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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Epidemic (1987)

“The authors had done what they could on the last day. They had invented an incurable disease, described its spread, and based their work on the suffering of others. The pages were filled.”
- Narrator

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: September 21, 2004

Stars: Lars von Trier, Niels Vørsel
Other Stars: Allan De Waal, Ole Ernst, Michael Gelting, Udo Kier
Director: Lars von Trier

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some gore and brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:46m:03s
Release Date: September 21, 2004
UPC: 037429178423
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B BB+C+ B+

DVD Review

When I studied in Copenhagen last year, I happened to see Lars von Trier in a production meeting at the National Museum. He was in a public venue, poring over notes and discussing his next project with colleagues in quiet Danish. It was a privilege to be a fly on the wall of sorts, as it was to learn about Danish film in the country’s capital, which included taking in a screening of his controversial Dogville about a year before it hit the States. My experiences revealed that Denmark is a unique film community, perpetuated by the Danish Film Institute, an impressive establishment that encourages a kind of freedom and creativity rarely seen. This is integral to the challenging work of von Trier; I doubt Epidemic could have been made anywhere else.

This is a film that simply defies classification. Split between two narratives, it teeters between genius and complete incoherence, documentary and narrative, gritty street drama/comedy and glossy horror camp. After one viewing, I’m not quite sure where to place it. Starring the screenwriters themselves, Lars von Trier and Niels Vørsel play two, well, screenwriters who are putting the finishing touches on their 200 page epic “The Cop and the Whore,” a new project to be submitted to the Danish Film Institute. Neither artist is content with the work; in a twist of welcome fate, the script is accidentally deleted from their computer, forcing them to start anew. The pair is quite laid back, smoking, joking and drinking Tuborg beer, seemingly unfazed by the loss and their impending deadline. Lars formulates a new film idea: Epidemic.

As soon as the typewriter strikes these eight letters onto the page, the logo “EPIDEMIC©” becomes emblazoned on the upper left of the frame for the rest of the film. Odd? Annoying? Perhaps, but its blood red font is an ever-present visual marker of foreboding. Between scenes of Lars and Niels writing, traveling to Germany to visit Udo Kier and reminiscing about deceived pen pals (a humorous sequence), we are exposed to segments from the work in progress. In contrast to the grainy 16mm images that dominate the film, these realized scenes from the duo’s new script are in glossy and luminous 35mm, conjuring images of classic horror films and German expressionism. This dichotomy continues in a bold experimental fashion, but the two narratives are on a shocking collision course, giving new meaning to “life imitates art.”

Epidemic will certainly polarize audiences. Its unconventional approach seems to suggest sloppiness in its more documentary segments, consisting of shots garnered from a fixed camera that simply runs without the eye of an operator to adjust to action. In stark contrast, the 35mm bits, shot by Dreyer veteran Henning Bendtsen, are simply beautiful to behold, showcasing fluid camera movement and intricate staging. Dialogue in these scenes contain little vital information, surrounded by superfluous medical chatter, while their “real-world” counterparts exude the simple camaraderie of two good friends; indeed they are, making me wonder if the disregard they applied toward their on screen treatment of Epidemic is an accurate reflection of the preparation that went into making this film.

Still, the very debate I am engaging in clearly indicates a layered complexity is at work. This is certainly a creative piece, and I am thankful we have daring filmmakers like von Trier in our midst. His experiments of sorts do not always succeed, but his bold directions and self-imposed limitations are something to be admired, not scorned. Cutting through the haze of this narrative structure is an undeniably compelling and hypnotic experience that ultimately needs to be explored firsthand. You may hate this film, but it has the potential to change your perceptions of what form a film can take. Von Trier’s attitude of extremism is not a sickness, but rather an important step toward new definitions of cinema.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Home Vision’s anamorphic transfer is very good, considering the source material. The 16mm segments exhibit high contrast and heavy grain, clearly inherent to the format. The 35mm portions glow with Henning Bendtsen’s exquisite lighting, exhibiting good detail, contrast and a very smooth, albeit soft image. This is a very film-like transfer that is not hampered by digital overenhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoDanish and Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The monaural audio during the 16mm segments is somewhat rough due to poor on set recording. The 35mm scenes appear to have been completely dubbed in English, and are intelligible. In general, the audio is somewhat muffled and hissy, but the haunting use of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture comes through nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Lars von Trier and Niels Vørsel
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Insert with Director's Statement and Second Manifesto
Extras Review: Home Vision has put together a nice little package. The first feature to access via the well-designed menus is a feature length commentary by Lars von Trier and Niels Vørsel. Their comments are lighthearted and warm—a testament to their friendship. However, the two don’t seem to remember too many details about the production of this film, leading to some noticeable periods of silence.

Next is the real cream of the crop. FreeDogme (52m:51s) is, to quote the menu, “a filmed discussion between directors Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders, Lone Scherfig and Jean-Marc Barr. Filmed in real time, each director was linked by his/her own digital video camera.” The result is a very entertaining and enlightening discussion of the influential Dogme 95 movement from some of its key players, and even an avid fan in the form of Wim Wenders. Coupled with their quality comments is the visuals afforded by this unique roundtable format: Each director finds creative ways to shoot their own comments using their DV cameras, adding a new dimension to the discussion. This is a great feature, almost worth the price of the disc alone.

Von Trier’s filmography is also present. Finally, the insert contains the director’s Second Manifesto (1987) and a Statement on Epidemic, originally included in the film’s press kit.

There is also a great easter egg to be found on this disc. On the main menu page, highlight "Extras" and click left. The "EPIDEMIC" logo will highlight. When selected, you'll find Nocturne (08m:27s), a von Trier student film from 1980 with optional audio commentary by von Trier and collaborator Tomas Gislason (who went on to edit The Element of Crime). Also, there is a rare addition of audio commentary outtakes, which play over a still image.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Lars von Trier’s boldly creative work is bound to polarize audiences. Its unconventional approach may be seen as unschooled by some, and brilliant by others. Regardless, von Trier has become the best friend of the cinematically daring. Home Vision’s quality presentation is a shot in the arm.


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