Bill in Dancer in the Dark

David Morse - Dancer in the Dark

Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, TN) October 13, 2000, Friday

Copyright 2000 Knoxville News-Sentinel Co. Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, TN) October 13, 2000, Friday

SECTION: Weekend; Pg. 7
LENGTH: 703 words

Actor in the dark about 'Dark' extremes

BYLINE: Betsy Pickle, News-Sentinel film critic

No film this year has created more of a division in the critical community than director Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post said its "ethereal fascinations defy reduction to mere language" and praised "its utter, overwhelming watchability."

Derek Elley of Variety called it "a 21/2-hour demo of auteurist self-importance that's artistically bankrupt on almost every level." David Morse, the only American with a leading role in the film, is perplexed by the extremes. "It seems a little over the top," says Morse. "I understand people being really moved by it ... but to have people be so angry at it, I don't get that kind of response.

Dancer in the Dark, now playing at Downtown West, won the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d'Or. Although von Trier is a Cannes favorite -- his Breaking the Waves, The Idiots, Europa and The Element of Crime all won accolades at the festival -- this was the Danish director's first Golden Palm.

A revisionist musical about a nearly blind factory worker (Icelandic singer Bjork) obsessed with saving her son's vision, Dancer in the Dark is set in Washington state but was filmed in Sweden with a cast that includes French icon Catherine Deneuve, Fargo heavy Peter Stormare, and von Trier regulars Udo Kier and Jean-Marc Barr.

Morse, who plays the neighbor whose weakness adds to Bjork's tragic circumstances, doesn't seem an obvious casting choice for a European director, but he had been on von Trier's horizon for some time.

"Too many people had mentioned my name to him that he just couldn't ignore it anymore," says Morse in a phone interview from New York. "It had come up when he was doing Breaking the Waves, too -- the producer had pushed me for that."

Known for a quiet strength that can be gentle (The Green Mile, Contact) or fierce (Bait, The Negotiator), Morse had no preconceptions of von Trier as a person, only as an artist.

"I'd seen Zentropa when it was at Cannes, and I saw Breaking the Waves -- and both of them so different," he marvels. "One so rich with emotion ... and the other so technically ambitious. As a filmmaker, he's really interesting."

Morse says he's learned since completing the film that his cast mates came to the project with the same motives he did.

"We've all expressed that it was not the script that got us to do this, and a lot of us had reservations about doing it because of the script," he says. "That it was really Lars and the attraction of working with him, and after having talked to him to have kind of a faith that the experience of telling whatever this story was in this script was not going to be like anything we'd done before."

Von Trier's approach to the material was looser than what the actors were used to. "He would get the actors in the room, he would have the camera, and he would get the crew out," says Morse. "And he essentially would say, 'Go. Do it. Let's see what happens.'

"All of us were used to at least blocking something or rehearsing something, and he didn't want to do it. ... He would start to shape it as it went along, and he would throw out the script at times, tell us just to speak whatever the subtext was instead of the script."

Conversely, the musical numbers, which were shot with an innovative digital technique using 100 cameras, were carefully planned. Some of the songs recall the big productions of Hollywood's musical heyday -- albeit with a proletarian twist -- but Morse and Bjork duet in a more serious vein.

"I actually kind of thought, 'Yippee! We get to go do some singing and dancing.' But it turns out that my part in it was not that kind of singing and dancing," says Morse.

Bjork wrote the songs, with von Trier and Sjon Sigurdsson providing the lyrics.

"I'm kind of glad I didn't have too much singing," says Morse. "It was a challenge for all of us to get a sense of her voice, which is just completely unique to her.

"The rhythms of those songs really belong to her. She would record them with us, and she wound up, as we would go along, just simplifying them for us, getting us to speak the songs more than try to sing them."

LOAD-DATE: October 19, 2000



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