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Little White Lars

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Mark Kermode | 10:00 UK time, Wednesday, 27 July 2011

I'm about to go and interview the controversial and mischevious Danish director Lars Von Trier.
He most recently caused outrage with the tasteless remarks he made at the Cannes Film Festival - but is anything that Von Trier says ever genuine or meant to be taken seriously?

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Related Posts on Kermode Uncut
The Possession of the Antichrist - did an 80s euro-horror film influence Antichrist?

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  • Comment number 1.

    File your response as 'my opinion'. File the writer/director/creator's words as 'interesting'.

    This is what I tend to do. It's not quite a hard-and-fast rule but it works for me. In the end it's irrelevant for me what a director's intentions were, because I've had enough responses which are just that bit different to let me trust myself.

  • Comment number 2.

    This isn't to say that if you're someone who doesn't mind playing devil's advocate and discuss a film at length that their words aren't very interesting.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think some fella called Bart wrote a book about this...

  • Comment number 4.

    You should just trust the tale, you wouldn't sit in a model T Ford thinking 'hmmm i'm sitting in a car designed by a Nazi' you would just enjoy the ride.
    You don't listen to Tchaikovsky or read Jules verne thinking about their less acceptable 'habits' you just enjoy their works.

  • Comment number 5.

    @keyser_sozes_ghost You wouldn't enjoy the ride in a model T Ford, the car's 100 years old the ride would be crap, a better example would probably be a Volkswagon Beetle, although the ride in that isn't brilliant either. I'm going to stop now before I sound any more like Jeremy Clarkson.

  • Comment number 6.

    Thanks a lot, Mark. Now that opening music is stuck in my head.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'd sooner say the latter. To trust the tale and not the teller. Like David Lynch said (somewhat paraphrased): what you see up on the screen is often a lot more truthful than when you sit around talking to someone.

    I felt sorry for Kirsten Dunst having to sit there whilst Lars von Trier pretty much made a fool of himself. You'd expect a man who is obviously intelligent like him to think more before he speaks.

  • Comment number 8.

    Dr K,
    should we take any notice of what your saying, when your standing in the cbeebies garden?

  • Comment number 9.

    It's a shame that in 2011, he can't say the words Nazi, Jew or Israel without everyone around him squirming and acting like ten year olds who have just heard a rude word. He was clearly being provocative for its own sake, which isn't big or clever either. It's an idiot surrounded by idiots, being idiotic. And Cannes says he's in now their bad books? Does that matter anymore? Cannes is a shadow of its former self, and the only reason this interview was heard by anybody, anywhere, is because it was different from the self-congratulatory muck they normally shovel towards us.

  • Comment number 10.

    I would always trust the tale not the teller. It is sometimes interesting and worth listening to what a director says they intended with their film, but ultimately I think once the story is out there, it's fair game to be interpreted however you see it yourself. There are plenty of good examples of films that have clear subtexts that the director denies being deliberately put in there (I'm thinking specifically of Fatal Attraction and it's nods towards the fear of AIDS). Also, sometimes directors look back at their own films and notice things in them that they didn't intend or consciously put in them when they were made, but now see - I remember watching The Thing and hearing John Carpenter talk about the clear references (again) to the rise of the AIDS virus, but that it wasn't something he originally put into the film when it was made.

    Of course, with someone has completely untrustworthy as Von Trier, I think it's fair enough to just ignore pretty much everything he says and take the films on their own merit. At least Lynch is open about the fact that his films are there to be interpreted by the audience and never says very much about what he intended, if he indeed intended anything other than some interesting images that came to him one day after leaning on a warm car bonnet.

  • Comment number 11.

    If a great director with a wonderful idea can make a movie that dosn't work or is truely bad (there are many many examples of this) then the opposite must also be true although i suspect that true examples of this may be very thin on the ground.

    Is it possible for a director to try to make a film about one thing and end up making one that says something else without deliberately changing his direction? (Micheal Bay trying to make a film about robots hitting each other ends up making a tretise on the sexualisation of childrens toys with a bit of misogony, amongst other things, thrown in?) I don't believe you can compare Lars von Trier's work with Micheal Bay's so he must be being deliberatly obtuse and contarery (doing it on purpose as it were), at least thats what i think but i also think if you ask him you will not get a straight answer Dr K.

  • Comment number 12.

    he likes to wind people up and lets himself say anything even if it's an outright lie. i actually admire him for that.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think you are right that we should assess the work as a piece and not the comments or character of the director/actor etc. In the process of promoting or otherwise being interviewed on a project film artists will be endlessly asked good bad and indifferent questions many of which involve covering identical ground. Directors more so than actors are uncomfortable and unaccomplished at this and hence why they may come across as diffident or disagreeable at times. Lars is by clearly a contrary individual which is a trait that can either be refreshing or irritating as also reflected in his unbalanced film work. I am sure much of the time he spouts sentiments he has no conviction on whatsoever just for the hell of it. His Cannes moment was unfortunate given the lazy creeping tendency for the deranged use of anti-semitism e.g via Mel Gibson and Galliano et al. Cheers.

  • Comment number 14.

    I personally think it largely depends. I'm not very fond of absolutes -- I don't want to have to always feel obligated to trust / listen to the director, but equally, if they have something to say that to me adds to the enjoyment of the film, why not?

    Something that came up just last night for me, for instance, was that director James Gunn mentions in interviews that he used to experience 'visions' similar to the main character in his latest film, Super (which I absolutely loved), which have since lessened. That doesn't make the movie better or worse, but it makes subsequent viewings more interesting for me personally.

    Lars (who I love, though there's also some of his movies I hate -- but I think that just comes naturally with being a von Trier fan), I think, needs to always be taken with a grain of salt, but again I think to claim he is always joking and never sincere is too one-sided an interpretation. To always assume he's being honest is a mistake, but to always assume he's lying is a mistake as well. I think some of his claims (i.e. the Boss of It All) are very obviously false and he loves to mislead, but I think, for instance, that his statements about the creative process for Antichrist are absolutely true.

    (However, that could also be personal bias, I used to struggle with panic attacks and anxiety for years and Antichrist is the only movie I've ever seen that presented them so realistically that I can easily imagine von Trier having experienced something similar. Funnily enough, the movie was one of the things that helped me deal with them once and for all.)

  • Comment number 15.

    P.S.: Besides, if we're going to look at von Trier as a trickster, and if he considers himself one, we ought to assume he's telling the truth at times anyway. No good trickster restricts himself exclusively to untruths.

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm really looking forward the interview, Mark. I hope it works out. Just ignore the puerile Nazi gaffs, but please don't hesitate to ask Lars about his religious beliefs. Spirituality permeates some of his best work, which makes me curious about how important is for him, whether it is sincere or merely used as metaphor.

    About your question: as a rule of thumb regarding directors, definitely trust the tale and not the teller. In the end the work speaks for itself, being the single most relevant element. The profession of a film maker is akin to that of an illusionist, and often what they say in interviews should be considered "in character". Some of the best auteurs, such as Herzog, Buñuel and Tarkovsky, have uttered complete rubbish about their films. Many artists beyond film making do it as well. I can't even tell whether such personal myth making is deliberate or unconscious.

    Lars von Trier is one of the greatest directors of our time. Melancholia's surface narrative is more subtle compared to Antichrist, which was probably why I was slightly disappointed when watching it. But the film, with its themes relating to Gnosticism (what's the 19th golf hole?), lingered on in my mind long afterwards. I need to watch it again.

  • Comment number 17.

    Easily the latter. With the Internet age has come several, easily found opportunities to understand what a film is about, how it came together, and what its makers perceive it to be, sometimes even before the cameras have rolled. Websites that provide this knowledge - Ain't It Cool News, Rotten Tomatoes, and the like - have become the bastions of this free-flowing information, with communities to maintain them. As a result, we have this persistent notion that a raw viewing of the film is insufficient. Rather than judging it on its own merits, we load it with preconceptions from box-office figures, blog entries, interviews and more, to the point where the film becomes a supplement to these ephemera, when it should be the other way around*. This absurd reality has often made us forget that a work of narrative cinema needs to stand on its own two feet and convey a thesis on some aspect of human nature, rather than the behaviour and attitudes of the people who made it.

    I would like to think that all this is what Lars might be trying to enforce, by way of turning the sources of information regarding his own films into a circus. Whatever the case, I can't wait to see the interview and find out.

    *Just to be clear, I think you promote the latter on 5 Live.

  • Comment number 18.

    I've been thinking a lot about this very theme recently Dr. K. Especially after viewing the Tree of Life and having concluded I prefer my own interpretation of it as a meditation on the mystery of the universe and human existence and the power of memory that doesn't confirm any beleif in an all powerful diety or religious faith rather than what others have deemed it to be as an expression of some sort of Judea-Christian message.... and that Malick's silence is a blessing for the viewer to be free to make his own interpretations, not pinning them down to a subscribed viewpoint.
    I've also been thinking a lot about Scorsese's work which has meant a great lot to me, and whether the themes of Sin and Redemption in many of his films, even The Last Temptation, can be removed from their very Catholic and religious basis and taken as purely human and mortal morality tales without giving credence to a beleif in Heaven and Hell.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think an example of trusting the tale not the teller is "The Room". It is one of the funniest films I have ever seen purely for it's poor acting and direction; the "Citizen Kane" of bad movies. But despite the director Tommy Wiseau trying to convince us that he meant it as a comedy, everyone watching it knows he intended it to be a serious drama.

    It does not take out any of the fun of watching it though.

  • Comment number 20.

    Well... "trust the tail, not the teller" is a phrase that I would love to believe in. Unfortunately I can't. At least not entirely.
    Because whenever a film contains things, that we would like to believe to meen something, if the man behinde the movie didn't want to put it in, it is only there out of coinsidence. You can analyse these things in any way you want, if they are only in the movie because of a coinsidence or have only a certain meening that was never intended from the director to be there in the first place, then in my eyes, they don't really matter.

    However: How far you can trust a guy who made a movie, when he actually sais anything is a completly different story. If Lars von Trier really ment, that the finale shot in "Braking the Waves" is not ironicly, than it isn't. But if he just said it, but didn't meen it, then, obveausly, it's different.
    Of course, if you can trust somebody, when he sais something is something you can't say in general...

  • Comment number 21.

    Interesting. I generally hold that once a director has released their work, their opinion is only as valid as that of any other random punter in the audience.

    But this reminds me of the attitude Frank Zappa used to take; that all output, albums, singles, concerts, interviews, snippets of conversation, were part of one conceptual continuity. His interviews were as much a part of his 'art' as anything else.

    Could von Trier feel the same way? That this odd style and strange anecdotes are an extension of his film-making? I don't know his films very well, so I wouldn't know if these outbursts echo any of his core themes...

  • Comment number 22.

    Always trust the tale, just because your interpretation is different from what the director intended dose'nt mean its not right.Mark you've seen things in 'the exorcist' that neither Blatty or Friedkin ever intended.As regards to the interview IF you actually get to meet Von Trier the film will doubtless be edited down for television could you post the full conversation on line as this would be interesting what ever the out come.

  • Comment number 23.

    Melancholia has been out here in Sweden for some time and for me it's one of this year's finest. I really hope the Cannes controversy doesn't put moviegoers off.

    I don't care what a director says about a film, I've always preferred my own interpretation

  • Comment number 24.

    When I was a student we went to hear a talk by a candidate for head of the art school who told us about his art project: donating fake military artefacts to a museum by lying about their authenticity. We thought it sounded interesting, but decided we couldn't be sure he wasn't lying to us about the projects, that lying was really easy so had no great artistic merit, and who wanted to deal with a Head of Department that thought deception was cool. A Lars Von Trier interview sounds just as fruitless.

  • Comment number 25.

    Many film makers don't want to explain their intentions. For some intention is irrelevant as all viewers take away their own interpretations. Perhaps Von Trier's tricksterism is just a dodge to avoid explanation, or by seeming intentionally misleading, defuse any substance an explanation of his might have.

    As for interviewing him, it sounds like an old logic puzzle on the island of the truth telling and lie telling tribes, you might need to start every question with, if I were to ask you to lie about x, what would you say. I'm not sure if that would work, but you might confuse him for a change.

    On the other hand, maybe you should cancel the interview with him at the last moment this time round. Then turn up anyway. That would show 'im.

  • Comment number 26.

    I remember one of my English lecturers telling us that 'The author is dead', when it comes to reading a text. It doesn't matter what the author intended to put into the work, it only matters what the individual finds there for him/herself. With this in mind, one can put forward any number of wild theories, as long as one can back it up with evidence from the text (or film) itself.

  • Comment number 27.

    Trust the tale, not the teller imo. I can't recall a single other director who's work provokes such different reactions from me. I really really like Antichrist, despite me being the only one of 4 people watching the film who was still there as the credits rolled. However I can't stand Dogville, it's a horrible HORRIBLE film, may even be my personal worst of all time. If I didn't have to watch it for work I would have walked out. Total patronising waffle.

  • Comment number 28.

    Ultimately film making is a collaborative art form and though the director may garner the lion's share of kudos and criticism, in my opinion the film always tells its own tale. There are times when it is interesting to hear what a director has to say about the experience of making a film or what intention lay behind their choices but for the most part I prefer not to know too much about the behind the scenes. It is all too easy for personality to overshadow the work and knowing too much about an artist's personal life can be a distraction. I can't watch either Tom Cruise or Woody Allen in a film anymore because they are too present as individuals. I suspect that Von Trier plays with his persona and that it will be hard task to get to the authentic man regardless of what nonsense he chooses to espouse on any given day. Good luck with that Mark.

  • Comment number 29.

    I would have to agree with the bulk of opinion on this thread that the story is more important than what the storyteller thinks she's telling. A good example (with apologies to #27) would be "Dogville", a film that really appeals to me. I've always read it as being a critique of the way American society chews up and spits out immigrants: you have the intelligentsia, the minority communities, the elderly, all one by one taking advantage of the new arrival whilst also blaming her for their troubles and punishing her for their own abusive tendencies and sexual proclivities. Anyway, point 'tis a lot of people grump about it being "anti-American" whereas the director claims it's about the ubiquity of the potential for evil. Okay, yeah, saying it like that, it does sound a little pretentious.

    Anyway, film is art, and like any art form it's not a straightforward one-way process. Von Trier is doubtless aware of that and so plays with audience's interpretations (much as Ridley Scott has responded to the debate about whether Rick Deckard is a Replicant or not in "Blade Runner").

    On the other hand, though, I'm not sure that it's fair to tar all of LvT's comments with the same brush. In particular, when he's talking about himself and his own mental health I wouldn't see any reason to discredit him. Frankly, it's in a little bit of bad taste to suggest it here (although I'm sure that that wasn't Dr. K's intention).

  • Comment number 30.

    If we all agree that it is the tale not the teller will you stop having half of Kermode & Mayo's Film Review being interviews where the stars / directors / writers tell us how brilliant each other are and how awesome it has been to work together?

  • Comment number 31.

    I think if we trust the tale, not the teller, then we also have to look at the words, not the speaker. Which means that it doesn't matter if von Trier really means it when he says he's a Nazi or a misogynist or whatever: if his persona is part of his art, then it's fair to criticise what his persona says and what's in his heart or mind isn't relevant.

    The way I see it, if you say you're a Nazi as a joke, then you might not actually want to kill Jewish people but you clearly think that getting a rise is more important than not stepping on their graves and not encouraging actual Nazis to think it's funny. You might not *feel* hatred towards Jewish people, but you do feel entitled to hurt them for your own amusement, so you're more anti-Semitic than you feel.

    I think von Trier is a troll, but trolls often do have the prejudices they're pretending to. If you think it's okay to abuse people who've already been abused, you're not above it all.

  • Comment number 32.

    You should ask Lars how he felt about directing the upcoming Dr Who episode.

  • Comment number 33.

    It's not one or the other, surely, but a bit of both? To pick up on DavidH's discussion of 'Dogville' (#29), von Trier's claim that it's about the ubiquity of evil and DavidH's interpretation that it's about the way American society, 'chews up and spits out immigrants,' are not incompatible. In fact, a society that practices the latter suggests the truth of the former.

    I don't think the teller's role should be ironed out completely. I haven't seen very much of David Lynch's work, but I gather that Mulholland Drive and some of his other films are baffling and appear impenetrable. If you trust the tale rather than the teller, then what are these saying? Yet the teller surely has a reason for constructing these films in this way (I guess this argument is pretty hampered by my not having seen actually ...) and so to write them off as bewildering art-house drivel would be a gross over-simplification, wouldn't it?

    It's easy to say 'trust the tale' when what you infer from a film is different to what the director says s/he is intending it to mean. But I'm not sure it means that you're right and the director is wrong.

  • Comment number 34.

    I think he is sincere, but I also think he thinks of the press as the enemy. That leads to his being nervous and not thinking what he says, and out pop the nazis or automovision.

    As to his depression, he's been talking about it and his other mental health issues for 25 years, and it seems genuine to me also. Dear dr, why is it so hard to believe? Because he has made good films, therefore there must be nothing wrong with him, and let's belittle him while we're at it?

    The dog and pony show of his public statements are evasions, because he is protecting his fragile self from people like us. If he doesn't cancel, Dr. K, you are going to talk to a man who guards his innermost very much - and has a right to. Even his art is very much like that. Sincerity through artificiality...

    And Antichrist is about depression.

  • Comment number 35.

    I've never really considered it. But I suppose I would trust what is on screen; I believe that a film is an irrational yet honest extension of the director's mind.

    While trusting the tellers on the other hand is as reliable as wikipedia; as they thrive on getting a reaction and thus more likely to twist things to enhance that reaction.

  • Comment number 36.

    We know the good doctors feelings about antichrist, breaking the wind and the idiots... i want to know whats his opinions on dancer in the dark? Personally i love it, a harrowing and moving story with some great songs. (bias alert: i love björk)

  • Comment number 37.

    My reaction to Antichrist - "What amazing cinematography, what imagery, what genius. Oh no, people talking portentiously. On and on and on. Can't. Stay. Awake. Snore. Holy s-word, what was that? Did I really see that? What amazing cinematography...Rinse and repeat every 20 minutes. The end".

    Antichrist was one of the most pretentious, boring, beautiful, shocking, exhilerating, pointless, meaningful movies I've seen. If all these things can be true simultaneously then why would you expect the director of the movie to show any kind of consistency? He's both lying and telling the truth, it's just that it's hard for us to figure out when he's doing either.

  • Comment number 38.

    Is he a liar or a prankster? I'm not sure we'll ever know. I don't even think he knows. I hope we'll never know, as it may remove some of the 'myth' from the man and his films (regardless of the quality of his output). At the moment, Van Trier feels like a brand to me - you know what you'll get, even if it is the unexpected. Keep it that way, it makes life interesting!

  • Comment number 39.

    "Always trust the tale, never trust the teller". Not very Zen, good sirs.

    Besides having to revise any number of allegories to be quite literal, I'm afraid that following this video's line of reasoning attributes a certain infallibility to Von Trier and his nihilism. Apparently there is no evidence you would accept that anything he does isn't a calculated attempt to make people suffer, which he never wavers from philosophically and absolutely never experiences any kind of atrophy as a result.

    Congratulations, Mark. You've found religion, and the Messiah made the Breaking the Waves.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think that, like eveything, you need to take both the tale and the teller with a pinch of salt. Antichrist is a perfect example; it is one of the most horrific and yet beautifully imagined films ever but no matter how good the idea is and how well it was filmed it is still one of those films that is just pointless. Possibly even, dare i say it, boring? You are both shocked and amazed at it's terribleness and brilliance whilst you watch it but as soon as you leave the cinema you realise just how irrelevant and stupid it really was.

    An average film only made significant by being ridiculously provocative.

    And the same goes for Van Trier.

  • Comment number 41.

    The ending the Breaking The Waves is one of the most haunting final shots I've ever seen in a film. For those who have yet to see the film, but have just watched this video, it's yet another movie spoilt by the so-called "good" doctor.

  • Comment number 42.

    I've been curious about this myself, but I think there's a difference between a director lying about their film and a film not doing for the audience what it was intended to do. I think Lars Von Trier is an example of a filmmaker who is facetious about his reasonings for making films because ultimately he wants people to understand that he's aware that he's a pretentious artist and so he makes pretentious art films that mock pretentious art films. On the other hand, Ruggero Deodato insisting that "Cannibal Holocaust" is just a cannibal movie (although he's changed his tune on this considerably) is an example of a film where the effect on the audience is just profoundly more important than the filmmaker's intents.

    Be that as it may, there are many situations where the consensus of people who read films and the intent of the filmmakers lines up rather well, and as annoying as it may be to tell an artist that their images don't really say what they think they do, it's also annoying to try to talk to people whose only retort to "image X is a metaphor for Y" is "You're overthinking it." Obviously, it's easier to argue with that kind of person when you pick images out from the movies themselves without falling back on artistic intent, but if somebody is telling you "I don't think the artist intended anything", how are you supposed to respond? Really? Ridley Scott and Paul Verhoeven and David Fincher don't intend anything? They're just pretty pictures. Look, obviously meaning is not the same thing as intent, but clearly there's still a place for what a work of art means to the person who made it.

  • Comment number 43.

    The great thing about Von Trier is that his movies work on both levels. Breaking The Waves is both a heart-wrenching drama and a completely sarcastic parody of one at the same time. The great thing about this is that you cannot fall back on your movie viewing emotions auto-pilot. A Von Trier movie is the anti-roller coaster ride. You constantly have to stay focussed and make decisions. This is what makes Von Triers movies so intense. Another director who does this is Wes Anderson: his movies are at the same time extremely melancholic and completely whimsical. And of course this method is standard in rock 'n' roll. Is a Kiss show completely ridiculous? Yes. Is it magnificent at the same time? Yes.

    Oh, and The Boss Of It All has to be the most underrated Von Trier. The Automatovision (or whatever he called it) is a great running gag. You constantly find that you are moving you head to look around the monitor that is blocking the view.

  • Comment number 44.

    I would say that Lars and Warhol et al have all played with the basic idea that the artist's jibber jabber is pointless next to the actual piece of work itself.

    Lars uses controversy and pranks to get attention for his films and not much else. I think his tails are pure advertising on the festival circuit a la Cannes. Due to the type of films he makes it is I suppose part of the process.

    The questions, answers, points, theories and philosophies are all up on screen and critics should go by that. I think critics should avoid anything said around the film as it's ultimately separate from the filmmaking

  • Comment number 45.

    I'd be very interested to hear what MK thinks of Dancer in the Dark- I absolutely love it.

  • Comment number 46.

    I believe there is power in both, and both add to the depth of great work. On the one hand I think that once the author publishes their wares they effectively no longer belong to them - any interpretation is now firmly in the hands of the audience. Having said that it often makes me very angry when a creator refuses to offer any real insight into their own creative process, an issue I have with many visual artists who see that kind of anonymity as adding an implied mysticism to what would otherwise be rather valueless work.

  • Comment number 47.

    I love Breaking The Waves. That is all.

  • Comment number 48.

    I believe that the director's intentions regarding any meaning behind her film has no bearing on the experience which the reader receives from engaging in that film.

    Plato distinguished between the spoken word and a written text by citing that a text could not answer any questions which it might raise for the reader while another person who can engage the reader in a dialogue can elaborate on matters not presented as part of the text's make up. This distinction is what gives the film it's power as an artwork to engage the audience.

    The fact that we must make our own interpretations of a film without a director imparting her interpretation on us allows a film to create manifold meanings, more so than the director could have possibly envisaged; there is no such thing as an incorrect interpretation and the gift of any artwork is that it is made up of so much more than it's constituent components.

  • Comment number 49.

    I've never seen that footage before. Look at Kirsten Dunst thinking, "Lars, just sitting next to these words is torching my career. Change - the - subject."

  • Comment number 50.

    I like Lars very much, Europa is one of the greatest films ever made and his antics are Cannes are legendary, he famously gave the jury the finger when was awarded something that wasn't the Palme D'Or.

    I don't take what Lars say seriously, nobody should he is obviously a total joker, the nazis incident was obviously a joke and he clearly isn't a nazi.

  • Comment number 51.

    I've only seen one of LVT's films; "Dancer In The Dark". I didn't quite get what he was trying to say with that film other than maybe sometimes really good people get run over by the societal bus. Maybe I needed to know more Danish history or something.
    I don't think I ever hear you talk about "Dancer In The Dark", other than mentioning that Bjork's acting career was one and done because of her experience. I actually enjoyed What Bjork did with the part and for me, is one of the better musicals I've seen. Again, I'd like to hear what Dr. K has to say about it.

    I wanted to see Antichrist, but you (and Simon) talked so much about the scissors and certain anatomical parts that I lost my desire to see it. I mean, really. If there's one thing I don't need to see on film itss any scene involving scissors and nether-regions; male or female.

    I've been catching up on some of Mark's recommendations that I did not see earlier this year (and last year) Most recently I viewed "The Fighter" (good movie), "Source Code" (Great movie... Great, GREAT movie), and "Skyline" (what were you thinking Mark?!). I also took in one that you railed against: "Sucker Punch" (just because I'm curious sometimes if the movie was as bad as critics are saying). I think it was FAR worse than you made it sound. I may have even suffered some minor brain damage while (whilst?) viewing it.

    And one last thing. I just got back from the midnight screening of "Cowboys And Aliens". I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. For me, it's Jon Favreau's best movie. Ford, Craig, Wilde, Rockwell, Beach and Brown was a great combo of actors. And Olivia Wilde really looked good in a cowboy hat. Fun movie.

  • Comment number 52.

    Antichrist was terrible. It wasn't in the least scary, only controversial 'cause it showed a willy (a quick search on the internet will do the same...) and the characters were not believable either (Dafoe especially).

    Oh who leaves a window wide open in the middle of the damn winter without noticing? There would have been nothing very controversial about Dafoe's Walnut Whip if you get my drift!

  • Comment number 53.

    'Breaking the wind'??? Is that a provocation?

  • Comment number 54.

    Funny, I've been having the same wonderings recently with regards to Wes Craven and 'Last House on the Left'. Everybody, it seems, who watches it is outraged and says it's immoral and sick-minded and wotnot but Craven himself says it was a conscious attempt to make the audience feel as though they had actually watched someone die. I believe him. The jokey domestic scenes are what undermine the film but I think that's more down to the shortcomings of a first-time filmmaker (and I should know plenty about those). In the actual scenes of torture, abuse and murder, they're overwhelmingly successful in their repugnancy. They really are uncomfortable to watch, so I think that Wes Craven is telling the truth when he says his intentions are pure. I think this is one of those issues that you have to make your own opinion on (if I'm not stating the obvious) because when you get the likes of Lars von Trier, it's touch and go and trips up those filmmakers who genuinely want to make a point, even if it's made in a controversial manner.

  • Comment number 55.

    Come on Mark, where's this Big Lebowski review?

  • Comment number 56.

    Always the tale, never the teller - and I say that as a novelist.

  • Comment number 57.

    As subconscious or natural an art may take form, I do think intentions are a very big and interesting part of the process. But, however interesting the intentions may be, the tale must stand alone. At the moment of "release", the teller cannot excuse or debate his own tale any more than lending a different perspective to the audience. Much like I may see different things in films depending on my age, mood. A different perspective may alter the way you see it. But if the teller needs to tell everyone what perspective the tale needs then the tale clearly wasn't finishd or stand-alone.

    I'm reminded of something Christopher Nolan said that, for me, was just a perfect response. (SPOILER) When they asked him about the ending of Inception, whether the top falls or not, he responded that he wouldn't answer that “It would represent a failure of the film to communicate something. But it’s not a mistake. I put that cut there at the end, imposing an ambiguity from outside the film. That always felt the right ending to me."

  • Comment number 58.

    Can't help but think there's the merest scintilla of smug arrogance going on in this theme, certainly in some responses. Anyhow, as much as I adhere to the idea that the art happens where it meets it's audience, I think I'm in a seperate camp. If I respect the artist, I listen to what he has to say, knowing it may or may not be mischief.

    Having just read the transcript of Von Triers comments I'm not at all sure he even knows what he means to say, let alone whether it can be taken seriously. At face value, his latter qualifications sure sound like someone wrestling with a Hitler fetish.

    Perhaps the reason you say that his comments can't be taken seriously is so that you can take his films seriously. Because if he were a closet Nazi, it might be more difficult to argue for an appreciation of the art. It's a tough one, but I still love many Woody Allen films, and Roman Polanski's.

    So if I find myself agreeing with the majority, that art is independant of the artist, is it because I still want to enjoy the art which is pure? Or am I secretly worried that the art is tainted?

  • Comment number 59.

  • Comment number 60.

    "I remember one of my English lecturers telling us that 'The author is dead', when it comes to reading a text. It doesn't matter what the author intended to put into the work, it only matters what the individual finds there for him/herself. With this in mind, one can put forward any number of wild theories, as long as one can back it up with evidence from the text (or film) itself. "

    sorry to pick on this post - I don't disagree that this is a commonly held view. This establishment type point of view actually infuriates me. If the author or directors comments and life mean nothing to the art then why do we read so many biographies... of course the director's life and psychology is a key to understanding the work. The relationship is indirect and difficult to fathom, so intellectually lazy individuals just give up and indulge in their own fantasy interpretation. Modern art often plays on this e.g. Damein Hirst, by producing work which has no meaning then claiming the cedit when the viewer gives it a meaning. Again, laziness.

    I think the point which Mark might be making or intersecting with is that the story reveals extra elements of the author's fears, paranoias, psychological traits and motivations and can often be far more revealing with regard to their personailty than e.g. an interview. That does not mean to say that additional information cannot augment our understanding and indeed, some work e.g. Edgar Allen Poe's stories, may be somewhat inpenitrable without a little extra information - such as his relationship with his dying wife and later his greatest female literary fan, as well as his absenses and alcoholism. It also really annoys me that authors and directors are now obliged to morally justiify their interests in line with the celebrity poltics of modern journalism. So what if Lars Von Trier has a fascination with Nazism - he clearly is not an actual Nazi or else he would not be making films like Anti-Christ... I can't think of a more modern, liberal, vague movie that was released recently, a free association of all sort of ideas taken from psychology, politics, feminism etc. not exactly a regimented piece of idealistic teutonic propoganda. As to his shambolic conference at Cannes - I couldn't make out what the hell he was trying to say - he needs English lessons not moral lectures. And remember, it was a response to what he saw as accusations of his extremism - so he was being wound up to begin with, rather than the other way round.

    The criticism of Breaking the Waves is over the top as well. It may well be an exadurated account of a%2

  • Comment number 61.

    The criticism of Breaking the Waves is over the top as well. It may well be an exadurated account of a harsh lifestyle and people, but knowing people like some of those characters and coming from Scotland, it was not all that far fetched in places and not as mysoginistic as some say. Some of those kinds of people do exist unfortunately. As much as I agree with a lot of feminist ideas that doesn't mean to say their are not heavily dependent relationships or naive people out ther in the world. Apart from anything else the actors did as good a job as they probably could have done with a very awkward scenario and some of the camera work was beautiful. Not my favourite film, very uncomfortable in parts, but certainly not pointless.

    I think that Mark is condradicting himself slightly, as he does not trust the story - he is trying to paly some sort of game of mental chess with Lars rather than treating him as just another storyteller.

  • Comment number 62.

    I suppose if anything we should actively avoid the author's comments especially BEFORE watching the movie.

    I remember going to a film screening and the director making it quite clear that he wouldn't say anything because he didn't want to: "project his POV and ideas onto the audience" which allows people to form their opinion solely on the work itself.

    Sounds good to me


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