Text written for the University of the Arts, Bremen. The question was to write about the value of the Ulm-concept in 2009. As an answer i wrote an article about Dogme 95.
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Credit of the image on this page: Schematic representation of the study courses at the Bauhaus. From: Gropius, 'Idea and Structure of the Staatliche Bauhaus Weimar'.

via Denmark

I like questions, confusion and changing opinions that show doubt. I have more difficulty with answers. Mainly because answers have to be clear, and therefore exclude gray areas and doubt. Therefor I will not give a direct answer to the question of how the ‘Ulm concept’ can manifest itself in this day and age. I would rather make a flanking maneuver and talk about a Danish experiment that got out of hand.

“Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a ‘work’, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations. Thus I make my Vow of Chastity. [ 1 ]

In 1995, Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levring and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen wrote the Dogma 95 Manifesto. It was a response to the dominant trend in the film industry which, with audiovisual effects and visual violence, had abandoned the core of what film-making is. The four film-makers drafted a Manifesto, sealed with a ‘Vow of Chastity’ – a list of 10 rules for making films. The Dogma 95 Manifesto became a hype, and would eventually become a genre in itself. It is difficult to say exactly how many ‘Dogma’ films have been made. On the ‘official site’ the counter shows 357. But the site has not been edited for six years, so it can no longer really be considered ‘official’. My guess is that around a hundred ‘serious’ Dogma films have been made. Of that 100, less than ten are really interesting. Despite this meager result, it has still been a successful experiment. The Dogma 95 Manifesto shows us that it is impossible for outsiders to sign up to a manifesto. A manifesto is not intended to be followed; it is only meant to inform.

The most successful Dogma films are "Festen" (1998), "Idioterne" (1998), "Mifunes Sidste Sang" (1999) and "The King Is Alive" (2000). According to the tenth commandment of the Vow of Chastity, directors should never be mentioned, but it is no secret that these films were made by Thomas Vinterberg, Lars von Trier, Soren Kragh-Jacobsen and Kristian Levring, respectively. By the very people who drew up the rules. That is not so strange. For them, the rules were not so much rules as a description of an ideal; their own ideal. Consequently, the films are completely as they should be, and their focus lies where the Manifesto requires it to lie: with the story.

The majority of the other Dogma films have been notably less successful. In most cases, the rules have been applied as a prescription, a solution. Some even used the Vow of Chastity as an lame excuse for clumsiness. Many amateurs saw their opportunity to make a ‘real film’. What, until then, had been simple bungling, had suddenly become Dogma 95! But, besides a few exceptions, like "Italiensk For Begyndere" (2000), even the more serious attempts are not worth mentioning. The rules are often used to achieve an effect in themselves, with the focus on the technical construction rather than on the content – which is, after all, what set the whole thing off in the first place. In these cases, the Manifesto is not interpreted as an approach, but as a set of statutory rules which ultimately boil down to absolute values such as right or wrong, Dogma or not Dogma.
Initially all film-contributions were ‘tested’ by the four initiators of the Manifesto before being given the official Dogma stamp of approval, but that proved a futile mission. Lars von Trier noted that ‘the only person who can determine whether it is a Dogma film or not, is the maker’.[ 2 ] It is after all the intentions that count and not the visual outcome of those intentions.

The four initiators have in fact only made one film each according to the rules of the Dogma 95 Manifesto. That is in itself not so surprising; a manifesto is after all nothing more than a crystallized reflection of a moment. The following day it is obsolete. A question can remain the same, but the circumstances around it change, and with them the answer. That is what makes questions so interesting: time has no effect on them. Answers, on the other hand, no matter how conclusive and absolute they may sound, always have a restricted shelf life.

Yet it is striking to see the extent to which Vinterberg pulls out all the Hollywood stops in films like "It’s all about love" (2003) and "Dear Wendy" (2005). It is difficult to find any traces at all of the Dogma ideals. In "Dancer In The Dark "(2000), "Dogville" (2003) and "Direktøren For Det Hele" (2006), Lars von Trier also goes off on a different tack, but there are still visible signs that he continues to seek the frontiers of the film, especially the genre film. "Dancer In The Dark" is an opera in operetta form, "Dogville" is a play, and "Direktøren For Det Hele" is a cynical comedy. A striking feature of the latter film is the technique used by Von Trier, which he himself calls ‘Automavision’. Von Trier set the camera up himself, but then left it to a computer program to decide at random when the camera should tilt, pan or zoom. This method produces improvised and jerky images, which are also typical of many Dogma films, but the intention behind it is completely different. [ 3 ]

The Dogma 95 experiment shows us that a manifesto is nothing more than a personal opinion. And that this should not be confused with a set of rules and laws, even though it may look like one. No rule that has been written in the past can be applied wholesale in the present. That is too simple, especially when it comes to ideals or attitudes. Ideals cannot be encapsulated in a framework, and ticked off. Ideals float to the surface while you are going about your daily work. In the margins. In the gray areas.

Hans Gremmen
January, 2009 

[ 1 ] 
I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by Dogme 95:
1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place).
4. The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
10. The director must not be credited.
Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a ‘work’, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.  
Thus I make my Vow of Chastity.
Copenhagen, Monday 13 March 1995. On behalf of Dogme 95: Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg
[ 2 ]
Lars von Trier in an interview by Peter Rundle, 1999

[ 3 ]
An inspiring addition to the list is the documentary “The Five Obstruction”s (2003). I did not mention this film because it is a documentary, but it certainly deserves an enthusiastic footnote. In the film, Lars Von Trier challenges director Jørgen Leth (1937) to do a remake of his own film “The Perfect Human” from 1967. The challenge is that Leth must remake the film five times, taking account of restrictions imposed by Von Trier. The first, for example, must not contain any shots lasting longer than 12 frames (i.e. half a second). Another restriction is that the film-maker himself must go a place where he experienced his most shocking experience and he must play the main role in the film himself.