Friday, November 14, 2008

Björk and 100 cameras

Dancer in the Dark is a disorienting, even disturbing, experience for the first time viewer. It provoked as many catcalls as hurrahs when it premiered at Cannes. The disturbing aspect is largely on account of one brutally realistic scene of violence, and the starkly tragic dénouement. Those elements may be par for the course in other genres, but this is a musical! -- and a mighty fine one in my humble opinion. With the help of the whirling dervish from Iceland, director Lars von Trier managed to explode the genre while still drawing on the rich tradition of American movie musicals. Incidentally, the Danish filmmaker's evident appreciation for Americana combined with his strong anti-Americanism is a subject worth probing, especially since he's never visited these shores (von Trier has a fear of flying). Perhaps I'll take that up in a future post.

For the dance sequences von Trier and choreographer Vincent Paterson set up 100 to 150 stationary Sony HD cameras around, above and underneath the set. The concept was not unlike how the television networks cover live events like the Super Bowl. They try to get as many camera angles as possible for the guys in the truck to choose from. In this case, the guys in the truck being von Trier and his editors in post-production. It turned out to be a wonderful way to capture Björk's odd physicality and Paterson's seat-of-the-pants choreography. Von Trier originally had in mind conventional tap dancing numbers, but Paterson (according to his commentary on the DVD) talked him out of it. Some tap and classical elements remain (e.g., Joel Grey at 2:42 of this clip), but most of the dancing in Dancer in the Dark owes more to STOMP than Singin' In the Rain. No matter. The joyful exuberance is the same.

Why do I love it so much? What kind of magic is this? How come I can't help adore it? It's just another musical...


redeyespy said...

I definitely have to watch this again. It has never left my mind. Put me in the "love it" group.

And you definitely have to see von Trier's DOGVILLE, which perpetuates many of the observations in this post.

Stephen Ley said...

Yes, some day I plan to resolutely tackle Dogville. From what I understand resolution is required to sit through it.