Monday, October 6, 2014

Dogville; the Unification of Staging and Props

In a little valley trapped within the American Rockies lies a small town beside an abandoned silver mine, named Dogville. 
   We soon discover this charming village, with a little more than a dozen of individuals, encounters the beautiful Grace Mulligan. She’s a young woman in her twenties on the loose from the Mafia. But as the citizens demur about sheltering the girl, they begin to reveal the unexpected severity of immorality lying inside themselves.
It’s very shocking. 
It’s very disturbing. 
But if there’s one psychological drama you must see, it’s this: Dogville

Written and directed by Lars von Trier in 2003, Dogville brings us into a story with an incredibly dramatic and unified production style. Imagine a blend of theater and documentary, a blend of Kammerspielfilm and avant-garde, and out computes Dogville. What’s really striking in this cinematic piece is the flawless unification of setting and props. In many ways, it explores a dark psychology that brings together the narrative, the editing, the characters, and the lighting.

Bare of any pretty, aesthetic elements (like walls, trees, flowers, or grass), the staging needlessly focuses on the bare-bone actions of the individuals. This clear aesthetic intensifies the effect of the narrative structure. It almost looks look a soundstage, with chalk-like lines depicting where normal scenery might be placed, and without seeing anything beyond the village, the townspeople almost seem stuck in their own little universe. 
Something that breaks my heart was the brilliant use of the prop, the contraption chained to a steel wheel, that symbolizes how stuck Grace becomes in in the town.

This is when I think a Stuart Craig quote fits into play here: 

“The best sets are the simplest, most ‘decent’ ones; everything should contribute to the feeling of the story and anything that does not do this has no place. Reality is usually too complicated.” 

I’m pretty sure Dogville went above and beyond with the simplification of its set to fulfill its potential. It unifies the story. The sound-stage-like staging highlights the sickening selfishness of the townspeople, and how they witness everything (for example, **spoiler alert** when Grace is raped for the first time, the camera moves from a very close-up shot to a drastic faraway shot, revealing how the whole town is always witness to its injustices). 

When I limped away after watching the unexpected ending (again, **spoiler alert**, Grace makes the decision for the town to be burnt down when we find out that the Mafia Leader is her Father), 
many questions boggled my mind. 

Did the townspeople deserve their fate? 
Would Grace have turned out like them in their circumstance? 
What was the right decision? Or is there even one? 

Ultimately, this proves one of the many reasons why I admire Lars von Trier. His decision to create this kind of staging forced me ponder about this difficult questions. 

So leave a comment below on what you think! (of course, you should try to watch the film first)

'Til next time! 

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