Neil Calloway thinks we should all just ignore directors who provoke on purpose….
Since Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built was screened at Cannes last week, prompting walkouts from assembled critics, the Danish Dogme director has received publicity on a scale not seen since, well, since the last time he was at Cannes and made comments about understanding Hitler, a move which got him banned from the festival in 2011.
Hold on, if he was banned in 2011, what’s he doing back there this year? Because Cannes and controversialists like von Trier have a symbiotic relationship, feeding off each other and requiring the buzz that the other creates to sustain them. Be honest, how much coverage of Cannes had you noticed before von Trier provoked the press into paroxysms of outrage? They did well out of it, as did he; when was the last time a Matt Dillon film got this level of publicity?
Von Trier’s films are Deadpool for intellectuals. They’re deliberately provocative and designed to make you feel smug that you get it, not like the hoi polloi who just don’t. Complaining about his films being offensive is like complaining about Victoria Beckham not smiling during the royal wedding; it’s just what they do.
In an age of fast moving news, with various distractions competing for your time, there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Von Trier’s fellow Euro provocateur Michael Haneke recently spoke out against the #MeToo movement, partly because he’s a 76 year old man out of step with the times, and partly because he likes pushing the buttons of the press. He also has a new TV series coming soon. News outlets want clicks and directors want publicity. A little controversy helps them both out.
Von Trier and his ilk – Terry Gilliam is a member of the society of deliberately controversial directors – are the right wing shock jocks and TV hosts it’s OK to like if you read the intelligent papers; they don’t really believe a lot of what they say, but it gets them publicity so they keep it up, and like addicts in need of a fix, you have to go bigger each time or the media will move on and ignore you. There’s a pretty good recent example of what happens if you dance to the tune of someone saying extreme stuff and give them the attention they crave, and that won’t end well for anyone.
By walking out of his movie, and then writing think pieces about it, you’re just adding to the myth of von Trier. If you walk out, just give him a bad review, otherwise you’re playing their game. Von Trier’s publicists are rubbing their hands and cackling maniacally this weekend. If you want to hurt him, ignore him.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.