SDMBMLS&DS: "Dancer in the Dark"

I’m guessing you either loved this film, or really, really hated it. I loved it. I think. Damn, what a hard movie to watch!

Lars von Trier, bless his indie heart, takes on a musical. The hand-held camera, the stilted dialogue, the choppy editing – all part of this artiste’s vision. Or his technique, I guess – his vision is a rather dark take on The American Dream. (Note: I’ve never seen any of von Trier’s other films – a friend told me Breaking the Waves would make me want to slit my wrists and made me promise never to watch it.)

I’m not gonna summarize the plot in detail – just say that as Selma’s life becomes more and more intolerable, the fantasy life she substitutes for it becomes more and more vivid. The first 50 minutes or so of this musical features not a single song or dance. (Oops, no, that’s not right – it opens with the Sound of Music rehearsal, doesn’t it?) The first actual number, in the factory, is pretty well tied to reality – we see (more or less) her fellow workers dancing around the huge machines. (I’ve gotta say, I was spoiled by the primal experience of watching Fred Astaire’s numbers, always showing the dancers from head to toe and with the camera swinging along in a smooth flow. I find the choppy modern body bits shooting and editing of dance scenes annoying as hell – show me what the dancers are doing, dammit!) The second number, on the train (the main one I remembered after the only other time I’d seen this film, three or four years ago) starts to drift from reality a little more – who are the men, and where did they come from? And then, after the murder, it all becomes just a technicolor blur. The trial scene – ah, I loved Joel Grey coming in and tap-dancing on the witness box. (The prosecutor looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him, and his name, Zeljko Ivanek, made it seem unlikely I knew him – but it turns out he played the DA in Homicide.)

Sheesh, I’ve got to get to work – wanted to work on the OP last night, but everyone was on IM – let me just bullet point a couple of things:

[li]Was Selma supposed to be “retarded”? (Sorry – what’s the polite term these days?) Was her boyfriend? Was her son?[/li][li]I loved the scene when Selma and Cathy were in the movies, the second time, and the Busby Berkley film was playing, and Cathy takes Selma’s hand and “shows” her the dancing, then kisses her hand. A lovely moment.[/li][li]The point seemed to be that everyone loved Selma (because of her childlike innocence?) – was I alone in not being beguiled by her?[/li][li]What should we make of the framing device of the amateur production of The Sound of Music?[/li][/ul]

Here is Ebert’s review.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something major I wanted to say – I’ll be back!

Don’t like to use the word hate and so I won’t, but I found it to be really, really unenjoyable. I didn’t like the handheld camera feel of the beginning. (I’m not claiming it was only used in the beginning, just that that annoyed me and put me off the movie almost immediately). Didn’t like Selma- wasn’t sure if she was more retarded or manipulative. Didn’t like the music, didn’t like the plot. Didn’t like the use of Sound of Music in framing devise- felt like was chosen because everyone knows that musical and can relate to it and maybe will want to watch this movie to see what happens to it. (Would I have liked the framing devise better with a less well know musical substituted? I doubt it, I didn’t like much of this movie. But I didn’t like Selma cast as Maria- and then refusing and I did feel like there was an attempt at audience manipulation in the selection of Sound of Music because that framing devise is one of the things I remember reading about from the review. But I had not seen the movie until this past week and am unlikely to see it again.)

What I did find interesting- the scene in the factory with the dancing. After just having seen “The Pajama Game” where there is “dancing” in the sense of choreographed and therefore unrealistic movements used to perform structured work and thus make the movements appear almost natural and job related, it was interesting to see a scene where the ordinary sounds become music and people start dancing- no relation to jobs.

I’m not a regular member of the Musical Lover’s Society, but I have seen this movie. Despite enjoying typical musicals… despite finding Bjork to be an irresistably cute, befuddled, pixie-like waif… I really didn’t care for this movie at all. I didn’t get the impression she was retarded - but definitely not mentally whole.

It’s been a while since I saw it, and blissfully, the fog of memory is starting to cloud the details. Nice concept, poor execution. In my opinion, adjectives to describe a musical should not include “listless”.

It would be, for me, one of the greatest films of all time except for the handheld camera.

It gives me a headache. He claims that the handheld camera is more natural but my world does not look like that.

The performances in the film are astounding. The song on the train, I have seen it all, is one of my favorite songs. The last version of My Favorite Things is heartwrenching. David Morse was, as usual, fantastic in this movie. And as a modern retelling of City Lights it can’t be beat.

But that damn camera.

So, this isn’t about Bruce Springsteen and Courteney Cox, then?

…so to speak.

I thought it was a…er…“good” movie, whatever that means objectively, but just unbearably depressing and frustrating to watch. Since I’m not terribly knowledgeable about the movie world, I didn’t remember until it was mentioned here that it was a Lars Von Trier movie, and I’m only now making the connection to Dogville, which was one of the most repulsive, degrading things I’ve ever seen. (Jeezus, are all of Von Trier’s films so unspeakably cruel to women?)

I thought it was silly. He shot right past powerful and depressing and landed in parody. Saw the ending coming and laughed when it hit. Lars Von Trier tried too hard.

Really? I cried the first time I saw it – this time, I got up and turned on the computer about half an hour from the end, because it was getting too intense and I couldn’t bear to give it my full attention.

It was because I just couldn’t get into it. Lars Von Trier just tried so hard to make the movie sooooo depressing that I just couldn’t take it seriously after the first half hour. It was a virtual paint-by-numbers guide to a bleak film. I remember joking that the movie was going to end the way it did halfway through.

If it makes you feel better, Alias did hit me when I laughed.

Thanks, Alias! :wink:

I dunno if “seeing it coming” is enough to disqualify an ending from being sad – I still cry at the end of West Side Story every single time.

Oh man, that movie killed me. I’ve never cried at a movie the way I sobbed through the end of that one. Geez, I’ll never watch that movie again. That being said, I thought it was a great movie and a terrible movie at the same time.

The song she was singing was cut off when they hung her. Tis silly. It’s as if West Side Story went “I just met a girl named Mari<GLACK!!>.”

It’s different when you’re calling plot points out on a movie that you haven’t seen before. I also think it was part of the risk in making a movie like Dancer in the Dark a musical. People are going to either buy into it and enjoy it or, as it is in my case, think it’s corny.

I’m with Harborwolf on this one.

By the end, I was thinking, “Ah, just put her out of her misery already!”

This movie, I think begins Von Trier’s film obsession with the United States and his overwhelming distaste for it. And it continues his seemingly never-ending quest to beat up on women on film.

He has defended himself from charges of misogyny, but do you notice how fast his leading ladies are repelled by him? He chased Bjork from the movies altogether, which is too bad. I liked her music in Dancer in the Dark and I think she had the chance to be a different kind of movie star, but now we’ll never know.

For a much better film about the death penalty (made by a much better director) check out Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue #5. Kieslowski tells his story without the manipulative melodrama, the inane plot twists and the political axe grinding of Dancer in the Dark. It would have been so easy to do so too. Filmed in Poland during the last gasp of Soviet domination he could have easily kicked the communist party while it was down with this film, but he never does. He does not give us a victim who is completely innocent and wrongly convicted like Von Trier does. He gives us a useless low-life who cannot have our sympathy. Yet his film is far more effective. The grim reality of it give the film’s final words power that is missing altogether from Dancer in the Dark. And Kieslowski’s film transcends borders, becoming a statement for all humanity, while Von Trier only aims at Americans.

Additionally, the all-over-the-place-accents get annoying in Dancer in the Dark. Sure the foreign characters should have accents (although Bjork uses British expressions like “mum”) but American characters also have obvious accents, which makes the whole thing just weird.

Von Trier has drawn big headlines to himself again while making part 2 of his U.S.A. trilogy called Manderlay (Dogville was part 1). Von Trier had a donkey killed and mutilated in the film which, unsurprisingly, evoked the ire of animal lovers. Von Tier cut the scene from the film because he doesn’t want the controversy to distract from his message, but not until after he lashed out at those he sees as being “politically correct.” He deems political correctness another American invention that’s ruining the world.

It seems that Von Trier is lost in a delusional sea of paranoia and phobias. I’m not going to bother to care anymore.

I liked the film. I thought it was beautiful.

But the ending was very difficult to watch.

Also hated the shaky cam.
At first I thought maybe Bjork’s character had a developmental disability, but then realized that English was her second language.
I still haven’t figured out the upside, if any, of this film.
I was surprised at how I did get caught up in the story. Usually a narrative shot on video is just hard for me to watch but this was an exception.
Loved Bjork’s music as always.