Gene Weingarten makes a movie about nothing

Below the Beltway
(Eric Shansby)
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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?


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.

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