1995 was an eclectic year for cinema, from Toy Story and Apollo 13, to Braveheart and Casino, the year seemed to have something for everyone. Yet, the very fact that it did have something for everyone actually seemed to bother some directors, and a counter culture movement was born.
Frustrated with the constructs of modern cinema and the perceived overproduction of films from the early to mid-90’s, two Danish filmmakers, Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, created a movement called Dogme 95 with hopes of freeing directors from “certain tendencies” commonly seen in films of the day. Reportedly banged out in 45 minutes, Dogme 95 or “The Vow of Chastity” as they affectionately refer to it, has a hard and fast ten-rule layout, which can empower, frustrate and sometimes even eradicate a film crew.
We dove into each of the tenants, as well as the directors, scenes, and films that follow them, in hopes that we can learn something from the sweet yet harsh rules that are “The Dogme 95.”
Rule #1: Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in.
The fist rule of Dogme 95 sets the scene for all the rest, so get used to the theme now. Best put, it can be described as “raw,” which in this case refers to the location: nothing in the film can be inserted on the set. Need a hotel room with both a grand piano and a suit of armor in your set? Pack your bags; you will need to find a hotel that natively has both a suit of armor and a grand piano, that simple.
Rule #2: The sound must never be produced apart from the image or vice-versa.
With ADR (automated dialogue replacement) becoming more and more of a common occurrence, this is one of those constricting and also oddly liberating rules. You’ll have to pay far more attention to your boom mic operation during filming, but afterward you can move on without post-production audio. Either you recorded it while filming or not, so make sure that you watch your dailies, well, daily. Also, want music in your film? Well make sure to hire a pianist for that grand piano, because that can’t be added after filming either.
Rule #3: The camera must be handheld. Any movement or mobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
Popular in both documentaries and mockumentaries, and recently seen in films such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield as well as television shows like The Office and Louie, this is becoming a more and more common, and when combined with a single camera technique it allows for a more gritty and realistic final product.
Subtle hand held cameras techniques are becoming more and more common.
Rule #4: The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable.
No special light is allowed in the film at all, so it’s best to have a camera that allows for a big aperture. Now, you don’t have to go as extreme as Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, which relied on candles to such a degree a lens designed for NASA moon missions had to be used.
Rule #5: Optical work and filters are forbidden.
Long before there was the #nofilter movement, there was footage that simply looked “real,” bearing no explanation. One of the overarching themes of the Dogme 95 disallows the director to stylize the film, at all. Each shot should appear just as the eyes saw it, so check your After Effects skills at the door.
Rule #6: The film must not contain superficial action.
Most people go through their lives without being shot at by armed gunmen, getting caught in an explosion, or saving an entire family from a burning building, yet still face drama one way or another. Dogme 95 tries to emulate real life as much as possible and realist films like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days to Bicycle Thieves, and even My Dinner With Andre, which don’t need to depict a bank heist in order to tell a compelling story.
Rule #7: Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden.
There is only here and now. Plenty of directors and films abide by this this, but the Dardenne brothers, Haneke and Farhadi are masters. L’enfant, Armor and A Separation are gritty real films that don’t depend on extensive flashbacks and scene changes to tell a story. They derive inspiration from what’s around us every day, making the mundane extraordinary.
Rule #8: Genre movies are not acceptable.
Tarantino, Scorsese, and even Kurosawa need to take notes if they wanted to fit into this category. Very similar to the ban of “superficial action,” this restriction is to allow the characters, story, and cinematography do their jobs. Recent films like films Cyrus, Take Shelter, and the Before Sunset trilogy have been breaking out of the genre box by stressing content over style and minimalist post-production mindsets.
Rule #9: The film format must be Academy 35mm.
It might be difficult for an up and coming director to get the swing of shooting in film (not to mention the expensive, with film stock running around $.50 for every 2/3 of a second). Still, using film remains a standard for cinema purists like Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel).
Rule #10: The director must not be credited.
This one is a bit more difficult to come by. It’s not a stretch to say that overall, Hollywood might have a penchant for narcissism, but there are in fact cases where directors have chosen to go uncredited, for a variety of reasons.
Powerhouse cinema duo Joel and Ethan Coen have been known to use a single penname out of (assumed) modesty. Combined, they write, direct, and produce all of their films, so they are pretty used to seeing their surname in lights. This is presumably why they chose the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes for some of their editing work as well, and in fact the fictional Jaymes has been nominated for two Academy Awards, for both Fargo and No Country For Old Men.
In addition to these ten rules, Von Trier and Vinterberg also close their manifesto with one last must:
“Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste. I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a ‘work’, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.”
All things considered the thought process of the commandments are actually quite simple—adding a few strict constrictions to your work might actually free up the process, allowing you to focus on the story and characters rather than being bogged down by production and post-production woes. Von Trier, the more vocal of the rule makers, made his motivation behind the movement clear by stating, “In a business of extremely high budgets, we figured we should balance the dynamic as much as possible.” Given that quote, it is simple to see how the “95” is perfect for budding filmmakers—or not.
Brian Platt writes about directors, film, and slightly pretentious cinema movements for VideoBlocks.com
Lead Image Courtesy of Nimbus Film Productions