Five things Tranceformer taught me about Lars von Trier

Thursday September 8th 2011

As if to prove that my friends are waaaay better than your friends, I not only get vintage copies of Empire for my birthday but also import DVDs of obscure Swedish documentaries about Lars von Trier. Tranceformer was made in 1997, while von Trier was shooting Breaking the Waves (one of the best films ever made, incidentally) and paints a remarkably intimate portrait of the cheeky provocateur, both at work and in his private life.

Here are five things it taught me about the not-so-enfant terrible:

In 1968, an eleven-year-old Lars Trier (this was before he added the ‘von’) starred in the Swedish children’s TV show Secret Summer, the story of the burgeoning friendship between preadolescents Lars and Sara. A bit of digging reveals an interview from the time, in which Lars explains that he spent his salary on an electric organ to “make some sounds with when he make short films” and that he wants “to be something in pictures”.

Long before he put unsimulated sex in The Idiots and started producing actual porn, Lars von Trier was mindfucking the faculty at the Danish National Film School, where he made movies like The Story of Two Husbands and Their Far Too Young Wives (1980). In a clip shown in Tranceformer, a man named Zeppa (played by Norweigan actor Baard Owe, who would later have a starring role in von Trier’s TV series The Kingdom) must choose between two doors. Behind each door is a woman eager to have sex with him, and when the intercourse begins there’s a brilliantly exaggerated soundtrack of comedy sex noises. Fellow student Tómas Gislason calls it ‘the worst piece of shit I’d ever seen’.

Though it’s always hard to tell exactly how truthful he’s being in Tranceformer‘s apparently candid interviews, Lars seems pretty sincere when he claims to have seen a UFO as a child: “We were driving on the motorway. I was very young. I was lying down, looking out the back window of our old Saab. I was lying there, watching the lights, as cars moved by. We drove off the motorway and through the window I saw a ray. A ray is a fish that looks like a large carpet with a tail, and it flew across the sky. That was beautiful.”

Fourteen years before Nazigate, von Trier made his feelings about the Holocaust known in Tranceformer: “It’s fascinating. How do you envision exterminating the Jews like that? How is it accepted by a people who knew what was going on? How do their minds work? What mechanisms trigger that behaviour? It’s truly fascinating. It’s the closest thing we’ve had to what could be called pure evil — unfeigned, pure evil”.

Von Trier claims in the film to have 17,000 phobias and says the only way he can take his mind off them is by working on his films. Or kayaking. “When I sit in the kayak, the anxiety goes away. I have to keep my balance.” I’m gonna go right ahead and say a Lars von Trier kayaking movie NEEDS to happen.