Constraining Lars Von Trier : issues of censorship, creativity, and provocation /

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Boatwright, Kirsten
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Middle Tennessee State University
Danish film director Lars von Trier has made a career out of provoking audiences, critics, and the film industry alike. Equally adept at constructing and applying rules, to his own art as well as that of others, he repeatedly defies, thwarts, subverts, and even mocks constraints erected by others. Not without his predecessors---Andrei Tarkovsky, Carl Th. Dreyer, and Federico Fellinivon Trier has always tested the limits of his medium and revealed a willingness to test the written and tacit laws of society. Censorship is a recurrent theme that has affected the subject, style, and reception of the director's work, and he recurrently employs self-censorship in his filmmaking with constraints and prohibitions involving cinematic technique and narrative content. He deliberately provokes censorious reactions in order to reveal or breach unrecognized or unacknowledged incidences of hegemonic censorship or constraint. Von Trier frequently indicts the status quo of filmmaking technique, political ideology, and religious dogma in his films, with censorship or constraint often marking the intersection where art and society collide.
This dissertation explores von Trier's unique artistic approach and demonstrates how the director exploits, exposes, and challenges censorship in its myriad forms and in diverse settings. Additionally, it establishes a link between von Trier's cinematic encounters with censorship---as tool, obstacle, or inspiration---and changes in the film industry as well as the content, form, and criticism of film. Because this approach employs a global perspective and takes as its focus a director with five decades of experience and more than thirty films to his credit, our understanding of censorship changes with context. Consequently, terms are defined in the first chapter and von Trier's engagement with censorship controls the subsequent chapters. A brief biographical sketch of von Trier---essential to any discussion of the director and restrictions---focuses on issues related to his films, filmmaking, and legendary upbringing and initiates an examination of constraints, as well as cultural censure, within his works and the censure and censorship elicited by them. In additional to exploring von Trier's role as co-creator of the Dogme95 movement, with its proscriptive commandments for filmmaking, I analyze The Idiots (1998), the first two installments of the director's USA: Land of Opportunities trilogy, Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005), and Antichrist (2009), before returning in conclusion to the broader issues of censorship, constraints, and cinema. After delineating the effects von Trier and his works have had on filmmaking, film content, and film criticism, both locally and globally, I offer an epilogue examining a still-developing situation of censorship stemming from comments made by the director at the Cannes International Film Festival in May 2011.
Adviser: Linda Badley.