Karen Black, who died Aug. 7 at 74, was the “what the hell?” emblem of the American New Wave, its most extreme, improvisational player, its most unusual, unaccountable, unstable presence.
Lars von Trier, maker of calculating horror comedies, is a shrewd showman -- if not exactly in the classic Hollywood tradition then at least in the Barnum & Bailey one. He pleases his audiences by teasing, taunting and testing them, keeping his tongue in his cheek. I picture him as a dancing, grinning little prankster on the fringes of world cinema, alternately flaunting a streak of astringent sadism and hiding for safety behind a shield of facetiousness.
He's also, in "Antichrist" particularly, a thudding literalist whose mock-academic ideas and images are so over-rationalized and in-your-face that (like the mysterious cry of a baby placed too far forward in the sound mix to be haunting or ambiguous) they don't have much room to resonate. When they ought to be harrowing, they're obvious and over-explained, which cuts them off from genuine emotion or experience. Nevertheless, "Antichrist" is a serviceable, sometimes atmospheric horror movie, until the last chapter-and-a-half when it just goes flat. By then it's already gotten a little too much of a charge out of commenting on its own giddy morbidity, and whether the audience is laughing at it or with it doesn't matter. Either way, the laughter is dismissive.
Here is perhaps the finest young actor in American movies, and he says he's decided to say the hell with it, and walk away from acting, and direct films for a living. Did the gossip machine destroy Sean Penn, or is this just a phase he's going through?
Fourteen months we were trying to get someone to believe in that picture," Raymond Stross said. "We had our own money in it. All of our money. Everything except the house. And all the time people were telling us, make a Hollywood picture. Make a commercial picture. 'The Fox' will never make a dime."