10 Films (and Directors) That Lars Von Trier Should Obstruct

By  · Published on February 18th, 2010

Earlier in the week, we were treated to the rumor that Martin Scorsese was open to remaking Taxi Driver with Lars Von Trier. That turned out to be wrong. Probably. Yes. Most likely. Definitely. But it was just enough to make Devin Faraci over at CHUD salivate over the possibility of Von Trier torturing Scorsese the same way he tortured Jorgen Leth in The Five Obstructions (which you may remember from our 30 Best of the Decade List).

In the film, Von Trier takes his idol and runs him through a gauntlet of remaking his own masterpiece five different times using five different obstacles or strict guidelines.

That won’t happen with Taxi Driver, but it did get us thinking about what films would be great for Lars Von Trier to work his magic on, which directors for him to challenge and put through the ringer.

As a bonus, we have offered our own first obstruction for each, just to get the creative juices flowing. Ten master filmmakers. Ten early masterpieces. Ten major challenges.

So without further ado and without unnecessary explanation for this convoluted idea, Landon Palmer and I present our 10 Films We’d Like to See Lars Von Trier Force Their Directors To Remake Under Strict Guidelines That Are Meant to Challenge Them Creatively:

(In no particular order).

Terrance Malick’s Days of Heaven

Why Him: Malick can be a polarizing figure – audiences either see his films as poetic or insufferable. I view his work from the standpoint of the former category, as Malick captures detailed nature and human naturalism in subtle ways that few filmmakers have. In making only four films in as many decades, Malick has established a powerfully influential signature style, but one rooted in repeated uses of dialogue and patterns of shooting and editing in this film. In Malick, Von Trier would find a specimen worthy of being shaken out of his artful corner in the aggressive, confrontational way that only Von Trier can do it.

The Obstruction: Von Trier would have Malick remake the “Swarm of Locusts” scene from Days of Heaven, but force the improvisatory, endless-take-prone Malick to do so with only thirty minutes of film. And Malick won’t be allowed to use voice-over narration at any point. Oh, and here’s the kicker: the entire sequence has to be shot indoors. -LP

Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless

Why Him: Because he’s still alive. Godard has continued his film career the past few decades without fail, though his selected canon for the Criterion Collection would suggest otherwise as he hasn’t released a film commercially in the US in possibly several decades. But word from across the Atlantic says his work is just as envelope-pushing and cinema-worshipping as ever. As co-founder of the New Wave, Godard is exactly the type of manifesto-writing filmmaker Von Trier imitated when he made Dogme 95. Von Trier no doubt sees himself as the type of venerated, world-class arthouse filmmaker that Godard realized himself to be.

The Obstruction: Von Trier and Godard have spent their whole careers trying to disrupt the passive viewing habits we’ve cultivated through watching Hollywood movies, so Von Trier’s task for Godard would be to basically commit personal ideological heresy by reshooting any scene from Breathless as if it were a classical Hollywood film. If Godard can’t make his film indistinguishable from the styles of, say, John Huston or Howard Hawks, he has to endure the wrath of Von Trier. -LP

David Fincher’s Se7en

Why Him: Fincher is one of the greatest living directors, but he’s also notorious for being an insane person. He rolls take after take at OCD levels of perfectionism whether he’s forcing a stuntman to fling himself down some stairs or wanting just the right amount of sunlight to hit an actor’s face. He also asks for the impossible technologically, and he usually gets it.

The Obstruction: Von Trier would probably admire the insanity and perfection of Fincher’s visuals, but he wouldn’t hesitate to challenge him by forcing him to remake the final “What’s in the Box?” scene in Se7en in the mumblecore style. No script, no plan, no definitive look. And he only gets one take to get it right. Whatever “right” might mean at the time. -CA

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris

Why Him: Bertolucci is a relic, he is (like Godard) one of the last of the great European art filmmakers from the 60s and 70s. Like Von Trier, Bertolucci hasn’t let age lessen his ability to provoke, as he continues to make confrontational films like The Dreamers which prove to be just as challenging in their content (if not as impactful) as his 70s work. Both Von Trier and Bertolucci are known for staging explicit and sometimes disturbing sex scenes, which makes Bertolucci the perfect subject for Von Trier to venerate and then, of course, torture.

The Obstruction: Reshoot the famous “Butter” scene from Last Tango in Paris, but in a way that would give it only a PG rating. Bertolucci has tried for decades to get the uncut version of Last Tango to receive an R rating without success, so with self-imposed censorship, Von Trier would make Bertolucci face his greatest challenge. -LP

Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands

Why Him: As iconic as he is, he has also fallen into the deepest rut of any modern master filmmaker. He uses the same actors, the same score (since Danny Elfman has also fallen into a rut), and he uses the same tones, themes, and color schemes. It’s a shame that we consider a man exploring the color palette he loves as becoming a parody of himself, but it would also be great to see his boundaries pushed to the limit.

The Obstruction: There’s no better way to break the cycle than to place Burton under the stringent rules of filming Edward Scissorhands (the whole damned thing) as a Dogme 95 movie. Which was conveniently co-invented by Von Trier himself. The rules are simple:

And, of course, the final two rules are the worst for Burton

Let’s see if that pulls him out of his rut. -CA

The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple.

Why Them: The Coens are not only modern masters and Academy Award-winners, they are also consistent borrowers from famous genres. Celebrators of story styles. They’ve tackled almost all of them, paying homage to their influences while adding something of their own brilliance to the artform.

The Obstruction: Not tied down to any particular style, the Coens actually have the opposite going for them as they display their love for all genres with each new film they make. But there’s one thing they’ve always done: they’ve always shared double duty on writing, directing and editing. Von Trier could split up the pair by forcing them each to re-write, plan, direct and edit the famous chase scene between Visser and Abby at the climax of Blood Simple separately. They wouldn’t be able to consult with each other, would have to choose locations and actors separately, and couldn’t speak to each other until both projects were edited and ready for viewing by Von Trier. -CA

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation

Why Him: He made some of the greatest films in the greatest decade of American cinema, the 1970s. He gave birth to new possibilities in American cinematic storytelling and basically introduced a creative monarchy as his family members and offspring established their places in Hollywood. Now that he’s receded to the shadows, he uses his wine fortune to make any damn movie he wants, forgoing the easy paycheck of The Rainmaker for the challenging – if underwhelming – art of Youth Without Youth in hopes of not letting Jack piss on the astounding cinematic legacy of his early career.

The Obstruction: I bet Von Trier, an admitted cinephile, is an admirer of Coppola’s 70s work, seeing him as one of the rare, good American filmmakers within the system. But there’s no way Von Trier can forgive Coppola for his later directing jobs, which is why he’ll make Coppola potentially ruin one of his greatest achievements by forcing him to shoot the opening scene of The Conversation, free of Walter Murch, as a silent film. Coppola is a cinematic master, so Von Trier’s true test of artistic merit lies in whether or not the godfather of modern American cinema can pull off suggesting noise through purely visual means, thereby scaling the level of Coppola’s alleged admiration for the great silent filmmakers like Abel Gance and F. W. Murnau. -LP

Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke

Why Him: As brilliant as this director is (alongside the genius animators he works with), his stories and visions are fairly standardized. You can easily guess the types of magical characters, water themes, and visuals he’ll use throughout what is normally an epic hero’s journey. Brilliant, but similar. Time for a challenge.

The Obstruction: It’s difficult to even think about forcing an animation director to do this, but that devious Von Trier would probably have him do the famous “Deer God/Forest Destruction” scene from Princess Mononoke live action (the same way he made Jorgen Leth do animation for his originally live action short). This would strip Miyazaki of the biggest visual weapon in his arsenal. Even more diabolical would be denying the use of any CGI – forcing the giant Deer God to be done completely with practical effects. -CA

Woody Allen’s Manhattan

Why Him: Woody Allen is one of the great American filmmakers, one who stands out with Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorsese as the men who shaped how moviegoers see New York City. His dialogue in inimitable, his characters unforgettable. Sure, he’s had more hits than misses in recent years, but the man made Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters for cryin’ out loud! But Woody’s filmmaking has been stuck in the habits of routine, and Von Trier is the perfect candidate to make Woody’s films peek outside the box.

The Obstruction: Allen couldn’t be more different than Von Trier. His films are talky, usually visually uninteresting, and he doesn’t work thoroughly with his actors. Allen’s films only work because of his writing, so Von Trier’s task would be to remove Woody from the one thing that inspires him to write: the city. No New York, no London, no Barcelona. For this obstruction, Von Trier forces Woody to recreate, beat-for-beat, the opening voice-over landscape dialogue sequence of the closest film Woody came to being a visual masterpiece, Manhattan. Von Trier will force Woody to remake that opening sequence of Manhattan in the White Sands Desert of New Mexico, as Woody must find an equivalently inspired black-and-white means of depicting the illustrious beauty of the deserted southwest desert as he does with the northeast’s mecca of culture in Manhattan. Von Trier will force Woody to fall in love with barren nothingness in the same way that Woody loves the metropolis. -LP

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws

Why Him: Because he’s one of the most celebrated directors of modern times across all audiences. His style and storytelling has varied over the years, but that doesn’t make him immune to the challenge of taking a hard, fresh look at one of his earliest masterpieces.

The Obstruction: Von Trier would be especially brutal in this case because Spielberg is such a household name, and Jaws is such a cultural icon. It would be cruel enough to simply force the director to work with the same shitty animatronic sharks again, but the more creative option of destroying that icon would be forcing the man to remake the famous “Bigger Boat” attack scene on an empty soundstage ala Dogville. A bone-dry minimal set with nothing but actors and dialogue to draw out the scene. There’s a joke here about a fish out of water, but I refuse to make it. -CA

Editor’s Note: This list was lovingly, and foolishly compiled by Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius.

An author similar to Hydra. Its articles have many authors. It has many heads. Please don’t cut off any of its heads, we’re trying to work here.