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Bjork: Biophilia Live

Part live performance, part abstract nature doco and part Space Odyssey-style psychedelic mindfuck.
By Tom Clift
October 21, 2014
By Tom Clift
October 21, 2014

"Weird", "inscrutable" and "alienating". These are just a few of the words you'll find when googling Biophilia, the eighth studio album of Icelandic singer Björk. And those are just the positive reviews. It's hardly surprisingly then that her newly released concert film is every bit as bizarre as her music. Part live performance, part abstract nature doco and part Space Odyssey-style psychedelic mindfuck, Biophilia Live isn't exactly the sort of movie you'd want to watch on any regular sort of basis — not without the assistance of mind-altering chemicals, anyway. Still, as a one-off big-screen experience, it's definitely a trip.

The film begins with a narrated introduction by the voice of science himself, Britain's national treasure David Attenborough. With perfect enunciation, he welcomes us to Biophilia, describing it as the intersection of nature and technology. It's all a bit grandiose, particularly given that the film consists primarily of Björk lurching around a stage in a frizzy orange afro and bulbous rubber dress. Is the outfit meant as a critique of the unrealistic expectations of female beauty? Perhaps. Or maybe she just really likes clowns.

In front of a sold-out London crowd, the singer squeaks her way through the tracks on her latest album. She's joined on stage by a gaggle of collaborators including percussionists, audio engineers and an Icelandic women's choir, as well as a Tesla coil, a gigantic pendulum "that creates musical patterns by harnessing the Earth’s gravitational pull," and several other bizarre instruments, musical and otherwise, whose exact function is never quite clear.

Cut over the footage is what could best be described as the B-roll recordings from an episode of Planet Earth. Volcanoes spew lava into the air, mushrooms spring from the earth, and starfish shimmy across rock pools in 100x speed. The mind-bending images, combined with the strange noises emanating from the stage, leave you feeling like you've stumbled into some impossible alternate world, one where the masses all worship at the temple of Björk.

Certainly, co-director Peter Strickland is no stranger to intoxicating his audience with exotic sights and sounds. His previous film was Berberian Sound Studio, a luscious homage to '70s Italian horror movies. His newest work, the BDSM-themed lesbian love story The Duke of Burgundy, will hopefully screen in Australia at some point next year. Trust me when I tell you, it's every bit as good as it sounds.

But regardless of Strickland's pedigree, the success of a concert film lies less with the filmmaker than it does with the musician. Those who love this movie will be the ones who love Björk already, while anyone who hates her will have an equally predictable reaction. For the rest of us, the appeal of Biophilia Live is its unapologetic strangeness. It's the sort of film that's worth seeing just to say that you have.

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