Articles about creative processes are boring. Because they usually have absolutely nothing to do with creativity at all.
If you really want to know how an artist’s mind works, look no further than the highly controversial Cannes visits of Lars Von Trier.
There’s a particularly acute problem in 2018, that so many people can’t interpret the correct target of a film or even a joke, because they are too thick. I remember reading just recently about a top scientist who was in a large elevator with a lot of members from the audience of a conference, and he joked he wanted someone to press the button for him to get out at the women’s lingerie department. The target for this joke was of course himself, a decaying old man finding humour in a desperate fictionalised version of himself, seeking sexual satisfaction by exploring the women’s lingerie department, but he ended up losing his job because people in the elevator took offence, saw the target as their gender, thought it misogynistic and wanted him fired. And the community in which he worked was so politically correct that they actually went ahead and did so. A life’s work ruined in a blink of an eye, a career smashed in the time it takes to make a wise crack in a lift.
What makes Von Trier so exciting is he’s one of the only high profile filmmakers still offering an antidote to these strange times we’re in.
Historically if you look at the original definition of an artist, they are a defiant provocateur. A filmmaker is always provoking some reaction from an audience. If the audience doesn’t react, the art fails. If the audience aren’t moved by a film, or they aren’t even made to think, it is a bad film. There are enough bad films in the world numbing the herd into submission.
It’s 2018, we’re officially in the space age, but the biggest disappointment for me is that the world seems to be regressing into a puritan Victorian culture where sex scenes in most films occur clothed, but trivially empty family friendly content has kick started a mental health epidemic in the general public unquestioned, mass-malnutrition of the mind, tiny pin shaped brains atop obese bodies in front of millions of screens, creating shallow impulsive thoughts, all because of what we consider normal, routine consumption. Take the movie Pixels. It’s worse than junk food, but you’d think nothing of weening your children on at a young age in-between their iPad games and their social media, along with hours and hours of other shitty films of the same mould, days and days adding up to a serious addiction to smartphones, a non-life, just drones being force-fed entertainment like geese in a foie-gras farm, until the frenzy of consumption becomes normalised, implanted into us early on by capitalism and reinforced by a culture of instant gratification that feels so normal and routine as to be completely harmless but we cannot show a pair of tits on Netflix.
Here’s what we should learn from Lars Von Trier versus the politically correct Cannes audiences…
At the press conference following the screening of 2009’s Antichrist, Lars von Trier was asked by a journalist from the Daily Mail to justify why he made the film, to which the director responded that he found the question strange since he considered the audience as his guests, “not the other way around.” He then claimed to be the best director in the world.
Promoting his latest film alongside Kirsten Dunst at Cannes in 2011 von Trier was made persona non grata after a disastrous press conference. It was miserable failure of a joke made at the wrong place at the wrong time but really he relished being kicked out of the festival.
“I am proud to have been declared ‘persona non grata’. It is perhaps the first time in cinematic history it has happened.”
THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT
In the lead up to this year’s Cannes, Kate Muir of the Guardian newspaper in the UK lambasted Von Trier’s presence in the festival purely for being male, “in an era of Time’s Up” and the press conference hasn’t even happened yet, needless to say that after 7 years he’s back and he still doesn’t give a shit. At the screening of the new film, over 100 critics walked out mid-way through, probably because they didn’t like the fact the fictional psychopath serial killer protagonist wasn’t extolling feminist virtues.
There is only one lesson here and that is to not care about the offence culture springing up around us. People need to stop seeing films merely as vehicles extolling some virtuous lifestyle choice or moral position. The Ghostbusters remake and Black Panther were both terrible films but because they jumped on a virtuous bandwagon they had more column inches in the media than some scientific breakthroughs and were practically immune to criticism. This has also made the studios a lot of cold hard CASH which I assume was all part of the plan. This privileged puritan mindset implies that women and black people are so downtrodden, they need some lightweight popcorn hit to empower them into doing something with their lives. That’s a pretty dark subtext, I think, but that’s capitalism for you.
Rebels like Von Trier are exactly what the film industry needs more of.
“Rebelling is part of my family. If you come to a family gathering, the family says something, you have to say something else. Then my family met my wife’s family, who said yes to everything, but my family often said no. If I see a form or a concept, I’d naturally challenge it, to see if there’s any possibility to gain more from it.” – Von Trier
Whenever there is uproar like we’ve seen today at Cannes, it demonstrates to us that Von Trier and artists like him are right not to care, because logically the audience have no right to be offended. It is the filmmaker who is offering something to the audience. The audience agree to be the recipient when they sit down in that nice comfortable chair. To feel personally insulted afterwards tells me that these critics are grandstanding a superior moral position over a work of FICTION, whereas the job of Von Trier the director is to create art, not a piece of ethical code for society.
Another mistake people often make is to confuse the filmmaker’s real views with fiction. In the aftermath of Antichrist Von Trier was dubbed a misogynist at Cannes because of a suggestion (in the fiction!) that women are the antichrist. Even if they are in that particular story, it’s an artist’s right to make a fictional story and if the audience has a right to claim the film should never have been made, no film, ever, would ever get made. In fact my interpretation was that the driver of evil in that film was nature itself, as in the body belongs in hell, the soul belongs in heaven – and that’s a riff Von Trier is employing again to dramatic effect in The House That Jack Built. Even though nature got a bad rap in Antichrist, I didn’t hear the national park service protesting.
In the puritan society where everybody is raising awareness and taking offence but otherwise not doing anything, really, it amounts to cultural censorship. If the industrial pioneers whose technology led to the creation of the camera all sat around raising awareness about empowerment of science, rather than making experiments in a lab, we’d be without films, altogether to this day…and the way things are going we’ll be without the future films of one of the world’s most interesting directors because no studio will accept his material.