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January 14, 2012 / Tamara Reynolds

Minding the Gap of Praxis

I recently had the pleasure of viewing a film by Lars Von Trier, The Five Obstructions. The premise is quite simple, take an established film artist (Jorgen Leth) and challenge them to remake a film from 1967 (The Perfect Human) with obstructions, or rules to push their established praxis. Leth’s original film can be read as a critical examination of media vampirizing and reaffirming cultural metanarratives; in this case the perfect human.

It is a ploy in locating vulnerability, to force Leth into the forbidden space that creates empathy; to be touched by the process. The film, while examining the issue of control found in Leth, unfolds as a reverse examination of Von Trier himself as he imposes control via obstructions to his fellow film-maker.

I immediately like this man Jorgen, he makes endless lists in notebooks to feed the process, while holding fast to what he terms established cardinal rules when approaching a new project. I can relate. However, I watch with discomfort as if watching a child’s scolding – simultaneously intrigued by the perversion of watching a fellow artist pushed to the edge, while wanting to apprehend the transgression about to unfold as if my own fate would be sealed with the other’s act.

Leth is forced to take risks, get closer to the elements of the everyday that he seemingly insulates himself from via the spectorial gaze. This theoretical construct of the gaze is best translated in the scene shot in Bombay’s Red Light District. The reading of this scene as a critique of post-colonialism becomes undeniable, particularly given the director’s recent film release Erotic Man (2010), riddled with complex notions of what it means to be an ‘outsider’. When given the obstruction that Leth must return to the worse place that he has ever visited to make the third adaptation, we see the portrayal of Leth’s controlled facade slip and convulse with moments of anxiety, drugs, sleeplessness and self doubt. Much like a serpent eating it’s own tail, the metanarratives driving the film become more and more difficult to tease out as the process unfolds.

Obstruction #3 Bombay

The film is genius as a contemporary examination of spectatorship, hidden agendas, and the game of control extrapolated into the realm of everyday culture. I came away with questions surrounding the interpretation of ‘progress’ that I had begun last year (a loaded and relevant term) and the tracing and/or penetration of said boundaries.

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