Tuesday, October 3, 2017

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS


The Five Obstructions is a film that hammers home what I try to do here at PINNLAND EMPIRE. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - cinematic influences & visual similarities aren’t the most important factor when it comes to film analysis but it is important nonetheless. Simply for the fact that it’s nice to know where the roots of a more recent film came from. So when I was asked to join in on a loose lecture/discussion on the subject I jumped on it without hesitation (this is a written version of my “presentation” on the importance of The Five Obstructions for Video Revival in Brooklyn).

In The Five Obstructions Lars Von Trier sets out to recreate one of his all-time favorite films (The Perfect Human) with the help of Perfect Human director; Jørgen Leth (there’s a deeper reason as to why Von Trier sought help from Leth that we’ll get in to later). Through the course of the film Von Trier & Leth make five experimental variations of Leth’s original short.
For those unfamiliar - like I was prior to 2003 - The Perfect Human is a Danish experimental short from 1963 that left a lasting impression on a young Lars Von Trier decades before The Five Obstructions came to be.

In Von Trier’s television series The Kingdom (R) we see LvT dressed just like the protagonist from The Perfect Human (L) using sign language to address the audience...

In Europa Von Trier tips his hat to the shaving sequence in The Perfect Human (there are a million shaving scenes in a million movies but given Von Trier’s obvious love of The Perfect Human I like to think his homage in Europa was specific).
The Perfect Human / Europa

The Perfect Human’s (possible) influence & visual similarities branch out beyond the cinema of Lars Von Trier. The French New Wave was well under way by the time of The Perfect Human’s release but Leth’s visuals share some striking similarities to a few key French New Wave Films like A Married Woman...

The Perfect Human / A Married Woman

And I know Repulsion isn’t a full-on French New Wave film, but from the Jazz score, the jazzy black & white cinematography & the presence of Catherine Deneuve, it’s a distant relative.
In Repulsion we get a close up of a nail cutting scene similar to one in Leth’s The Perfect Human...

The Perfect Human / Repulsion

and this scene in Repulsion would go on to echo in the work of Lodge Kerrigan...

Repulsion / Clean, Shaven / Claire Dolan

There are also some visual similarities with early George Lucas...

The Perfect Human / THX 1138

I think I’ve always had an appreciation for Von Trier more than his peers because while he can be incredibly arrogant at times, he’s never hesitated for a second to list off his cinematic influence. From Tarkovsky & Dreyer to Leth & Scorsese, LvT has never been above paying respect to those that came before him. He actually wanted to make a sequel to The Five Obstructions with Martin Scorsese but it fell through...


The Five Obstructions goes deeper than just recreating shots & comparing new & old images. This loose documentary is also a light study in depression. Prior to The Five Obstructions Jørgen Leth was suffering from severe depression. Lars Von Trier discovered this and came to the aid of his fellow Dane by getting him to direct. Lars Von Trier has suffered from depression himself so I’m sure he understood the struggle. This is just one example of many where we see an active filmmaker reach out to help an inactive filmmaker through directing. The Five Obstructions is kind of a sequel to Lightning Over Water where we see Wim Wenders working with his idol Nicholas Ray. In 1980 John Cassavetes got Peter Bogdanovich out of his severe depression by having him direct a few of scenes in Gloria.

Lightning Over Water / The Five Obstructions

The Five Obstructions was not only an homage/experimental collaboration between two filmmakers but also a form of therapy (by the end of the film Jorgen Leth seems like a happier person).

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...