10 Years Later, The Swan Dress Revisited
Radiation Level: Moderate
Listening to: The Carnival of the Animals, The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns.
Everyone knows the ignominious dress. It got ridiculed by Joan Rivers, scorned by every fashion rag in the States and chided by all of Hollywood. Everyone laughed and mocked the dress. Everyone, except me.
If you know FalloutGirl, you know she has a mad girl-crush on Bjork, whose music is both ethereal and punk, harmonic and industrial, silly and gut wrenching. Bjork’s voice is like none other in the universe. Listening to her sing is like listening to magpies and ocean waves and the clanging of a hammer all in one. It hurts, it heals, it builds bridges to transcendental states of consciousness.
I remember seeing Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark on opening night. I was sitting in the audience about three-fourth’s of the way through when I heard a strange sound: crying. Dozens of audience members around me were sniffling and moaning. And I thought, “Hold it together, folks. Selma will get out of this…just wait.” And then suddenly I realized Selma wouldn’t get out of this. And before I knew it, a giant guttural SOB came out of my body. Salt water rained out of my eyes. Like Selma, I couldn’t see. Then she sang “A Few of my Favorite Things” and I fell apart. It was like a Samurai sword ripping through my chest. Ahhhh-ah-ah…
Okay, maybe I’m being a tad dramatic, but that’s the point. Bjork isn’t an actress, she’s a classically trained musician – one who understands the symbolic nature of sound and images. For the Oscars, she wanted to physically inhabit the old-time musicals from which Selma in Dancer in the Dark found inspiration.
Artistically, symbolically, it made sense to her. Bjork admitted the dress was an homage to the beautiful Busby Berkeley films where Berkeley used large numbers of showgirls and props as fantasy elements in kaleidoscopic on-screen performances, twisting human bodies into attractive geometric patterns. Is this a crime? I say NO.
Growing up in Iceland, Bjork no doubt read The Ugly Duckling, by Hans Christian Andersen. The theme of which is that beauty is from within, and not a matter of outward appearance. This healing tale has been told for over a century, to children who feel isolated, or that they don’t fit in, teaching them to look within to find their own inner beauty and radiate it. When their time comes, they will be transformed, and have the grace, beauty and eloquence of a majestic white swan.
To me, the Swan Dress bashing just highlights the cruel blood-sucking, sadistic side of Hollywood – wear Valentino or we’ll castrate you. Be sickly-skinny or we’ll splatter photos of your cellulite all over the tabloids. Be like everyone else, or we’ll exile you. Bjork walked into this gauntlet and was beheaded, plucked and thrown into a crock-pot for a swan stew.
I know people say ‘well, this is the penultimate of red carpets -she should have known better.’ But Lady Gaga has less talent in her whole body than Bjork has in her ear lobe and she gets away with wearing this sh*t?
Maybe it’s because Lady G makes it into a cynical game, changing outfits every 30 seconds. She admits it’s spectacle, a gimmick. Whereas Bjork’s mistake? Sincerity. Vulnerability. Hope of transformation. A symbolic existence. For these qualities, I honor the Swan Dress.