To introduce the concept of Obstructions, Professor Villanueva showed us a movie called Det Perfekt Menneske (1967), by Jørgen Leth. He asked us what we thought it was and how we would respond to it. It showed two ordinary people, a male and a female, doing normal things that all people do. At the beginning, it seemed like a “how to” video, showing how human body is done and works, and the same with human behaviour, as it may happen with animals or even pieces of furniture or machines. The music was really contrasting with the atmosphere and the theme of the video – it was very lively and sweet.
Professor told us that we were watching Leth’s signature film. He asked us what we noticed about it. I think the woman was much more sexualised than the man, and she looked like she was posing for a magazine. I loved her fancy dress with feathers, the shoes that were very 60s. I really appreciated the sounds the guy and the girl were producing, especially when he lit up his pipe. There was a lot of repetition in their actions and in what the voice-off said, so yes, there was definitely a lot of repetition both in action and language, and the voice was a bit monotone. I also noticed that the man and the woman had no scenes together, they were always separated. I liked that she wore makeup and smoked, which I found was a sign that the film didn’t represent perfection at all. They were very serious all along the video, except from the end, when he started dancing and then smiling. That was of course the most interesting part.
After the movie, Professor told us that Lars Von Trier revised the movie, and showed us a clip about the making of his own movie. So there were three movies inside one: Det Perfekt Menneske by Leth, the 2003 Lars Von Trier version, and the film of the making, which is called The Five Obstructions. The director of the 2001 version was Leth himself! He was instructed by Von Trier with very precise obstructions. From Wikipedia:
- Leth must remake the film in Cuba, with no set, and with no shot lasting longer than twelve frames, and he must answer the questions posed in the original film; Leth successfully completes this task.
- Leth must remake the film in the worst place in the world but not show that place onscreen; additionally, Leth must himself play the role of “the man.” The meal must be included, but the woman is not to be included. Leth remakes the film in the red light district of Mumbai, only partially hiding it behind a translucent screen.
- Because Leth failed to complete the second task perfectly, von Trier punishes him, telling him to either remake the film in any way he chooses, or else to repeat it again with the second obstruction in Mumbai. Leth chooses the first option and remakes the film in Brussels, using split-screen effects.
- Leth must remake the film as a cartoon. He does so with the aid of Bob Sabiston, a specialist in rotoscoping, who creates animated versions of shots from the previous films. As such the final product is technically an animation but not a cartoon. Nevertheless, von Trier considers the task to be completed successfully.
- The fifth obstruction is that von Trier has already made the fifth version, but it must be credited as Leth’s, and Leth must read a voice-over narration, ostensibly from his own perspective but in fact one written by von Trier.
We only saw a part of the film, but it was very interesting. Lars Von Trier called his constraints “a gift“, as limits could actually help creativity. This is something that may people would not like, but I actually find it exciting. I like to feel challenged when writing. Obstructions can lead to even better and surprising results – and I think that, in this case, this is definitely true. There is also more satisfaction in dealing with challenges rather than just doing what you like and how you like.
And anyway, everyone has always their own way to get to a result, their own lead, despite obstructions: you still use your creativity. Detours can bring to a better destination. Language and Imagination, the title of this class, means also to see and keep off the form, or keep it close to us. To break the rules but also follow them and see where they can take us. They can instruct us more than we think.