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Archive for October 5th, 2011

by Sam Juliano

Some have called it a musical version of Night of the Living Dead.  Others have condemned it as a sordid renunciation of one of Hollywood’s most celebrated genres, in full measure as a consequence of it’s brutal contradiction of music and narrative.  It’s unremittingly grim denouement is the veritable antithesis of joy and effervescence, and its muted color and grainy texture are most assuredly not the fabric of unrestrained joy and optimism.  Yet there is a distinct dichotomy between the generally-accepted protocol as to how a modern musical should be crafted and showcased, and Danish director Lars Von Trier, who imparted his own sensibilities on his Palme d’ Or winner, Dancer in the Dark, steadfastly argues that the central purpose in a musical film is to “steer away from the artificial.”

Von Trier’s film contains a number of ironies and a central deceit, but it’s narrative is straightforward enough, at least in surface conscription.  A Czech immigrant and a single mother named Selma are living in the Pacific Northwest circa 1964.  Her factory job entails stamping out metal cafeteria-style tubs, while at night she moonlights attaching bobby pins by hand to cardboard displays, reading them for sale to raise some extra cash.  Ascetic to an extreme, Selma, who is going blind due to a rare genetic disorder holds on to every penny to help her young son avoid the same fate by undergoing surgery.  Meanwhile, Selma escapes to the fantasy world of musicals, imagining herself as a cast member, and believing that nothing go bad in such an idyllic place, an environment where song and dance erupts to declare that all is well in the world.  In large measure to solve the boredom that defines her everyday life, she watches and listens to the metal presses, the clanking of metal and the ringing of steel, as well as noting a train going over tracks.  She documents this by pencil sketching  and escapes into an imaginary dimension where she is the center of an extended dance number, where she is the predominant vocalist.  In the film’s most electrifying sequence, the staging on a rail car of the song “I’ve Seen It All”, Selma sings about seeing ‘the willow trees dancing in the breeze’ and of the ‘dark and the brightness in one little spark.’  Yet, she essays her own damnation to lower-middle class impoverishment and her own impending doom when she intones ‘I’ve seen a man killed by his best friend’ and ‘lives that were over before they were spent.’ (more…)

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