Rightwing Film Geek

Another auteur (maybe) knuckles under

According to several news accounts — here are the stories from the Associated Press, from Reuters, and from United Press International — Lars Von Trier has been forced to cut the already-notorious “donkey scene” from his upcoming film MANDERLAY, something that already had cost him the participation of actor John C. Reilly.

I’m suspicious of the possibility that Von Trier may be pulling a fast one. For one thing, something has been rotten in the state of Denmark on this story and the words being put out by the studio and Von Trier for a while. For one thing, in the initial news item, the producer admits the killing, however says it happened off-camera — something I would want to credit because that would be a lie that would get found out real quick). But if the producer was telling the truth then, then what would Von Trier have available to cut now? Scenes of people and a dead animal or of people eating meat are not objectionable, and the UPI story says the scene “showed starving people in a small town carving up the animal” (which also is unremarkable unless it was shown alive earlier in the scene).

There’s Von Trier’s sense of humor to reckon with. He clearly disagrees with the animal-rights crowd — the reference to the donkey as taking “its place in the food chain”; the statement “Animal welfare is important, but the welfare of humans is in my eyes even more important … and that includes freedom of expression”; and his final stand and declaration of opposition, “I acted conscientiously, and I don’t suppose we’ll ever agree on that”; Those are not the words of Kim Basinger or Pamela Anderson. He even made the worst charge an artist can possibly make — ignorance or misunderstanding of his work (“The charge made in many of the letters of killing a donkey ‘for entertainment’ is one that I refute on the grounds that such charges can only originate from ignorance of my films … particularly ‘entertaining’ is something surely nobody would call them!”)

I have not been able to find Von Trier’s actual statement (and I even did what I could with a couple of Danish sites). The news reports are filled with these puckish quotes, but none saying, in Von Trier’s own words, “I am cutting out the scene of a donkey being killed.” Instead we get him saying the completed “perfect” adjective “dead” — “I cut all the scenes showing the dead donkey out of the film” — rather than the progressive “being killed” or “killing.” So I have a sneaking suspicion that Von Trier might be preparing an “opening day surprise” — it’s something I could see his particular sense of humor doing. And there is precedent for great Catholic filmmakers — Mel Gibson with Matthew 27:25, and (sorta) Luis Bunuel with VIRIDIANA. However, I am hesitant to put too much stock in this kind of Clintonian word-parse analysis though, since English is not Von Trier’s native language and the statement probably was originally made in Danish.

There’s an element of wishful thinking in this scenario too. About the last film-maker in the world I would expect to back down from fear of giving offense is the man who made DOGVILLE, THE IDIOTS and BREAKING THE WAVES. The man who ordered Jorgen Leth to eat a sumptuous meal on a street in the red-light district of Bombay. It’s like Roberto Duran saying “no mas.”

And the offense was taken by whom — “animal lovers.” Lars Von Trier, if through some miracle or mechanism you ever read this, please take this advice from your biggest fan in the world: Do-gooding sentimental liberals hate your films anyway. There’s nothing to gain by them, and general scandal always helps films at the box office anyway, as I know you know. Decisions about what goes into a work of art should be made by the artist alone (that’s Von Trier in this case, not “animal lovers”) for reasons related only to the work, and without regard for outside organized pressure groups or the audience’s reaction. PETA has no more right to Lars Von Trier’s final cut than the ADL had to Mel Gibson’s. And if he believes, as his statement says, that “I feel that my conscience is clean in regard to animal welfare,” then he has an affirmative obligation NOT to back down (this is pretty standard Catholic teaching). To change his film acknowledges not only their right over his film but the righteousness of that right. And that’s just wrong.

March 3, 2005 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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