Is the dead cult of Dogme 95 being revived by the smartphone?
March 22nd, 1995, the Le cinémavers son deuxième siècle in Paris, was at hand to celebrate 100 rich and fruitful years of cinema. While most attendees were in the celebratory mood suggestive of the occasion, two Danish filmmakers saw more concern than optimism for the future of cinema in general. Lars Von Trier, and Thomas Vinterberg, during the conference, and to the surprise of most admirers in attendance, announced the “Dogme 95” movement. Pamphlets were distributed in the audience, quoting a manifesto the two had prepared, to start an extremist movement that would change the way the world made films.
The manifesto summarized what the two directors intended to do. Dogme 95 was a ‘rescue action’, according to the Danish filmmakers, one which had taken 35 years in the making. But the means and times had not been right for the world to accept the extremism of the movement they had visualized those many years back. The Manifesto’s cogency manifested in its attack on the illusionary effects of cinema. “Illusion” was the keyword, as the two claimed the art of filmmaking had evolved into a barren effect, primarily because it restricted itself to providing ‘an illusion of pathos and an illusion of love’.
10 years later the movement died. For whatever time it had lived, if it had lived at all, the Dogme 95 or at least the idea of it, proved to be an exoneration of celluloid, accused at times of being void of literary context. Part of the reason, for dismissing cinema as being irrelevant in the literary context was the complete domination of film studios and production houses over the production and presentation of films. Media was owned and presided over by corporates honchos, whereby profits and losses implied compromises in terms of imposing the visual medium over an artistic landscape.
The manifesto, distributed by the Danish directors, also listed the ‘vows of chastity’ – rules that were required to be fulfilled for a film to be considered a Dogme film. During the years following the announcement of the ambitious movement, a number of films came to the fore claiming to be a Dogme film. Vinterberg released the Cannes’ grand jury prize winner Festen, while Von Trier pitched in with the comparatively unsuccessful Idioterne. Later Vinterberg “confessed” to have violated the stipulations of the ‘vows of chastity’ (props and lighting), while Von Trier’s Idioterne had used music to support a handful of scenes. While more directors came forward in support of the movement, years later the two Danish filmmakers decried the paralysis which the doctrine of Dogme 95 had imposed on filmmaking in a time when the use of technical amplification had become essential.
Dogme 95 died, assuming that it had ever actually been born. But after 2005, the ethics of the film movement found a saviour (though unofficial) in the smartphone. While the invasion of technology into celluloid snuffed an extremist idea, the introduction of the smartphone ticked most boxes in the directive set forth by the vows of Dogme 95. A great number of ingenious films have been produced by the smartphone, which have unknowingly contributed to a film collective.
A number of films since the start of the movement have been deemed as Dogme 95. Some online resources list close to 40 films, while some exaggerate the number upwards of 250. While the engineers of the movement failed to drag the idea themselves, films canvassed by the smartphone and other handheld devices – that you and I see almost every other day – are reflective of the disillusive semblance of a movement, so extremist that it was incredibly simple!
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