Catalog Rec: Dancer in the Dark

There's more to writing than just the words on the page.
Catalog Rec: Dancer in the Dark
Let's get the obvious out of the way: yes, this film is depressing. Yes, von Trier created a rather manipulative screenplay that seems to take pleasure in human suffering. Yes, many of the events in the film are unlikely to have occurred in real life. Those aren't the point of this post.

Dancer in the Dark is a musical steeped in a stark reality, where one woman's hopes and dreams are only truly expressed through the songs she imagines around her. This is the strength of the writing in the film. Bjork's music is the star of the show. She knows how to write just the right song for just the right occasion. Take my favorite song from the film, Cvalda, for example:

The mundane sounds of the machines in a factory become the song in Selma's mind. Her obsession with musicals is so strong in the face of her rapidly deteriorating eyesight that she sees the musical without sight.

In the full scene, you already hear all the work noise long before the song starts. Everything is established before the song even begins.

Then there are the lyrics. Selma is trying to make it through her shift any way possible, so she turns the sounds she hears into a big showtune. Her replication of the clatter and crash becomes the chorus. Then, her conversations from earlier in the film about musicals become the content in her mind.

Does Catherine Deneuve's character really burst into song, affirming Selma's musical obsession? No. But in Selma's mind, the fantasy continues, for anything can happen in a musical. Every song is based in the reality of the situation, grounding the music that shouldn't match the grave situations being depicted.

Bjork (and regular writing partner Mark Bell, uncredited, with Lars von Trier, also uncredited) wrote a fantastic score for a musical, then fit it all into a high stakes drama that didn't need music. It's breathtaking at its best.

Dancer in the Dark isn't for everyone. I know this. As much as I loved the film on a first viewing, it was so emotionally draining I struggled to watch it again. I'm much more likely to skip through and watch the original music scenes than sit for the two+ hour running time for the drama surrounding it.

It's a rental if your interested. If you're really taken by it, consider the purchase, but rent if first if you haven't seen it. I can say that it would be a safe bet to purchase Bjork's music for the film Selmasongs.

Labels: Catalog rec

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