With the release of Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots (1998), the work of a group of Danish film makers who work collectively and individually under the ‘documentary’ and verité demands of Dogme 95 has now begun to achieve a measure of critical visibility. In fact, with the release of Festen (1998), by Thomas Vinterberg, another leading member of the group, and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune (1999), their films have found a popular audience outside Denmark. Moreover, this international reputation is now being matched by a new international dimension to the collective itself. Recently, the director of Gummo (1997), and writer of Kids (Larry Clark, 1996), Harmony Korine, has agreed to film under their strictures.
In the following, I look principally at The Idiots, firstly, in relation to the claims of the group and its reworking and extension of 1960s communal ideologies of cinematic praxis and dramaturgy and, secondly, in the light of the problems of alternative cinema today. For The Idiots, in particular, encapsulates and acts out the crisis of contemporary independent cinema, in that it is beholden to the avant-garde legacy of the 1960s—or the fantasy of that legacy—yet is politically distant from its critical origins.
Like many cinematic manifestos this century, Dogme 95’s edicts emphasize the paralysis and decadence of commercial cinema in terms of its corrupting illusionism, trickery and sentimentality. As with the New Realism of the 1950s, Godard’s Dziga-Vertov group of the late 1960s and the cinemas of national liberation of the 1970s, the relationship between social experience and the dominant forms of cinematic narration is challenged on the grounds of its loss of authentic speech and agency. In this respect, their list of do’s and don’ts, Dogme 95’s manifesto ‘TheVow of Chastity’, is worth quoting in full, because such manifestos, whatever their ideological hue, are extremely rare these days.
Furthermore, I swear as a director, to refrain from personal taste. I am no longer an artist, I swear to refrain from creating a ‘work’, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of my good taste and any aesthetic considerations.
Thus, I make my VOW OF CHASTITY.