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Lars Von Trier's Liar

Lars Von Trier is a critical and awards darling, controversial, making brutally challenging and inimitable films, most none of which are pleasant watches. Von Trier sprints as far as he can from the mainstream, with unconventional structures and pacing, blazingly harsh subject matter, unstimulated sex (which always seems to cover some of the publicity for the films) and at his best; a dark and dreamlike presentation.

Von Trier is, like most trailblazing creatives, very strange, a reality that will bleed into other parts of this article but which should be addressed here. He has a fanatical obsession and reverence for great art, especially great filmmakers. For one, he added the grand “von” to his name in homage to Erich von Stroheim and Josef von Sternberg, who had themselves invented their monikers. He's consistently massively popular at Cannes, but suffered a misstep when he got himself banned after a bizarre joke detailing that he had learned his ancestry was German, and not Jewish therefore “(he's) a Nazi” and “understands Hitler”. He also, upon being invited to the home of his late hero, Ingmar Bergman, accompanied by a camera crew and a host of other important filmmakers, spent a not inconsiderable amount of the visit detailing his interest in the frequency of Bergman's masturbation habits. He ended the interview by comparing the distant Bergman to his stepfather, explaining how much it bothers him that he never got close. For the record, Bergman admired Von Trier greatly, from a distance, once saying he "does not understand what a genius he is." Evidently Lars got over this problem. His unbelievable confidence in his work and views is exactly what has given him his success and strife over the years. Even early on, he was so confident in the value of his view on cinema that he started the Dogme 95 movement by writing a manifesto with Thomas Vinterburg.

von Trier's Liar

Dogme 95's goal was to reclaim power for the directors from the studio system, in practicality it was a set of regulations (e.g. the film must be in colour, no music, only handheld cameras allowed, no superficial action like murders, etc.) and limitations so rigid, that no-one originally involved in the movement stuck to the rules for very long, ESPECIALLY Von Trier, whose later work began to incorporate artifice like black and white photography, contrapuntal music, dreamy and robotically enhanced camera moves, and murder. This kind of goal post moving is what makes his documentary, The 5 Obstructions, so interesting. It chronicles Von Trier setting a challenge for his old mentor wherein they each remake a classic short film of his five times, each time adding an “obstruction”. It must be animated, or made in the unspecified worst place on earth, shots can only last 12 frames, etc. Easily von Trier's best work, however, is when he drops his rules and makes the film however he feels, typically unreal.

There was his Golden Hearts trilogy, about pure-hearted women made to suffer by tragedies or degradation, who must persevere. The best of the three is Dancer in the Dark, in which a factory worker played by Bjork is losing her vision due to a condition passed on to her son. She wants to save up to prevent the condition from taking his vision. Also, it's a musical. The most widely acclaimed is Breaking the Waves, with a heavier focus on morality and social realism, and the most controversial is The Idiots , which is the only film of the three to qualify for Dogme 95 status (though a written confession lists four “breaches”).

Next, avant-garde experimental films Dogville and Manderlay, both parables about American issues in a highly distinctive style: The actors occupy a soundstage with minimal props, and no sets, just spaces marked out by lines of chalk. Another experiment for comedy The Boss of It All, wherein Von Trier placed the camera in an ideal position, and allowed a computer to decide when to pan, tilt, or zoom.

Von Trier has suffered from depression, and a particularly immobilizing bout landed him in the hospital in 2006, where he began to channel his experiences into writing the first in his Depression trilogy, loosely connected by themes of grief and misery, sturdily connected by their shared lead Charlotte Gainsbourg, one of the most fruitful collaborations in Von Trier's career. The first of the films is the most utterly disturbing, the most intimate, and the best film of Von Trier's career; Anti-Christ. Whilst a couple (He and She) are having sex, their infant son falls from the balcony. Overcome with grief, they begin to process it in different, and unhealthy ways. She further develops a belief in the inherent evil of women, stemming from her research into misogyny, mentally punishing herself. He focuses on forcing her into exposure therapy, making it clear that her grief is another problem she's causing. Not something to feel and accept, but an issue he can fix. He makes them retreat to a cabin in the woods they had stayed at before with their son. It is an otherworldly corruption of nature, sort of like if Satan had made the garden of Eden. Yes, grass, and acorns, and foxes, and things, but tainted like everything else by their pain. Needless to say, the therapy does not go well.

Melancholia, less brutal and provocative than Anti-Christ, sometimes feels as though it's running on the fumes, however strong those may be, of the previous film. Still, it channels the reality of living with depression, the utter acceptance of the worst, and having to weather it, into a story of a pair of sisters, awaiting one sisters' wedding and an apocalyptic collision with another planet. Nymphomaniac, Volumes I & II, are the most guilty of passing into self-parody, a collective 4 hours of sex, repetitive unsubtle jabs at critics, and references to his own filmography and public life.

His latest, serial killer POV The House that Jack Built, has resulted in the most significant split in opinion yet; some praising his uncompromising depiction of the ostentatious gratification Ted Bundy-like killers revel in, others admonishing the film's perceived depravity. The most important question to ask yourself before watching it, however, is: “Can I stomach a 2-and-a-half-hour sermon from someone as egotistical as a serial-killer, or, for that matter, Lars von Trier?” It's a satire of the director's belief in auterism as much as the killer's. Let's leave off with Von Trier's sign off at the end of the Dogme 95 Manifesto: “My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations. Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY.”

Explaining the Boat Scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Who here was terrified by the boat scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? In a film where child after child brushes with death, only to survive “off-screen”. With foods so dangerous to eat they blow up your whole body, and a tall strange man trying to coerce kids into stealing secrets for him in alleyways. With claustrophobic tubes that trap, and all run by a madman, in this film, the only really scary thing is a boat ride.

The scene is infamous and has horrified kids for decades now. The Tour of the factory moves swiftly along after losing Augustus Gloop, and the party take their seats as the Oompa Loompa's row them down a dark tunnel. Willy Wonka, already starting to make some of them nervous with his demeanour, insists that they row faster, and the passengers begin to panic. Lights and images flash around them, of bugs and eyes and a chicken being decapitated (making this one of the rare mainstream films depicting the on-screen death of a real animal), and Wonka begins to recite a shamanistic poem, which turns into a loud chant, and finally a shriek: “There's no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going... ARE THE FIRES OF HELL A GLOWING, IS THE GRISLY REAPER MOWING, YES, THE DANGER MUST BE GROWING!” Violet Beauregarde said it best; “What is this, a freak-out?”

Everything about this scene, from Gene Wilder's slowly mounting delivery of the ominous lines, to the looks of panic on everybody's faces, to the very nature of this sort of satanic corruption of the cheerful tunes the factory dispenses otherwise, is pure nightmare fuel, and nothing like the rest of the film. Another thing that makes the sequence seem out of place is how abruptly it ends- the boat just stops, and no one brings it up again. So how come it's in the film?

Before we ask why anyone wanted it in the film, it's good to ask how the scene made it into the final cut in the first place, without anyone raising concerns about appealing to the target demographic of candy-loving kids. Well, Willy Wonka was made on a shoe-string budget by a rag-tag group of misfit film-makers, funded by a confectionary company to promote their upcoming Quaker Oats ‘Wonka Bars'. For the record, this promotion was a failure, because by the time the film was out, Wonka Bars were being recalled and altered because they melted at room temperature all over store shelves. Under these circumstances, the filmmakers experienced an unprecedented lack of studio interference, so they could do mostly whatever they wanted. Some of the makers of the film, released in 1971, had been stewing in the psychedelic late 60's, and probably channeled their experiences with bad trips (freak-outs, as they were known) into the scene, because there was room for it, and especially because it was cheap. It's hard to say no when you need to film the tunnel from the book, and someone comes up with an idea that only needs stock footage, coloured lights and back projection.

On a story level, Wonka seems to have a sinister mystery about him which keeps us on our toes, played up heavily by the incomparable Gene Wilder, who was attracted by the conman quality he felt the character could have. He even suggested that Wonka be introduced stumbling with a cane, only to reveal it was a ruse. The boat scene is the ultimate extra layer to Wonka's potential psychopathy. I mean, the boat has the perfect amount of seats for everybody, how did he know Gloop and his mother wouldn't be joining them? We really have no idea what he'll do next.

Some seem to think the scary boat ride is one of Wonka's tests, to see if there are any kids too fragile to end up running his factory. Doubtful. If the film, or more accurately the original novel, wanted to illustrate that, there would have been an extra terrified tot, who'd wet himself, or jump into the water to escape, and be serenaded by the Oompa Loompas as he floated on his way. The only element that seems to support this appears to be that Charlie and Grandpa Joe are the only captives who manage to enjoy the ride.

There are, as there always seem to be, some fun fan theories. One suggests the tunnel is a form of deterrent for thieves, who would have to make it through the tunnel to get to the factories' secrets. Who would brave all that for Slugworth? Not to mention how difficult it must be to navigate to the invention room in the pitch black.

What's appreciable about the scene today, outside of it being a very well judged mix of the unsettling and silly that introduces an element of intrigue at a junction into the film, is that it is so indelible. No-one forgets the scene, and whilst the images that flash swirl around, and out of order, everyone remembers how it felt. It's irreplaceable, especially in a kids' film today (though Coraline is sort of if the boat scene were the entire film), and that's why the remake didn't even try. If we celebrate this classic for it's incredible imagination when it comes to whimsy, we ought to celebrate it for its inventive shock too.

Talking Movies Reaches 400 Episodes with Spling!

Spling's segment on Fine Music Radio, Talking Movies , has reached its 400th entry. The bi-weekly additions of Talking Movies are straightforward reviews for three movies out at the time of release, fitting into a tight 6 minutes. You can catch them at 8:20 AM on Fridays and 8:15 AM on Saturdays. They dispense insightful, unpretentious and direct looks at the films, providing an ideal service in this modern landscape of glut when it comes to choosing what's worth watching.

400 talking movies episodes

A contemporary problem with being recommended a film is the game of roulette you play in hoping you'll be able to find it somewhere to watch. Lately, with streaming services being the main source of our entertainment, Spling has adopted the helpful approach of highlighting films from an array of different streaming platforms and channels, leaving no movie fan behind.

The show has been running for almost 8 years. An argument could be made that anything that provides, time after time, for this long, is something of an institution. When listening on FMR 101.3, every one of the instalments starts with those familiar notes from the American Beauty score, and signs off with the mantra “Don't WING it, SPL!NG it!”.

You can catch up on the latest Talking Movies episodes, presented as podcasts at splingmovies.com or check out archived episodes. Many of the films covered on Talking Movies receive longer form written reviews, but the archived entries supply transcripts of Spling's brief takes, if you prefer.

This 400th entry covers: News of the World , which stars Tom Hanks as a civil war veteran who reads the news from town to town, and must escort a young immigrant girl raised by Native Americans across the country to her family, in a largely frank western. He has excellent chemistry with co-lead girl, but Hanks, in typical fashion for his recent films, carries.

Next, sure-handed political drama Official Secrets; the true story of a British whistle-blower who leaked information to the press about an illegal move designed to sanction the 2003 invasion of Iraq, starring Kiera Knightly, and directed by South Africa's own Gavin Hood.

And lastly, a documentary called One Child Nation , uncovering insights into the reality of living under China's oppressive one-child policy, policing the intimate lives of the Chinese citizenry, which director Nanfu Wang has had the unique experience of once being a part of. From this unique position, the film takes a powerful biographical perspective, making it the best film on this edition of Talking Movies .

We look forward to number 500, the 10 year anniversary of Talking Movies with Spling, and every episode till then.

Animation for Adults

Animation predates cinematography itself, and as long as there has been animation, there has been animation aimed at adults. Yet, the medium has never shaken the public perception as kids' stuff, even with the occasional Bojack Horseman, mostly due to the absolute domination of the Walt Disney animation studio, and its myriad imitators. Of course, these days even those films throw in a joke or two for the parents, but if you've ever wanted to see a movie meant for you, like any other, but with that beautiful, otherworldly look only possible in animation and its many forms, here's what's waiting:

Some animations don't even bother to do away with the animal heroes from children's films, leading, I'm sure to some very upset family movie-nights. Watership Down and The Plague Dogs are both adaptations of Richard Adams' penchant for fables that don't skimp on the realities of animal life; hunger, brutal fights to the death, cruelty inflicted by, well, us. In Felidae, the violence takes a more stylistic approach, as the new cat in town has to solve a spree of murders in the neighbourhood, in classic murder-mystery fashion. The Fritz the Cat series originally got by mostly on the novelty of a cartoon cat so vulgar, but in a post South Park world, its charm today is as a fantastic time-capsule of hippy humour, a counter-culture so counter to culture they got sick of and started parodying themselves.

Animation for Adults

I'm not too sure if Richard Linklater's films A Scanner Darkly or Waking Life completely count, considering they were filmed first, and then animated overtop of the footage. If they do, these two are wonderful, Scanner is zany and Waking Life is contemplative.

Strictly speaking, you could show your kids The Triplets of Belle-ville, the hilarious almost pantomime about an elderly French mother rescuing her cyclist son from the mafia with the help of their obese dog and three music hall singers from the 1930s. Though its uniquely gloomy appearance and offbeat comedy are best left appreciated by mom and dad. Another French classic, the sci-fi experiment Fantastic Planet, about bizarre aliens keeping us as pets, and a revolution which begins to unfold as a result, is a simple story that lends itself well to allegory concerning race subjugation, animal rights, and the like. Everyone in the film is strange, humans included, best to bathe in its surreal world instead.

Japan has been importing intelligent work in the form of anime, most of them technically still kids' films, for ages. Belladonna of Sadness provides psychedelic imagery of witchcraft to match its artsy sensibilities, while Akira gives you fast and electrifying sci-fi street racing thrills. Ghibli has made the leap a few times into outright adult fare, to spectacular results. There's the infamously depressing war-time survival meditation Grave of the Fireflies, and Princess Mononoke, a brutally violent and intense fairy-tale, epic in scope and creativity, and featuring some of the studio's absolute best takes on their typical fair (man vs nature, supernatural creatures, strong-willed women, etc.) It remains one of the best animated films ever made. Miyazaki's latest film, The Wind Rises, is quiet and gorgeous, a reflective look at the life of a genius with a complex relationship with his creations; planes which will be used as weapons of war. In his advanced age, Miyazaki has focused on elevating and appreciating the beauty in life; moments of finding inspiration, or love, helping strangers, understanding each other and especially, as he always has, in the trickling streams, and waving fields of grass in nature. (I know this article is meant to focus on adult-oriented animation, and I've done that here, but if you haven't seen his kids' films either, watch them ASAP. They are all on Netflix, and the man can do no wrong.)

Most of these heady and multifaceted animations are quite recent. Persepolis tells the story of a young girl finding herself set to the jet-black and white backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. The Night is Short, Walk on Girl tells the story of a young woman finding herself set to the colourful backdrop of a night out. There's the dark crime comedy Have a Nice Day from China, and the French film I Lost my Body, which sort of escapes genre. It's about a pizza delivery boy who becomes enamoured with a stranger, whilst across town a severed hand searches for its body. It's quite absorbing, though the animation styles of these two aren't the most compelling to look at for two hours. The first ever entirely painted animated film, Loving Vincent, is worth it just for the spectacle of seeing the titular Vincent van Gogh's worlds come to life, as a perfectly serviceable mystery around his death plays out.

The stop-motions Mary & Max and Anomalisa, both about lonely, socially damaged men making a connection to young women who revitalize them. In Mary & Max, Max is middle-aged and Mary is 8, and the two begin a friendship as pen-pals. They offer each other unique perspectives, and the film has a wonderful goofiness to it, appreciating the wonder of companionship, whilst still having time to go about as dark as a comedy can get (alcoholism, suicide, etc.) Anomalisa, is a Charlie Kaufman movie, and therefore the damage is not exorcised. It is a thoroughly realistic film, down to its visuals (probably the most realistic a stop-motion film has ever looked). It concerns a customer service guru, Michael, who seems to view everyone in the world as the same person (literally), including his wife and child. He meets Lisa, who is unique, and incredibly anxious. He becomes infatuated with her. Sometimes it seems sweet and intimate, more often uncomfortable and selfish.

We'll end on a more uplifting note; a film teetering right on the edge between for kids and for adults: Isle of Dogs. On one hand, it has the twee look and premise of a kids' movie, but the violence and mature approach of adult fare. It's wall-to-wall quirk, elevated by the incredible effort expended to create the stop-motion world.

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