Gene Weingarten makes a movie about nothing

Below the Beltway
(Eric Shansby)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gene is on vacation. This column was originally published March 20, 2005.

One night recently I sat at my computer, unable to get started on an article about the economic viability of the Russian space program. So I decided to visit a mall. On the escalator, I was standing behind a woman who was talking sternly to a little girl. I decided to purchase laundry detergent. But I went into a shoe store instead, and the salesman told me the store did not carry detergent. I went outside. It began to rain, an inconsequential drizzle.

Are you asleep yet? Well, I was. This is how I dream: long, pointless narratives that slog through meaningless details in textureless surroundings. No sex. No danger. No guilt.

I once dreamed about being unable to fall asleep. I have dreamed about eating macaroni and cheese. I have dreamed about refinishing furniture. Going to the bathroom.

I used to be embarrassed by my dreams, but no more. That is because I just got off the phone with Lars von Trier, the reigning genius of European avant-garde filmmaking. Von Trier's films have been described as being filled with "doom-haunted surrealism" and containing "a distinctive blend of film noir and German Expressionism."

I described my dream about the mall and asked him if it might make a good movie.

Lars: So, you are pitching it?

Me: Exactly.

Lars: Well, it is very good. We just need to make it a little more dreamlike.

Me: More dreamlike?

Lars: Yes, avant-garde is taking things that are very clear and making them difficult, as opposed to American filmmaking, which is making difficult things simple. It is good that you have only a light drizzle. It is very European that it rains only a little. I like it. In an American film, it would rain very much. I could make the film. It would get a lot of support from European countries. They would give me a lot of money, but there would be no spectators at all.

Me: Spectators?

Lars: No one would come to see the film. But that is good. It would tell me I am on the right track. We European filmmakers feel we are better than our audiences.

Me: Wow. Can I tell you a dream I had last night?

Lars: Yes, please.

Me: I was walking my dog in vaguely unfamiliar surroundings. People were eating ice cream cones, though I didn't see a store where they might have purchased them. I went into a library, and they told me the dog would have to wait outside. So I left the dog and went back inside and asked for a book on mountain climbing. I'm not sure why because I have never wanted to climb a mountain. On the way home, I realized I'd forgotten my dog. So I went back. The dog was there. He was limping a little, which worried me, but not that much because he is very old.

Lars: That is fantastic!

Me: It is?

Lars: It is a little more mainstream. You start by thinking there is no point, but then comes the point, with the dog. You see?

Me: Uh ...

Lars: It is a horror film. In the beginning, something terrible happens, but then it turns out good. You find the dog. An American producer will like that. You can make a film about Iraq, so you invade Iraq, but you forget about the Iraqis, and they're limping a little at the end. You see?

Me:

Lars: Actually, I am worried about the dog limping, if you are going to market it in the United States. American films will show a lot of guns and people killed in sadistic ways, but not a dog that doesn't feel well. I'm afraid you will have to take that out.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company