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The Boss of It All

(DirektÝren for det hele, Lars von Trier, Denmark/France/Germany/Iceland/Italy/Sweden, 2006)


 


The office comedy is an underexplored genre in cinema – or at least in cinema/media studies. Yet there are many fine exemplars: Luc Moullet’s The Comedy of Work (1987), Mike Judge’s Office Space (1999), Gary Burns’ Waydowntown (2000), Nigel Buesst’s little-known Australian gem Compo (1987), even Michael Snow’s ultra-conceptual *Corpus Callosum (2002) … And then there are documentaries (Brian McKenzie’s The Last Day’s Work [1986]), and quite a lot of TV in the vein of The Office (original UK version 2001-2003), Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) and no doubt many others around the world …

 

When Lars von Trier made his frequently hilarious office comedy The Boss of It All – comprised mainly of people sitting in bland work rooms, talking at each other in absurd, circular, bureaucratic terms – he knew he could not take his usual, wilfully chaotic route of sloppy, hand-held, semi-improvised scene rambling. Something spectacularly counter-intuitive was called for to raise this item above even new generic conventions.

 

So von Trier invented (as is his wont) a game with rules, a dispositif that he called Automavision, to generate an automatic way of framing. He would set up and block out the scene with the actors in a conventional way, but the final choice of camera angle would be dictated, according to randomly generated parameters, by an on-set computer – no matter what was going on inside the frame.

 

What results, from shot to shot of even the blandest dialogue sequence, is indeed spectacular, a veritable catalogue of cinematographic taboos: heads cut off; ungainly placement of foreground objects; too much empty headroom in the shot; truncated, unbalanced, badly-lit compositions; a blank spot at the centre of the frame; and, last but not least, no reframing to catch even the simplest mise en scène of the actors’ movements!

 

The office comedy – with its usually strict code of everyday banality – is thus given an especially incongruous and infectious twist.

 

Note: this piece adapts a passage from my essay “Frame” in the book edited by Elena Gorfinkel and Tami Williams, Global Cinema Networks (Rutgers University Press, 2018).

MORE von Trier: Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, The Five Obstructions, The House That Jack Built, Zentropa

© Adrian Martin April 2012


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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