered very Danish in some ways, although that would probably irritate him. His view of America that works its way into his films is widely shared by his generation, for example. He was, like most Danes his age, deeply moved by Jacob Holt's "American Pictures" exhibit.

Historically, where do you see Lars von Trier coming from?
He had many influences but he certainly comes from the broader European art film tradition, as opposed to American directors like Waters, Burton and Tarantino who are heavily influenced by the American exploitation tradition. Had von Trier been a German he would have been laboring in the shadow of 'New German Cinema' and perhaps never would have been noticed, but in Denmark he had the luxury of being so very different and exotic.

Let us the turn to an overall view of the three films included in the Europe Trilogy. Trier has once said that the trilogy only became a trilogy when Europa was released. Do you see any connections between the three films that can establish this notion of a trilogy?
I see only superficial connections between these three films. In my opinion it was a marketing ploy. A trilogy 'after the fact' can work well and serve a purpose but to make a film and know that in 9 years you will still be working on the same story is a terrible burden to put on yourself, and we can see it today - von Trier can't bear to embark upon the third part of his current 'American Trilogy' and has - according to reports - abandoned it to do another Dogme film. Films take a long time and massive energy to complete. To consciously start out to make a trilogy is a foolish endeavor indeed. But it is fashionable; Christoffer Boe and Per Fly and Nicolas Refn have all done it. Frankly, it's a bit of a plague.

Let us then turn to the first of the three, The Element of Crime. When it comes to style this film seems to differ from the next two of the trilogy. The three actually seems to differ a great deal from each other. Where do you see the film coming from? Is there perhaps a clearer connection to Medea, Triers first feature film produced for TV? And how do you see this film in retrospect with regards to the overall oeuvre?
Von Trier stated at some point that The Element of Crime was based on three images, or pictures (or mental paintings) he had in his head and those were the three visual set pieces and the rest of the movie was just cobbled together around those three key scenes. That's not necessarily a bad way to make a movie! That film in all its cryptic symbiology and atmosphere continues to mystify and like all three films in the so-called Europe Trilogy is a work unto itself. Epidemic was clearly the most unique of those three films.

The same question goes for Epidemic and Europa? What is the thematic and stylistic basis for these films, and how do they differ from or buy into the oeuvre of Trier?
In Epidemic one can see the seeds of both Europa and Dogme in a stylistic sense, so clearly split into two parts as it was. It was in many ways his most experimental and rebellious film, an 'anti film', a production he never would have made without the total support of film consultant and friend Claus Kastholm Hansen. Today these two old comrades find themselves on opposite sides of the political chasm!

Turning to the idea of Europe, where do you see Europe in the films? The main characters make a few trips to Germany in Epidemic, most of Europa is situated in Germany, as well as The Element of Crime seems to be located a Germany-like place, by all accounts of the names of the places. Whereas Halbestadt, for instance, is an actual Austrian city, we still seem to be located in some kind of Germania. Is there to some extent an equation between Germany and Europe?
Germany then dominated the mental lanscape in which von Trier moved. The country that could produce both Hitler and Fassbinder fascinated him much more than America - then. Like most lads, von Trier was fascinated with WW2, the destruction, the apocalypse, the hardware... that's healthy, actually, for a boy. And in the 70's, with the radical left, Baader-Meinhof, et all., Germany was a much more exciting place than America. A land of extremes. His films and fantasies were set there. I'm American, almost the same age and I (and many others) were similarly fascinated by Germany. How different things are today. One can hardly conjure up any image at all when one thinks of Germany. Germany may still stand in as a kind of generic Europa but the fascination has been quelled.

The later Trier seems to dwell in and evolve from some kind of genre consideration, for instance The Kingdom makes use of satire, Breaking the Waves the melodrama, and Dancer in the Dark the musical. Do you see any clear generic use in the first three films, perhaps besides the use of the crime story in The Element of Crime? Has Trier perhaps grown more conscious of genres?
Von Trier always was a fan of genre cinema, as a young film school student devouring tons of movies every week and even before. After the Europe Trilogy he continued to experiment by twisting the very conventions of genre cinema. He also continued to be influenced by other filmmakers far into this period, but I'm not sure that's true today. He has stated that he's seen enough movies. Maybe he needs to be amazed anew.

Now I turn to a more overall view on Trier. I know you’ve been living in Denmark for some time. But as for your being somewhat external to the Danish film culture, how do you see Trier from a more international point of view? This goes to some extent back to my first question. Do you see any international comparisons, or standards of reference?
Keep in mind that von Trier only made two films for a Danish audience: The Kingdom and The Idiots, so being an outsider to the Danish film milieu gives me no special insight in this sense. I'm his target audience and it's the Danes that must approach him from an outsider perspective. And yet as a private person he is so very Danish, and that informs The Kingdom which did exhibit a particular sense of Danish humor. As for comparing von Trier to other masters on the world stage or cataloging who he was influenced by or influenced - I see little point in that. I would depart a bit from the question to say that using English in his films does not serve him well. He sees English as a generic marketing tool, not a rich and nuanced language. He makes ridiculous casting blunders, characters speaking totally ridiculous accents in misplaced situations, mistakes you can be sure he would never make in Danish. Many European filmmakers do this. My advice to him is to make Danish films again! Is America really so interesting? Even Benjamin Christensen had to finally admit that he could make better films in his mother-tongue.

To go a bit outside Trier, do you se anyone taking over from Trier in the Danish film industry? Is there a future for the Danish film past Trier?
Financially Danish film is doing well enough without von Trier, directors like Susanne Bier and Lone Scherfig sell a lot more tickets but quite honestly I (like von Trier too, according to some remarks) do not care for their films. Lykkevej by Morton Arnfred symbolizes to me the most tiresome trend in Danish film and calls to mind the recent debate about Danish film being too homogenous. I think it's true to a degree and von Trier has also been outspoken about attacking this trend. Danish film needs new visions, new blood, new scandals. Von Trier stays busy in his ivory tower, but is that where the new ideas will come from? I don't know, but his heart is still in the right place and he is not afraid to criticize even people who make films for his own company. That kind of inspiring bull-headedness you would never encounter in America!

This makes me ask my last question, and I apologize for broadness of the question. Has the Danish film industry made Trier, or has Trier made the Danish film industry? Is it as of now possible to “create” a innovative auteur with the impact of Trier?
The whole idea of an auteur, of another young von Trier coming along to shake up the industry is a bit of a romantic cliché. Whether or not von Trier could have become a success in Germany or America for example is an open question, he definitely benefited much from the way the Danish film industry functions, but he in turn also helped to bring it out of the lethargy it experienced during the 80's. Perhaps in Denmark a young filmmaker can still be given the years and financial support he needs to mature, which is one of the great things about the film milieu here, but when he emerges he will look completely different. We just have von Trier on the brain because he has become the modern prototype. But Danish film does need someone new with some of his qualities: a self-proclaimed genius, an arrogant egotist convinced of his own gifts who does not make films primarily to advance his career but – and I know it sounds like a cliché – because he must. I never totally trust filmmakers who become so thoroughly comfortable with accepting awards. And von Trier was never comfortable. In conclusion I would say that's the best way to describe him - he was never comfortable, he was uncomfortable.

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