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Sexual Perversity in Denmark: An Interview with Lars von Trier

Sexual Perversity in Denmark: An Interview with Lars von Trier (photo)

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What does it take to be hailed the bad boy of Danish cinema? Among other feats, Lars von Trier co-signed the Dogme 95 manifesto, forcing regimented rules upon filmmakers in a cry for anti-blockbuster honesty. His own entry, “The Idiots,” pissed people off for featuring able-bodied adults pretending to find their “inner spazz.” He began two trilogies he has no intention of finishing (though one of the main actors from “The Kingdom” died after Part II), and forced aging mentor Jørgen Leth to remake his own short film with multiple sets of no-win restrictions in the experimental doc “The Five Obstructions.” More notoriously, von Trier has plucked amazing performances out of actresses who don’t seem to want to work with him again, including Nicole Kidman (who blamed scheduling problems for why she couldn’t reprise her lead role in “Dogville” in the sequel “Manderlay”) and “Dancer in the Dark” star Björk, who once referred to von Trier’s working methods as “emotional pornography.” And on and on you can trace the mischievous milestones of an eclectic and challenging career that dabbles in meta-apocalypses (1983’s “Epidemic”), realist dramatic epics (1996’s “Breaking the Waves”) and avant-garde comedies (2006’s “The Boss of It All”).

“Antichrist,” however, proves the most controversial film yet in the 53-year-old provocateur’s career. Made in a well-documented fit of depression, the disturbing psychodrama stars Willem Dafoe and a fearless Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won the Best Actress award at Cannes) as an unnamed married couple who have just suffered the death of their child. Dafoe’s character, a psychiatrist, suggests a trip to their remote cabin in the woods in order to treat her post-traumatic paralysis, and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Mystical acorn showers, ghostly images between the trees and an animatronic fox snarling “Chaos reigns!” seep into the gorgeously gloomy compositions, and let’s just say the images become so boldly graphic (sexually and violently, sometimes at the same time) that at least two audience members have so far passed out. Since von Trier doesn’t fly, we spoke by Skype webcam, which allowed us to talk about his shamanic journeys, nipple negotiations and the t-shirt he was wearing that day.

I think it’s only polite to ask, “How are you feeling today?”

I’m feeling better. I don’t really want to admit it, but I am.

Is it uncomfortable to be continually discussing your mental health with journalists?

No, it’s a fact for me, and it has a lot to do with what you’re doing… At an early point, I decided that I should talk about my anxieties because it’s much easier. So I’m fine about it, but I think the readers must’ve reached the limit now of knowing about my mental problems. [laughs]

You’ve demonstrated a puckish sense of humor in your other projects, but this film feels so grave. Would it be wrong to say this is the most sincere film you’ve made yet?

Yeah, I would say that it’s the one film that I tried not to control too much. Maybe some of the humor comes in the second time you write a script. I tried to write it fast, and I hadn’t made an effort to not make it symbolic and to not make it too logical, so it’s more of a mess than the other films I did, but I think it was somewhat intentional.

“Antichrist” has many champions, but some people booed after a screening in Cannes. Do you take any satisfaction that at least they didn’t have a middling response?

You’re absolutely right. I have some kind of strange fascination about being yelled at, yes. [laughs]

Could you discuss the relationship in your writing between this more naturalistic story of a grieving couple, and the fever-dream imagery haunting the second half of the film?

A lot of the images come earlier in your life. I made something we call shamanic journeys, where you travel to this parallel world on the drumbeat, and then bring something home. These animals, and a lot of the images from the film, were inspired by this.

Did one of the “Three Beggars” in the film — the fox, the deer, or the crow — represent you on your journeys?

No, no, no. In English, I think it’s called an otter. I always thought they were very playful and beautiful animals. You have this power animal that you contact, and that you use.

10212009_Antichrist.jpgWhat kind of research went into the psychology of the film, in both Willem’s unorthodox treatment and Charlotte’s behavior?

I didn’t really have to do much research because the anxiety is something I’ve fortunately felt too much of. The form of therapy that he’s doing — in a very wrong way, of course — is called cognitive therapy, which I’ve been undergoing for almost three years.

Has it helped?

[laughs] I’ve tried so many things. Yes, I think it’s helping, but it’s not a wonder drug. It’s the best thing you can do right now.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.