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Assess the artistic limitations of the Dogme 95 “Vow of Chastity”
In the mid 1990s, a creative and low cost filmmaking was created – Dogme95. The founders were two Danish directors, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. (Hudson, 2005). Unlike any other film, it follows different set of rules. Written in Vow of Chastity, a rulebook of Dogme95, it restricts the use of props, sets, lighting, sound, and music. The camera is handheld and simply captures what is taking place (Schlosser, 2000). Dogme 95 is certainly a departure from the conventions of the film-making process.
The statement “Dogme 95 is a rescue action!” was stated in the manifesto if the Dogme 95 which perhaps is true for most filmmakers who wanted freedom of their ideas and faithful presentation of scenes. Mark Paul of Wayne State University agreed that Dogme 95 films have rescued the cinema from the conventional films of Hollywood which are ‘overly polished’, ‘undemocratic’ in art, and ‘superficial’. Directors have enough freedom to showcase the ‘truth’ without addition, reduction, or any manipulation (Paul, 2002).
In order to resist superficiality in Dogme films, von Trier and Vinterberg wrote “The Vow of Chastity” which consists of the specific rules that are mandatory in order to categorize a film as a Dogme. Von Trier asked Vinterberg if he “wanted to start a new wave with him?” In less than one hour, they already had the rules (Dogme 95: Frequently asked questions). As a guest in Théatre de L’Europe in Paris during the 100th anniversary of the birth of film, von Trier proudly announced Dogme. The rules are: (1) shooting must be on location without bringing any props, (2) sound and image are produced together, (3) the camera to be used is handheld, (4) use of natural light only, (5) no optical filters, (6) no superficial actions, (7) no geographic alienation, (8) no genre films, (9) the film format should be in Academy 35mm film format, and (10) the director must not be credited (Trischak, 1995). The last rule sounds unusual since the directors are always credited in the conventional films.
At the end of the ten rules, the director should swear to refrain in creating based on personal taste. Only the real events should be presented based on the real settings. The reason behind the prohibition of the use of props is to challenge the filmmaker into creating authentic films and portray the ‘truth’. More time is dedicated into developing a good acting because breaks for hair, make up, costume, and light change are eliminated. The use of handheld camera is intended to follow the actors instead of the actors following the camera. In this manner, the actors could really perform their characters while the camera captures the scene. Additionally, using handheld cameras provides more takes with longer time (Dogme 95: Frequently asked questions).
The first Dogme creation by Vinterberg, The Celebration, was one of the best cinematic explorations which covered the issues on a dysfunctional family in the middle of a celebration. The film won many awards and was nominated in various prestigious awards associations. Among the awards it received were Jury Prize from the Cannes Film Festival, Best Director from Gijón International Film Festival, and Independent Spirit Award (Hudson, 2005).
The second film of Dogme was The Idiots, which was written and directed by von Trier. The film featured young characters who go around to spasse (Danish term which means to intentionally act like idiots). Watching the film might turn off its audience because of the hilarious acts and abhorrent ways of responding to the problems faced by young people (Schwartz, 1998).
The third Dogme film was Mifune by Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, which became one of the multi-awarded Dogme films. A.O. Scott of the New York Times reviewed it as “by any standard, a pretty good film” and was given the awards Silver Bear and Special Jury Prize for Kragh-Jacobsen from the Berlin Film Festival (Hudson, 2005). Mifune was able to present the real people in real situations and would surely attract the audience’s attention. The scenes appear so realistic and painful at the same time (Ilic, 2005).
The creation of Dogme 95 and the implementation of its rules have been the subject of questioning and curiosity from directors. The production cost of Dogme films is relatively cheaper because crews are eliminated; however it does not mean that this is a resort to producing low-budget films. There are no limits as long as it will compromise to the Vow of Chastity. In Denmark, a low-budget film could cover more than half a million. Nevertheless any Dogme film can be produced around a million or more than a hundred million dollars. Among the Dogme films, “The Idiot” was the most expensive. The introduction of Dogme 95 however did not receive much criticism especially from the Danish government wherein the state willingly increased the filming fund by 70% (Trischak, 1995).
Another issue on the production of Dogme films is the use of the old fashioned Academy 35mm film format because is considerably expensive. The 35mm film is used so that Dogme films can be shown in all movie theatres. However, because of its cost some directors resort to shooting film with Digital Video first then transferring it to the 35mm. The recorded images through DV, on the other hand, are strictly prohibited from editing considering the Vow of Chastity (Dogme 95: Frequently asked questions).
Classifying a film as a Dogme has become harder. The first four to six Dogme films were originally discussed by the first directors and founders of the Dogme 95 films including Vinterberg, von Trier, Kragh-Jacobson, and Levring. They reviewed each film according the rules in the Vow of Chastity; however, as the directors became busier in their own Dogme film productions, not enough time was allotted to discuss the other films. In Julian Donkey Boy, the story about a schizophrenic man, the rules created was pushed to its limitations. It all now depends on the judgment of the directors (Dogme 95: Frequently asked questions). However, Vinterberg argued that if the director feels that the film might not be in accordance with the rules then, he must do something about.
Another question raised was about the synchronization of a foreign language, say English or German; can it be certified as a Dogme? If it will be based on the second rule: sound and image must be produced together; technically it cannot be classified as a Dogme. Watching a Dogme film in foreign language therefore is not very entertaining (Dogme 95: Frequently asked questions).
The Vow of Chastity provided both freedom and restriction to the directors. With the limited resources such as props, music, sounds, and lights, the director is challenged to be resourceful and creative in filling these gaps. In the film The Celebration, Vinterberg was able to incorporate music by placing the story on a Danish gathering tradition wherein the people are accustomed to celebrate while singing. On the other hand, in “The Idiots”, a musician character played a toy-like instrument in the beginning of the story (Dogme 95: Frequently asked questions).
In the conventional films we see these days, there are different genres such as science fiction, animated, action, adventure, comedy, romance, horror, war, musicals, historical, and many more. However, in Dogme films it becomes selective because you only present what is happening then and now and not what is in the past or what will be in the future (Dogme 95: Frequently asked questions). Therefore, war and historical films are impossible because flashbacks should not be used. Neither do sci-fi, animated, and musical films. These genres require musical equipments and props and the scenes are time manipulated.
In the history of filmmaking, Dogme 95 is notably one of the best cinematic explorations of realism. The presentation of this realism is only possible through the elimination of the traditional cinematic process accompanied with various experimentations on the production and presentation (Vaughan, 2004). The Vow of Chastity made it possible to restrict and compress it down to what is real only. There is no addition, reduction, or, any manipulation to the story that a director wishes to tell. It is obviously anti-film tradition in nature however its simplicity and honesty offer a different kind of pleasure and emotion. Unlike the usual films,
our minds are already set to decipher the ending. However, in Dogme films, the audience could only figure what is being shown at a time.
The first three Dogme films have been very successful. After ten years since its beginnings, Dogme films are getting less and less popular. Von Trier and Vinterberg are now working on different kinds of films aside from Dogme. The brothers now are no longer managing and judging Dogme films. They have decided to allow the directors to judge their own creations but still following the rules. Producing one is a big challenge. Ironically, Vinterberg confessed that The Celebration was the easiest he made.9
Dogme is still alive and more and more films are released and reached the number to Dogme 254th film (Dogme 95: Frequently asked questions). Nowadays, the films that the brothers are releasing are combination of filmmaking from the conventional and from the Dogme. According to Jack Stevenson, film journalist in Denmark, It’s All About Love and Dogville by Vinterberg and von Trier respectively can be classified as anti-Dogme films. Both directors have departed from Dogme and now making films beyond the Vow of Chastity. (Mitchell, 2005)
In an interview with Kristian Levring, one of the founder of Dogme movement; Susanne Bier, the director of The One and Only and Open Heart; and Anders Thomas Jensen, a famous writer and director, the screenwriting processed was discussed. Thomas Jensen said that the scriptwriting is very different because there are limitations like superficial violence and action. Bier added that due to these limitations, “Dogme tends to lend itself to realistic storytelling.” Levring agreed that these liberated and improved Dogme including his film The King is Alive. (Kelly, 2008)
Dogme offered an incredible twist in filmmaking, surprising the audience in ways that are not expected. In the presence of restrictions and limitations, it has entitled directors with freedom of creation with aesthetic value and provided a different kind of satisfaction.
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