A Never-ending New World: Rehearing Selma from Dancer in the Dark

Curator's Note

In memory of Danijela Kulezic-Wilson

Cinema gives us the chance to work through our greatest fears within the safety of responding to other people’s stories. Dancer in the Dark (2000) presents us with an extreme opportunity as such. The film offers a sensorily intimate experience of its main character, Selma Ježková (Björk), who manages her pain with music. She sings while she is going blind, and she performs her last song before she is hung by the neck. Selma adores Classical Hollywood musicals, but she hates for the final numbers to end: she routinely leaves a cinema before the last song has finished, so it will keep playing in her mind. This fan-made lyric video of Björk’s “New World” is a continuation of Selma’s own music after her death, a way of honoring her desire to keep last songs from ending.

We can and should keep listening to Selma after her screen time has ended. Like all film characters, her screen time has a limited duration, but this is not where her life stops. This lyric video works on the assumption that we have already absorbed Dancer in the Dark. To return to the song is to be reminded of the music that endures and outlives the body. The cubist “Selmasongs” album-cover portrait (by Me Company) invites us to reconstitute her image along with this, to rethink the presence we have already seen, and to reabsorb her into ourselves. We can experience an ongoing relationship with her, as we might with anyone we love through the songs that have connected us to them before they died. This experience of circling back into music might also remind us that grief is never a linear process, but a constant pattern of returning to what was.

The lyrics appearing onscreen urge us to attend to every line, and to not be afraid of the dark—when the instrumental section takes over, there is a temporary blackness that then becomes an image of Selma from the film in silhouette, mostly drained of color. But her vibrant portrait and vocal line return to us, before a sunset and dandelion appear. Perhaps this signifies the unidentified video creator’s wish that we can recognize Selma’s ongoing presence. The final moments of the lyric video, showing bolded letters above braille, is suggestive of the film’s ending (“the dark”), but then the camera tracks back so we will see the complete title: “Dancer in the Dark.” Selma can keep happening to us. She is bigger than the film and its ending.


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