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He wanted to know when was the last time that a film manifesto of some kind had been issued. Dogme Uncut: Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, and the Gang That Took on Hollywood. Trier himself had accompanied his early films, his so-called Europe Trilogy (Dziga Vertov of course wrote several in the 1920s – this was after all a suitable means of expression in the revolutionary USSR – but they concerned documentary films. Dogme is a search for truth, a rather abstract ambition. It should be noticed, however, that it concerns truth inside a fictional universe. Why fight illusion and look for truth in fiction films, one could ask, when fiction by definition is illusion and invention – why not then make documentaries? How is it possible to avoid “aesthetics” when you work in an aesthetic medium? The ten rules of the Vow of Chastity, mostly prohibitions, represent a therapy, a treatment, and a cure.
The author of this article (who was Trier’s teacher during his years of film studies at The University of Copenhagen 1976-79) had a telephone call from Trier in early 1995. Dogme is (European) minimalism versus (American) grandiose mainstream with its “superficial action”, “cosmetics” and “illusion.” But it was also, according to Vinterberg, meant as “a reaction to the laziness and mediocrity in both European and American cinema.” The idea is to make film “here and now”, using the spontaneity of the moment rather than doing a lot of postproduction ‘repair’ of the scenes. The simplicity is achieved through the use of handheld camera, the ban on artificial lighting and the proscription against later corrections of picture and sound. Instead the “supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings” and to avoid “any good taste and any aesthetics.” The first part of the text has the typical manifesto character – an ideological proclamation where criticism, judgments, and opinions are presented with rhetorical power.
The Dogme manifesto clearly has points in common with the earlier manifestos, that in different ways have called for change, freedom and more realism. But the originality of the Dogma manifesto is that it not only comes up with the usual declarations and intentions, but that it explicitly offers a particular method of filmmaking, outlines a positive program, an alternative procedure of filmmaking, not in abstract terms but very literal. It should be noted that Dogme is often discussed in connection with two elements that are not mentioned in the manifesto: Dogme as low-budget and Dogme as digital filmmaking.