Björk: Biophilia Live

Plays at Cinematheque Oct. 24 to 26, and Oct. 30

Björk: Biophilia Live is a concert film of the stage show adapted from Biophilia, Björk’s 2011 album/app/art project. The film opens with narration from English broadcaster David Attenborough, who promises that the following performance will offer insight into the intersections between nature, music and technology. I’m not sure Biophilia offers insight into anything other than Björk as an artist. That’s fine, if you’re interested in her as an artist. As someone with only a casual interest in Björk’s post-Sugarcubes career, I found the film mostly a curiosity.

The performance is a multimedia experience, combining live music, projected film images and onstage effects. The film’s biggest misstep comes from its use of composite shots and effects to make the performance and projected images seem to intermingle. Editing tricks and clever filmmaking aren’t what makes a concert film interesting. Performance is, and directors Nick Fenton and Peter Strickland seem only half interested in it.

That said, the performance is spellbinding when it’s allowed to be. Björk wears a giant orange afro wig and a dress that looks like it was made out of the guts that spill out of Han Solo’s sliced-open tauntaun. Despite her silly get-up and sometimes laughable lyrics, she occasionally strikes gold. The show falters when too much focus is placed on the extraneous elements, but when she lets the song be the driving force, Biophilia offers real pathos. The intermingling of electronic wizardry, primitive instruments and choral arrangements make for hypnotic and beautiful music. When the music is doing its job, the other gaffes don’t matter.

For people who like Björk and know the Biophilia album well, this will probably be thrilling. For me, mostly a Björk neophyte, I found myself grasping for something to latch on to. 

Sometimes there’s plenty to latch on to. Other times, I just scratched my head.

Published in Volume 69, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 22, 2014)

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