Film and music in perfect harmony for Bjork Gudmundsdóttir film

THERE are pop eccentrics and then there’s Bjork Gudmundsdóttir. 

The Icelandic singer’s career has zigged and zagged from zany to obtuse to delightfully weird. All of those aspects are captured in a boundary-shattering new concert movie, Biophilia Live, a film that seeks to go beyond the cliches of the genre and provide fresh insights into the artist and her work.

It is also a movie with a message. Across her Biophilia project — along with the 70-date world tour there was an accompanying LP and iPad application — Bjork puts forward the view that, far from acting in opposition, technology and nature can exist in harmony. This belief is movingly and dramatically articulated in the film, through a spoken word introduction by David Attenborough and stunning backing visuals.

“Technology is seen as against nature,” says Peter Strickland, director of Biophilia Live (along with Nick Fenton). “Bjork has a more Nordic or Germanic idea of nature — where it can collaborate with the natural world.”

Going into the project, Strickland, 41, had little experience of concert films. While aware of the stand-outs of the form he was not an aficionado. He was certain of one thing, though: he wanted the movie to be for fans. There would be no watering down of Bjork’s music or message in an attempt to woo a mainstream audience.

“I’m a big film fan — concert films are something I am not so knowledgable on,” he says. “My attitude is that it’s all about that the band. If it’s a director I love, shooting a concert film for an act I don’t like, I’m not going to bother watching. I’d happily watch a concert of a band I love shot on a camera phone.

“My personal take is that you can’t really dilute the concert film. If you try to broaden it, you do everyone a disservice. You want to make it as intense, as concentrated, as possible.”

Strickland was a fan of Bjork before the commission, but not slavishly so. Indeed, he hadn’t seen the Biophilia tour — which stopped off at the 2013 Electric Picnic festival — prior to being tasked with filming it.

“It was a tricky one,” he says. “Bjork performed in a circular stage. She was moving around like a clock, basically. There are also musicians to factor in. We did a dummy run using just two cameras — we soon realised we needed a lot more, as in maybe another 14 cameras.”

The movie was shot on the penultimate date of the tour, at Alexandra Palace in London. On the night Bjork stopped and restarted several times, explaining to those in attendance that the concert was being recorded.

“It sounded fine to me,” says Strickland. “That was her — nothing to do with us. I still can’t understand why she redid them. I couldn’t hear the difference. Shooting was stressful — knowing you only get one chance. I’m used to working with one camera. Using 16 — well, obviously that was daunting.”

He speaks highly of Bjork — and not because she hired him to shoot a movie. “If I hadn’t got on with her I’d say it,” he explains. “In fact, I found her very pleasant. What’s interesting is that she is extremely singular in what she does. She knows how bloody annoying it is if someone is telling you what to do. She doesn’t want to be that person. As soon as she trusts someone, she lets you get on with that. For me it was a weird experience. It was her vision. Shooting a pop video is one thing — if, however, you are making a concert movie then, as director, you should not put your stamp on it. It must be about the artist.”

  • Bjork: Biophilia Live is screened at Cork Opera House as part of Cork Film Festival on Saturday.

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