Thursday, April 19, 2012
CANON OF FILM: "THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS"
THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS (2004)
Directors: Lars Von Trier and Jorgen Leth
Lars Von Trier,is one of the best and most controversial directors in the world. His idol is fellow Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth, both of whom have since becomes friends, but Von Trier has set up a challenge for his fellow filmmaker. There are three truly great documentaries about the behind the scenes of filmmaking, the first being “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” which was put together from footage Eleanor Coppola shot of her husband, Francis Ford Coppola, as he turns into a murderous, suicidal maniac while spending over three years filming his masterpiece “Apocalypse Now”. The second is Les Blanc’s Oscar-winning “Burden of Dreams,” about the amazingly more insane film shoot of the truly insane director Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo” (He may be the only director in the world who makes Von Tiers look relatively sane). The third is “Lost in La Mancha,” which documents the troubles of a Terry Gilliam’s film shoot for his version of “Don Quixote,” which due to disasters natural, unnatural and otherwise eventually lead to the film and shoot being abandoned.
“The Five Obstructions,” also belongs alongside these masterpieces in a way, but those documentaries were simply observing and documenting events that were happening anyway. This film, also belongs next to the DVDs of "Fear Factor" and "Jackass" and other reality shows that force their contestants through ever-more inventive nightmare activities. Von Trier adores Leth’s short film “The Perfect Human,” which he made in 1967.
Von Trier, partly worried about Leth’s apparent depression and retirement, and partly out of his own perverse curiosity, challenges Leth to remake “The Perfect Human,” five more times, each time involving a different set of obstructions so as to reconsider the film in completely different ways. As somebody who likes to completely forget everything about a project once it’s completed, this is would be a sadistic nightmare to me without having the additional factor of knowing Von Trier being the one deciding what the obstructions are. This is child's play for him. He became famous for films that had obstructions like, "only natural light," and "only on-set props allowed" as part of the Dogme 95 movement. I don’t want to reveal all of the obstructions he comes up with, because it would take away from the reality show-like experience of finding out what the next new rules and challenges for the next project are, but they range wildly from complete freedom to do whatever you want, to being force to make a cut every twelve frames (which is ½ a second). Sometimes the obstructions come out of the conversations and analysis that Leth and Von Trier have with each other. No set, shoot in the worse place on Earth, you have to act in the short… Leth must bend to the will of whatever Von Tiers comes up with. What he does and how he must do it, and watching him as he goes through this filmmaker hell and how he finds ways to go around and through, is mesmerizing. Eventually, Von Tiers even forces Leth to do nothing as he directs his own version of the short, but putting Leth’s name on the film (I’m not sure how Von Tiers gets even his name on as director of this but whatever…)
“The Five Obstructions,” is one truly unique film. A psychological experiment that equals and exceeds most reality programs, and even rarer, creates an artist equivalent of going through a complete mindfuck. I wonder if somebody would’ve dared tried such an experiment with say Picasso or Shakespeare or tell Dickens to suddenly turn "Oliver Twist," into a comic book. Other than that, I’m not sure there's an equivalent to this experiment, anywhere in art. That might change, but then “The Five Obstructions” would then become a seminal work on the level of “Groundhog Day,” “Citizen Kane,” or if you want to insist on staying in the documentary form, “Nanook of the North,” or “The Thin Blue Line.” Until then, it stands alone as both a love letter to an idol and a demonic experiment that forces that artist to stretch all his creativity, and possibly become a better artist. That’s the other part of this movie, and I should’ve brought it up and elaborated on it more, but its one of the few films that shows an artist creating. From recognizing his inspiration to seeing it through. On imdb.com, there's a rumored sequel to the film, that's subtitled "Scorsese vs. Trier". I think there's many names that we could come up with to go mano-a-mano against Trier, (I bet Herzog would do it if asked) but I would definitely be curious if that, or any other version of this film ever gets made.
Posted by David Baruffi at 5:33 AM