Posts from 1st November 2000

1
Nov 00

Here is Bob Stanley

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Here is Bob Stanley talking about Canada’s attempt to keep Eminem out of the country: he uses it as an opportunity to write about pop and outrage, and the history of pop being offensive. This is how we talk about offensiveness now: a light, jaded tone, which mixes up Eminem’s naughty lyrics and naughty lyrics in the 60s which used words like “bum”.

The reason Stanley writes like this is because he’s not offended. It’s very unfashionable to be offended by pop music now if you’re a music journalist. Ten years ago, when Stanley made his living as a music journalist and not as a cool pop star, it was fashionable to be offended. I remember reading reviews of NWA which righteously slaughtered them from the name on down. I felt then that perhaps the reviewers were missing something out, just like I feel now that Stanley might be missing something out when he says nobody could be offended by what Eminem sings.

Even so I start when I’m chatting to somebody on IM and she says she thinks a lot of hip-hop – Eminem isn’t mentioned actually – is offensive. Because people don’t get offended by pop music any more, surely? It seems too thorny and sticky for bright exciting pop to get caught up on this, and besides there’s the suspicion that maybe you just don’t ‘get it’. Among people who do get offended, on Salon and on bulletin boards, there’s the idea that the offense overcomes anything else that might be in the music, or renders the music artless or stupid: it seems like you have to take this line because otherwise you’re selling out whatever beliefs caused you to be offended in the first place. And similarly if you defend Jay-Z or somebody like that you have to contort yourself as well and take either a nihilistic line or a flippant one, or decide that it’s all in character, although it probably isn’t.

The good thing about the era when being offended was cool was that it prompted a lot of arguments: nowadays pieces like Stanley’s prompt a shrug and a knowing chuckle. Possibly there’s a feeling we haven’t got time to risk being bored by writing which might be difficult or hectoring, or not conclude very much. But in the end you engage with pop more for thinking these things through: maybe we should have an Outrage Issue of FT?

Dancer In The Dark

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Dancer In The Dark: nylpm doesn’t often do film reviews – but my usual review home is dead at the moment. Anyway Dancer In The Dark is a musical, and it does star a pop personage. It is also absolutely ridiculous – a fact which certainly should not be used to deride it. To abuse a musical for having a silly plot is to have a go at tomatoes being red. Its a given. Question is, can the musical work for a modern audience who are – apparently – used to more complex, realist fayre like Road Trip and Hollow Man.

Well certainly Dancer In The Dark is no classic musical. To start off with it does not have enough tunes. There are only really five songs in here – and the songs do not really kick off until about an hour in. In the intermediary bits we get faded digital camera work of a thoroughly silly plot involving Björk going blind, that bloke who used to be in St Elsewhere but always plays psycho bad guys these days and Catherine Denevue sleepwalking through the movie. For some reason Björk’s Czech immigrant speaks (and sings) with a cockney/Icelandic accent and has one of the most deluded senses of honour you’ll ever encounter. This is melodrama at its highest, the kind of story that film has not touched since Joan Crawford rested her weary head.

But the tunes? Well, anyone hoping for “Its Oh So Quiet- The Musical” will be sorely disappointed. The tunes are resolutely solid Björk: odd phrasing, often devoid of obvious musical themes whilst featuring sweeping orchestration and lyrically childish. On the other hand some of this is about as good as Björk gets – ‘Its A Musical’ plays well as the central thesis of the film and actually survives being split by a lengthy, dull courtroom scene. She also uses all of her vaudvillany to actually produce a rather moving reading of ‘My Favourite Things’. The central murder ballad is clunky as hell though, an amalgam of Laurie Anderson and Ira Gershwin.

Lars Von Trier is being deliberately provocative with Dancer In The Dark. Its apparently filmed in Dogme style, whilst breaking nearly all of the Dogme tenets. Especially the one about things which would happen in real life. The storyline is such that it does not bear even rudimentary scrutiny: a TV movie would not stretch this story to its illogical conclusion. The choreography is poor, badly filmed and dance routines amateurishly staged. The central scene is almost laughably violent: though if I had known I could pay good money to see Björk bash someone’s head in with a tin tray I think I may have gone early. Bottom line, Von Trier wants to be provocative – and he has succeeded.

All that said – I really rather liked Dancer In The Dark. Its an audacious mess, and one I could not help but rather enjoy. Quite possibly for its novelty, for its devil may care grasp of two dead film genres and its faux Dogme stylings. The message of the film is ambiguous. Björk’s Selma lives through musicals (it all goes digital technicolour), yet the film also suggests that such a fantasy life is no proper escape. On another day, in another mood I probably would have found the film wholly ridiculous and laughable. Which is pretty much where the amazingly mixed reviews come in. If you cannot accept Björk’s odd line delivery as part of the character then it comes off as lousy acting. Perhaps it is lousy acting. But she does know how to nail an audience when she sings, and she ends the film bellowing.