You wouldn’t expect Iceland’s eccentric diva to star in and write the score for any old movie, and Lars von Trier’s bizarre musical “Dancer in the Dark” is definitely unconventional. Emotionally, it is a classic tale of overcoming the odds, but parts can be excruciating to watch.
Happily, the six Bjork songs that combine with the orchestral overture to form this soundtrack album (due in stores Sept. 19) represent the movie’s most uplifting parts, for both her character and the audience. As Selma, a Czech immigrant going blind and scrimping to buy her son an operation to spare him the same fate, Bjork escapes her increasingly desperate situation through imaginary production numbers a la classic Hollywood musicals. Bjork the composer fashions these from the rhythms of Selma’s everyday life: factory noises, a clacking train, footsteps on stairs, etc.
Although the singer-songwriter affects Selma’s emotional voice, a guileless blend of optimism and fatalism, the music is pure Bjork, a delightfully inventive mix of industrial dissonance, melodic dance and techno bits, and traditional movie-musical orchestration that may well have listeners envisioning postmodern Busby Berkeley dance numbers themselves.
They may not entirely transcend their context, but such songs as “New World” and “In the Musicals” have a genuine, if off-kilter, pop appeal in their sense that faith can overcome the grimmest of circumstances.