Several weeks ago I started reading David Mamet’s book Bambi vs. Godzilla; On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. I was just getting started when Lars von Trier’s Nazi remarks were reported at the Cannes Film Festival. In this blog I offer some observations on media frenzy; anti-semitism in cinema, and the role of the Director as romantic and rebellious auteur. What are the connections?
Whatever Lars von Trier actually said; intended to say; or really thinks, there was understandable outrage that the suffering and deaths of millions could be so nonchalantly brushed aside in passing remarks. The celebrated director appeared to proclaim himself a Nazi. Enough is enough?
But let’s consider, before we rush in to judgment, that the missing scandal, at Cannes, is film itself, where the worthy desire to unmask and reveal, and to improve our poor fallen world, is also enmeshed with a billion dollar industry, designed to profit from suffering. Hollywood cinema is the perpetuation of capitalism and globalization at symbolic and real levels of exploitation and marginalisation. In the film industry, the dominant mode is not one of sincerity, integrity and honesty. David Mamet, let’s recall, has written on the industry as ‘A Whore’s Profession’
Do we really see what is behind the screen? Is the Cannes Festival 2011, from which Trier was expelled, actually the Paradise of free art, and a beacon of hope for all? Do the Cannes Judges exercise a divine judgement? Is there not an unspeakable in the midst of Cannes, that is far more of a scandal? Workers of the world, tear down the screen of deceptions! Cannes may not be Hollywood but perhaps it conceals its complicity with celebrity and power under a cloak of respectability and political correctness. The systematic traditionalism of Cannes outweighs the foolish and ill-chosen words of Mr Trier and his suicide-driven self-publicity.
Let’s pause to think, what does a film do to anguish and suffering? The simulation of real life is often, let’s recall, a dissimulation, a transformation. It is not the Thing Itself. May I quote Mamet at this juncture?
The magic feather in film is bathos: the kitten and the dog who must find their way home, the crippled child, Jews dying. (17)
What Lars von Trier said was
"What can I say? I understand Hitler. He did some wrong things, absolutely, but I can see him sitting there in his bunker at the end ... I sympathise with him, yes, a little bit."
Attempting to extricate himself from his self-dug grave, he added: "But come on, I am not for the second world war, and I am not against Jews. I am very much for Jews; well not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still, how can I get out of this sentence ... OK I'm a Nazi." (Source)
“The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments.
The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology.
The direction of the festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier's apology. The festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects”
“I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi because my family was German Hartmann which also gave me some pleasure.” (YouTube)
As it turned out, David Mamet has been much in the news recently for the shocking revelations that he has turned to the right politically and now supports the most conservative positions.
Perhaps we should stop listening to directors, abandon any notion that these gigantic auteurs exercise any authority outside of their aesthetic productions?
A close reading of their work reveals contradiction and inconsistency? Or is it just a confused and misleading ironic strategy?
I predict a growth of the Jew as monster in the next few years’ films. Well, why not? Alfonso Bedoya and John Huston inaugurated a few decades of the vicious Mexican […] Jeremy kemp et al. made the British accent the tocsin of evil quite effectively for quite a while. 18
I think it is not impossible that Asperger’s syndrome helped make the movies […] This sounds to me like a job description for a movie director. Let me note also that Asperger’s syndrome has its highest prevalence among the Ashkenazi Jews and their descendents. (19)
He proceeds to explains that the rabbis and Hassidic masters intermarried, leading to a prevalence of the syndrome, to 600 years of Polish rabbis ‘and one hundred of their genetic descendents, American film directors.’ (21)
How many lunatic or vile creations of our day are labelled good clean fun? 41
Mamet compared the greed for resources in the film and in the ‘defence’ industry (war machine) “Enough money spent can cure anything. You are a member of a country, a part of a system capable of wasting two hundred million dollars on an hour and a half of garbage. You must be somebody.” (35)
Movies possess the power to speak to the human soul, to free us from the weight of repression.
What is repressed? Odour knowledge of our own worthlessness. (48)
Trier has noted that he was brought up in an atheist family, and that although Ulf Trier was Jewish, he was not religious. He did not discover the identity of his biological father until 1989. His parents did not allow much room in their household for "feelings, religion, or enjoyment", and also refused to make any rules for their children, with complex results for von Trier's personality and development. (Wikipedia)
Is that how an auteur is fashioned? Or excused?
Let’s conclude with another reputed anti-semite (it’s fashionable?) and celebrated auteur, the acclaimed great Jean-Luc Godard, who was recently interviewed in The Guardian.
“We are edging towards the prickly subject of Godard's alleged antisemitism, a subject that reared its head again last year when he got an honorary Oscar. His hostility to Israel and strong support for the Palestinian cause has often been conflated with a hatred of Jews, a claim he says is "idiotic". The philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy, who worked with him on a number of aborted projects about "the Jewish being", once called him a man "trying to cure himself of his antisemitism". This may or may not come from his upper-class Swiss-French family, many of whom were sympathetic to Vichy. In Film Socialisme, he again puts his hand in the wasps' nest with such lines as: "How strange that Hollywood should be invented by the Jews." (Interview with Fiachra Gibbons, in The Guardian, 12 July 2012)
But Godard has, thankfully, moved away from the Director as auteur, and welcomes the democratisation of film making:
"I am not an auteur, well, not now anyway," he says as casually, as if it was like giving up smoking. "We once believed we were auteurs but we weren't. We had no idea, really. Film is over. It's sad nobody is really exploring it. But what to do? And anyway, with mobile phones and everything, everyone is now an auteur." (Interview with Fiachra Gibbons, in The Guardian, 12 July 2012)
Maybe that’s the way out of Cannes … away from Hollywood … beyond the auteur … avoiding the trap of anti-semitism … with an opportunity to embrace creativity, democracy and participation. That really would be a cinema capable of transformation. A postfilm universe?
A Recipe for Auteur Film Directors (14-point toolkit)
A Recipe for Auteur Film Directors (14-point toolkit)