A Brief Explanation of the Controversial Film Movement Dogme 95 by Co-Creator Lars von Trier
When you think of a film movement, what comes to mind? Political/social rebellion? Self-expression? Freedom? Rarely will someone say "strict and rigid rules", but that is indeed the structure put in place by Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg when they formed Dogme 95. A controversial, but influential movement, Dogme 95 gave birth to some incredibly important films, like Festen and Idioterne. If you'd like to learn more about Dogme, what better way to learn about it than from one of its founders. Watch director Sophie Fiennes' short documentary Lars from 1-10, and find out how less freedom could mean more creative films.
Von Trier and Vinterberg started Dogme 95 in 1995 with this idea in mind: to return to "traditional values of story, acting, and theme, and excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology." At that time, big budget Hollywood films were reigning supreme, and von Trier and Vinterberg wanted to show that budgets don't define quality. Similar to Dogme 95, movements such as Italian Neorealism and French New Wave had certain political implications, but where post-WWII Italian filmmakers, as well as post-Trente Glorieuses French filmmakers zigged, Dogme 95 filmmakers zagged. While Italian and French filmmakers embraced creative freedom, Dogme 95 wrote their manifesto and imposed a set of ten rules known as the "vow of chastity":
- Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
- The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.)
- The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
- The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
- Optical work and filters are forbidden.
- The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
- Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
- Genre movies are not acceptable.
- The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
- The director must not be credited.
But why? Why would anyone want to do this? Why these rules? How did the first filmmakers decide on which rules would produce the most desired effect? Von Trier describes it well in the documentary below:
Dogme 95 ended in 2005 once its founders decided that the Vow was producing formulaic films, but its initial effects can't be denied. Sometimes giving yourself complete freedom means arresting your creativity with unlimited possibilities. But, you put that creativity inside a box -- it'll find a way to break free.
What do you think of Dogme 95? Would you ever try imposing a set of rules like this on yourself? Let us know in the comments below.