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By Molly Haskell
Years before he and Thomas Vinterberg issued the well-known Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier wrote three similarly impassioned artist’s statements, one to accompany each of the films that make up his loosely configured “Europe Trilogy”: The Element of Crime (1984), Epidemic (1987), and Europa (1991). In this, the last of the three, written for Europa, he explains movie magic and confesses his carnal sins. It appeared as follows in the 2005 Electric Parc (Copenhagen) DVD release of the trilogy.
Seemingly all is well: Film director Lars von Trier is a scientist, artist, and human being. And yet I say: I am a human being. But I’m an artist. But I’m a film director.
I cry as I write these lines, for how sham was my attitude. Who am I to lecture and chastise? Who am I to scornfully brush aside other people’s lives and work? My shame is only compounded by my apology that I had been seduced by the arrogance of science falling to the ground as a lie! For it is true that I have been trying to intoxicate myself in a cloud of sophistries about the purpose of art and the artist’s obligations, that I have thought up ingenious theories on the anatomy and the nature of film, but—and I confess this openly—I have never come close to disguising my innermost passion with this pathetic smoke screen: MY CARNAL DESIRE.
Our relationship with film can be described and explained in many ways. We should make films with the intention to educate, we may want to use film as a ship that will take us on a journey to unknown lands, or we can claim that the goal of our films is to make the audience laugh or cry, and pay. This may all sound plausible, but I do not believe in it.
There is only one excuse for living through—and forcing others to live through—the hell of the filmmaking process: the carnal satisfaction in that fraction of a second when the cinema’s loudspeakers and projector in unison and inexplicably give rise to the illusion of motion and sound like an electron leaving its orbit and thus creating light, in order to create ONLY ONE THING—a miraculous breath of life! This is the filmmaker’s only reward, hope, and craving. This carnal experience when movie magic really works, rushing through the body like a quivering orgasm . . . It is my quest for this experience that has always been and always will be behind all my work and efforts . . . NOTHING ELSE! There, I’ve written it, and it felt good. And forget all the bogus explanations about “childlike fascination” and “all-encompassing humility.” For here is my confession: LARS VON TRIER, A SIMPLE MASTURBATOR OF THE SILVER SCREEN.
Still, in part three of the trilogy, Europa, I have not made even the slightest attempt at a diversion. Purity and clarity have been achieved at last! Here nothing conceals reality under a sickly layer of “art” . . . No trick is too tacky, no device too cheap, no effect too tasteless.
JUST GIVE ME A SINGLE TEAR OR ONE DROP OF SWEAT; I WILL GLADLY GIVE YOU ALL THE WORLD’S “ART” IN RETURN.
One final word. Let only God judge my alchemic attempts at creating life on celluloid. One thing is certain. Life outside the cinema can never be equaled, for it is his creation and therefore divine.