Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Björk: Selmasongs (2000)



It's already been ten years since Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark was released. It is, of course, the famously heartbreaking musical about a blind woman attempting to save her son from losing his sight. Björk's performance in the film is a powerhouse, though she swore off acting after its arduous shoot was completed. I saw it again tonight for the first time in several years and was again left speechless by it. It deserves to be far more constantly mentioned and celebrated, but it's so devastating that I can understand why few people seem willing to revisit it. But few movies carry its emotional punch, and if you haven't seen it, you should immediately. Just be prepared for an upsetting night in. And maybe don't watch it alone, if possible.

Happily, the songs from the movie's beautiful dance sequences are easier to revisit often. They are collected on what is frequently labeled her fourth album, Selmasongs -- named for Björk's character in the film -- but is really more like an EP, just containing slightly more than a half-hour of music. It opens with the hauntingly and appropriately sad overture from the film, and then off we go to the rhythmic imagination of "Cvalda," on which you even get to hear the great Catherine Deneuve belt out some lines. Robbed of death-row despair, "107 Steps" becomes a delicate, keenly offbeat dance song. The five other vocal cuts are less minimalistic. Only "Scatterheart," the song just after a gruesome murder in the film, suffers out of context, despite many alterations to the lyrics (which I didn't even remember or notice until seeing the film again tonight). Björk didn't write the lyrics this time around, but many of them -- "All walls are great if the roof doesn't fall" -- are witty enough to be worthy of her.

Though it holds up well beside Björk's other work, this disc has a lushness that she'd likely avoid if not for the context, but it's perfect for something like "In the Musicals," a song that builds and rewards, emotionally and spectacularly, on its drama and flamboyance. It's easy to find yourself falling into a daydream to this music, just as Björk's Selma does in the film.

My only complaint about this record, which stands with Post and the shimmering Medulla as my favorite Björk, is what it omits. Björk's two most powerful performances from the movie, her cellblock rendition of "My Favorite Things" and her last vocal before the credits, might be less pleasant to hear when one's not prepared to visit the haunting and sad world of the film, but it would be nice to have them included all the same. The latter in particular is a beautiful a cappella song that deserves a life outside Dancer.

Here is my favorite scene in the movie and my favorite song from the album, on which Peter Stormare's voice is dubbed by none other than Mr. Thom Yorke. I've included the MP3 of that version below.

I've Seen It All [w/ Thom Yorke]


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