Thursday, November 06, 2008


In addition to missing bad tv lately, I've been continuing with my personal television history project where I'm catching up on the television canon as it has been ascribed by television critics and scholars.

In this vein, I've just finished watching both seasons of Lars von Trier's Riget (The Kingdom) a Danish television series from 1994 and 1997. While I have come across a scholarly article about this series, my desire to watch it in full was first sparked when I watched it intermittently at the time it originally screened on SBS. I recall being utterly fascinated by the idea of a kind of horror series where the doctors were evil. (I have since made choices at the Brisbane Film Festival based entirely upon my fascination with Riget). I also recall being somewhat confused about what was going on in Riget--a fact I would like to attribute to the late hour at which it screened.

I experienced a second wave of yearning to watch Riget after seeing Stephen King's much maligned adaptation of the series, Kingdom Hospital. (I actually went out and bought this after the frustration of yet another occasion of haphazard and late night scheduling by Channel Nine).

I liked Kingdom Hospital--quite a lot if you must know. I had no problem with King incorporating his hit-and-run accident into the story. Outside of Barthes-inflected scholarship I would argue that most people search relentlessly, ridiculously, for clues of the author in cultural artefacts. On the one hand I think, why complain when the author appeases such demands, on the other, the addition of this character lends a cohesiveness to the narrative which is completely missing from Riget (Terry Sawyer, in the review I linked to above, obviously didn't watch von Trier's production. Urgh! There's so much to take issue with in that review I don't know where to begin except to say that it's pretty nasty and ignorant).

Plus, I can't complain too much about anything starring Andrew McCarthy.

Anyway, back to Riget. Mostly I just wanted to show you the film clip of the theme song performed by The Shiver which was an extra on the DVD. I felt sure it would be on YouTube and so it was:

'Kingdom', The Shiver

Then I saw how many other clips of scenes I'd particularly enjoyed were also on YouTube.

This is the opening sequence, before the titles, of Riget. It doesn't have subtitles, but I love the atmosphere. You can get a sense of that without knowing the narration, but fyi it basically recounts how the land on which the hospital was built was first occupied by bleachers. The great swathes of hot cloth they handled created a permanent mist. But then the medical profession came along and superstition was repressed. Now the doctors are getting so arrogant, too arrogant, that the walls of the hospital are giving way to all that lies beneath.

The Bleachers

The charge of complacency is leveled at the medical profession throughout Riget (and The Kingdom). Watching Riget, I was reminded of a film by Aleksandr Sokurov, Moloch, which offered a portrait of Hitler as complacent, immature, mercurial, and willfully ignorant of the consequences of his actions. Von Trier presents a similiar portrait of consultant neurosurgeon Helmer and the hospital administration.

The Lodge

Operation Morning Breeze

Danish Scum!

Amidst all of this criticism of the medical profession are of course the spirits that are returning in protest:

Drusse and Bulder

I think the first series of Riget was far better than the second. There was a third series written, but never filmed, since up to 5 of the actors died before it could be made--if it was ever to be made. I wonder if much in the second series relied upon the production of a third series in order to be resolved. There was so much left unanswered, especially about the fate of Hook whom Helmer had turned into a zombie.

Oh well. Riget is definitely worth seeing, if only to glimpse the strangeness of Lars von Trier's imagination. I'll give the last word to the man himself:

Take the Good with the Evil.


dogpossum said...

Hey, I just went on an Andrew McCarthy binge, mostly after seeing him pop up in The Spiderwick Chronicles.
I rewatched a lot of his 80s films, including Pretty In Pink and Less Than Zero. I remember him being hawt.
Rewatching, I was struck by how cold he seems, and how horrible his characters really are - they're really selfish, really narcissistic and actually pretty scary and selfish. I came away thinking 'well, McCarthy's not for me after all'.

Kirsty said...

Well I'm not certain that Hook is any different a character, and it is the 80s nostalgia that gets me. I think he's perfectly cast as Hook because of the 80s factor, it lends a kind of jadedness after all this time that is entirely appropriate for a character who keeps track of fellow doctors' corruption and stupidity.

meli said...

heard about the big storm - hope you're ok!

Kirsty said...

Thanks Meli. I escaped unscathed for the first storm. Then I was away in Melbourne for the next two. I just got back yesterday and all is miraculously well. I could see that the creek did come up scarily high though.

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