I am a newcomer to Lars Von Trier’s films, but I already feel a certain closeness to him. I feel like people at large still don’t really get him, even though he’s received a fair share of critical acclaim over the years. But reading reviews of films such as Nymphomaniac and the recent The House That Jack Built, I was very surprised by the recurring criticism that he’s trying too much to shock his audiences, and to challenge them. I found both films indeed shocking and challenging. In fact I could say that House was the only film that has ever made me uncomfortable to the point where I didn’t know if I could get through it until the end. Yet, I would never think to lob this criticism at the director, because I never for a second felt that that was his purpose. I view Von Trier as a very humanistic director, in that the films of his that I’ve seen all seem to be about humans. Nymphomaniac is a film about a troubled human, a believably and convincingly troubled human, not a caricature meant to prove a point to the audiences. Therefore, I found the film only as shocking as the truth can be shocking, and of course, the truth can often be damn shocking, but why not let the artist take us there?
It is the same issue that some people take with David Lynch, another cult director and critical darling, yet often misunderstood in the mainstream. People seem to watch his movies and think that all the surreal elements are put there just to confuse the viewer, when in fact this is another film-maker who writes about humans, often humans whose reality and sanity seems to be alertly slipping out of their reach. In my view, Twin Peaks, especially its prequel film Fire Walk with Me, is really about a teenager trying to cope with her father sexually abusing her, and once you realize that, everything else seems to fall into place. Yes, the film is a surreal, psychedelic roller-coaster, but isn’t that what Laura Palmer’s life must’ve been like at the time?
I think that once you have a strong human foundation to your film, you can then go anyplace you want. I’m not trying to set up an imaginary rule, but these seem to be the movies that have stood the test of time, certainly the movies that impress me the most. Enter the Void is another example. Experimental, challenging, weird, long etc. But at the heart of it, it’s really a love story between a brother and a sister, and without that the film would’ve probably failed. Once you have that, the sky is the limit and I’m willing to let the director take me wherever he pleases. I wanna learn more about how he sees the world, what his interests and secrets are, but first he has to give me something to connect to, something to hang on to, especially if the ride is going to be a stormy one. But let’s go back to Lars Von Trier for a second. The movie that impressed me the most from what I’ve seen so far is Melancholia, which I thought was an incredibly beautiful and poignant portrayal of depression, in a way that I’ve never seen before in a movie.
Without giving anything away, I want to say that the ending in particular blew me away in its realism and simplicity. It was one of those endings where you simply couldn’t ask for more – it was exactly what it needed, and anything else would’ve ruined the whole experience. I am impressed by such a feature in a movie, because to me it speaks volumes about the director’s dedication to the idea, to the story, and to the art in general, as well as his shutting down of audience expectations or even worse, executive demands. Von Trier is known for his rejection of Hollywood trends and techniques – this is a man who hand-held shoots all of his movies himself, and thank God for that. I love artists who embody this kind of freedom into their art and make you realize how you, as an aspiring artist, have been restricting yourself unknowingly. I’ve recently watched Godard’s A Woman is a Woman and I thought “Wow, you really can do anything in a movie”. Seems so obvious, but somehow I’d forgotten it.
But to me no artist breathes more freedom and exuberance right now than Elvis Presley, my newest obsession. He seems so big now, so legendary, so imitated, so…boring even, but all you have to do is listen a bit deeper. He was once just a guy who didn’t really fit in with what was being played, not enough to make a difference anyway, so he kind of created his own style. Isn’t that rock ‘n’ roll? What I love about Elvis the most is just how unpretentious and non-intellectual he was about his music. People were fighting over him everywhere – the parents thought he was playing the Devil’s music, the teenagers viewed him as the Second Coming, he was criticized of not being commercial enough, and then for being too commercial…but all he ever did was play the songs that he liked, in a way that made sense to him. You see him on stage in the 50s and he’s just a kid trying to have some fun while simultaneously blowing minds and making history. He must’ve realized early on that life is not meant to be taken seriously. He broke out of this damned everyday Matrix where people struggle to fit in and be decent without ever being happy. He realized that life is just a ride, as Bill Hicks famously said. Who says that you can’t go on a stage and shake your hips like that?
I have many favorite Elvis songs, but I love none quite like Blue Moon of Kentucky, the B-side to his famous debut single. It may be my all-time favorite song, and there have been days when I must’ve played it at least 10 times. It’s so beautiful, and raw, and rocking, and heartbreaking, in a way that only he could make. It’s cool, yet also vulnerable. I also love his struttin’, hiccupin’ delivery on Baby Let’s Play House – how cool must’ve that sounded in 1955? It still sounds so out-there. What is he doing, singing it like that? He’s just being Elvis, before it was cool to be Elvis. Is he trying to stick the middle finger to his predecessors? Nah, he loves and respects their music, but he’s just trying to do his own thing. Injecting some energy, some sexuality, some speed into it. Will it work? I don’t know but why not try it? What do we have to lose?
Thank God for music and films.
Categories: Film Reviews