Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Nine

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Nine: Favorite Musical
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Bjork, Catherine Denevue, David Morse

Those who know me well enough probably know that by and by I’m not that big a fan of musicals. I suppose it’s because I had to endure so many from the music classes that took place chiefly during my elementary school years. To this day I still despise The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady. You can sell me on their brilliance all you want. Some movies I’m just never going to sit through again. Some genres will always be difficult for me to get into. I like to think I’ll watch anything once, but I have to admit that I still have a habit of picking certain types of movies over others. I’m working on that, because I like to be surprised, but it’s still hard to completely work around weird biases I managed to get stuck in my head when I was a kid. A couple of those biases exist, but musicals are definitely the big one.

I’m not completely made of stone. A few have managed to slip through and stun me with their beauty, range, warmth, humor, intensity and even the whole ridiculous (to me) idea of breaking out into song for no apparent reason. Is that a sign of maturity? I suppose anything is possible. I’m amazed when any kind of personal growth occurs on my part. People tell me I’m a weird mix of terminal arrested development, and someone who acts like the oldest man under forty they’ve ever met in their life. Anything that alters that combination even a little is usually nothing short of a miracle.

Dancer in the Dark is one of the musicals that have broken through my ridiculous prejudice to amaze me. My biggest reason for catching it on IFC several thousand years ago was my brief, non-drug-related infatuation with the music of Bjork. I was also at a point where I would have watched just about anything IFC had on. They were a fantastic movie alternative to the other channels, and they usually had a lot more interesting stuff going on than The Sundance Channel. I’m grateful for a lot of the stuff IFC tossed my way. A good deal of movies, filmmakers and actors I like today were introduced to me through their programming. Dancer in the Dark was just one movie they showed me out of many. I had never even heard of it before, but again, I had that whole music crush thing for that insane little ragamuffin from Iceland, so it was an easy sell.

I do this at Wal-Mart all the time. It’s very soothing.

I’m not much of a Bjork fan these days, but I’ll still watch this movie any time a chance to do comes up. I find that I still love the movie in spite of not really feeling one way or the other about Bjork’s music anymore. That’s an easy thing to figure out. Dancer in the Dark has good acting, wonderful music and choreography and a story that moves us briskly from one evocative, bizarre song and dance sequence to the next. It probably helps to be a huge fan of Bjork to like this, but I don’t think it’s essential. As long as you’re not someone who absolutely despises her music, you shouldn’t have any problems trying this out.  Some have that feeling about her work. I just don’t have an opinion on it, so I guess that’s why I can still watch this. Her particular approach to a song is not for everyone. That’s true of Dancer of the Dark in general.

None of Lars Von Trier’s movies will ever be accused of being for the mass populace. This is another argument I’m not prepared to entertain. Some people think he’s a genius, and there are those who believe him to be a pretentious nimrod. I’ve enjoyed at least some of his films. Genius might be a little strong, but he’s definitely creative and has created some impressive, challenging movies). Dancer in the Dark is probably the most accessible thing he’s done so far. It’s a lot easier to get into than Antichrist.

Von Trier and Bjork collaborating on a film like this makes sense. Bjork has always seemed to have a fascination with musicals, elaborate imagery, voices and movements. Her music videos would attest to that. Dancer in the Dark could be seen as the longest Bjork music video of all time, except with a terrific supporting cast turning in great performances. Bjork does very believable, tragic work as a struggling mother who is losing her sight while trying to make the money necessary to make sure the same fate doesn’t befall her young son. It works, because she has some merit as an actress, but the tone and structure of the movie coupled with working alongside great actors/actresses like Catherine Denevue, David Morse and Peter Stormare helps her a lot more than she helps herself. These things sustain Bjork’s solid but disjointed performance. I’m not sure she would have been as effective here as she might have been in a more traditional musical or even just a more traditional movie in general.

Because it’s good to keep in mind going in that Dancer in the Dark is definitely not a traditional musical. Von Trier does seem to borrow from outside influences, but this is still going to be unlike any musical you’ve ever seen before. I wasn’t shocked to learn not that long ago that it’s become an opera. That mode of song-based storytelling is the best comparison I can think of. Upbeat is not a word that’s ever going to be used to describe this. The tragedy in the story starts early and only builds from there. It can be found at least somewhere within in the DNA of every single song and even in every line of dialog. Some who love the film would call it a beautiful kind of sadness. Some who also love Dancer in the Dark will react to the overwhelming bleakness of the film the same way they reacted to Requiem for a Dream. They will acknowledge that it’s indeed good, but not something they would ever want to experience repeatedly. Fair enough. You may not even like it all. That’s fair, too. None of Von Trier’s films have met with universal acclaim. It still couldn’t hurt to try this out if you’re someone who is at least curious about the results of a unique approach to the musical. At least the songs should prove interesting. Each one is fascinating assault of style and intense visual creativity. They’re not boring and should keep your interest alive if everything else fails to deliver.

Dancer in the Dark is worth doing sitting through at least once. It’s bound to pull some kind of reaction from you, and that can be a pretty good experience, too, even if you hate it at the end. I didn’t. It’s still the best musical I’ve ever seen, and it’s done a lot (along with a couple others) towards eliminating my absurd cinematic prejudices.

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