If you are not familiar with Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” you can become so here or allow me to spoil it for you:
Two Project Runway runners-up promise to make clothes for the king that will be invisible those subjects of his who are incompetent or stupid. This Mimewear™, if you will, is really one suit: his birthday suit.
No one calls out the “designers” for doing so would mean one is a member of the population that is stupid and incompetent. As the king catwalks down his royal runway to show off his new finery, a child yells out that the emperor is really wearing no clothes at all, but even as the king suspects the truth, he continues the farce.
(Yes, this scene has been done in a movie; it was the fashion show finale in the insufferable Robert Altman’s insufferable Prêt-à-Porter )
I like to think of myself as that child. My calling is to call out pretension in the cinematic arts. I’ve done it before, and I’m going to do it now with this movie.
The text cited below is word for word from the production notes:
Magnolia Pictures and Zentropa Entertainments
A MAGNOLIA PICTURES RELEASE
A film by Lars Von Trier
About that last line: “A Film by Lars Von Trier,” it turns out, not so much. Kinda spurious, actually.
The two movies that Magnolia Pictures have currently in cinemas have actually never been seen by Mr. Von Trier.
I’m sure the Académie Française would join me in quibbling about this, that this detail should call into question, or more precisely, invalidate, Von Trier’s job title of auteur.
The production notes create some confusion in addressing concerns about the different versions some people may have seen mentioned in the press in a most unforthright manner:
“ Lars von Triers’ NYMPH()MANIAC is being distributed in two parts (Volume I and II) and in two versions: a 4 hour ‘international’ version and a 5.5 hour ‘director’s cut.’
“The version of the film being released in the US in March, 2014 is the international version.
“The international version is the only version of the film that has been released commercially anywhere in the world. There is no ‘American’ version of the film – the film being released in the US has not been altered or censored from the international version.
“Volume I of Von Trier’s director’s cut premiered at the 2014 Berlinale. This is the only place it has been shown publicly to date.“
Magnolia knows that Von Trier did not cut the “international version.”
My reading between the lines of this awkward “clarification” is that they think that we think that they think American audiences are more prudish than those in Europe, and that we might think the cut version was made to mollify our puritanical sensibilities.
If that is indeed the case, you could use this insult as the reason you’re not going to see the movies.
This scenario becomes richer when the director, who didn’t make the cuts in the version you would be seeing, assuages those who might feel cheated with the reassurance: “There is a lot of nudity and sex in the short version.”
Tak, Mr. von Trier. We wouldn’t want to be cheated out of any of this:
Yes, I’m snarking, but I snark for the Greater Good. I don’t think it’s for me to judge the expectations of any movie-goer, other than myself.
In other words, I don’t want to know if anyone is going to see this movie to see Shia LaBeouf have sex. Really. I don’t want to know.
However, if one doesn’t wanted to be cheated out of scenes like the one above, I think they should know they will be.
Jonathan Romney at Film Comment said while the extra material was “less substantial than [he] expected,” there were significant differences between the 117 minute version versus the 145 minute version:
There were certainly more male and female genital shots, including close-ups of cunnilingus and surgical insertions during an abortion, while an erect penis that appeared fairly clearly to belong to Shia LaBeouf hoved (sic) into view at a number of points.
But “ … most of the additional material in the uncut Volume I is simply verbal.”
And then he jumps into the spin cycle by attesting that:
“There are, in any case, already plenty of genital close-ups in the short version of the film.“
So those who go to see the movie for the sex scenes can still pretend they’re seeing an art-house movie and be comforted knowing they’re only missing out a few shots of genitalia, likely latex.
Still, how does an auteur allow a movie to be released which infers it is his work but isn’t?
If this is not an act of artistic malfeasance, is it not an affront to his devotees?
Should he reap the credit and bear the criticism for this version which he refused to supervise and hasn’t even seen?
Perhaps I’m being too fastidious expecting truth in advertising with a movie- it’s not the same as other consumer products where the consequences of nondisclosure could be life or death.
Maybe I’m being too harsh because I didn’t enjoy this “cinematic product.”
Maybe I should give Mr. Von Trier the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was a magnanimous gesture on his part.
That’s the story according to Von Triers’ producer Peter Aalbaek Jensen: “
“Five and a half hour (sic) is so extreme that it reduces market value so radically…. The short version is against Lars’ own will, but he accepts it because he understands market mechanisms.“
Also towing the party line is producer Louise Vesth:
“This was the way to even make the film at all. If we only had one version he would have had to make more compromises and distributors all over the world would have had to censor it themselves because of various censorship practices.“
So officially, it’s a valiant concession to marketing realities by an artist.
But I’m not going to let him off the hook because he cast it himself -figuratively and literally:
You, the aforementioned commercial market, are expected to make two trips to the cinema (if you don’t have Magnolia Pictures Video on Demand) to see two parts of one movie by Mr. Lars Von Trier who was so put out by having to compromise his work that he could not be bothered to make the cuts himself nor even see what is being sold under his name.
He’s upset over twenty-eight minutes.
He gets to release two movies and not be forced to edit hours of footage into one movie, as most directors must do.
Sounds like a spoiled brat, non?
Chapter 2: L’Enfant Terrible