Watch Bjork Sing in This Hypnotic Clip of 'The Juniper Tree,' Her Newly Restored Feature Film Debut
In 2001, Björk wore The Swan Dress. The Icelandic musician and actress was attending the 73rd annual Academy Awards as a nominee and performer, as “I’ve Seen It All” -- her musical contribution to Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, the film in which she also starred -- was a contender for best original song that year.
By then, Björk, born Björk Guðmundsdóttir, had established herself as an enigmatic pop star with a flair for the eccentric unbound by language barriers or genre. The Iceland native's first hit came with "Birthday," the 1987 single with her avant-pop band, The Sugarcubes. She technically launched her solo career as an 11-year-old in 1977 with her self-titled album of a folk ilk, but revived it post-Sugarcubes in 1993 with Debut, which re-introduced her as a thinker, maker and singer who made electronic music her intellectual playground.
The Swan Dress wasn’t entirely out of place, given her penchant for creative self-expression in music and visual art leading up to Dancer in the Dark, and it would go on to become one of her most recognizable totems, as well as the look she wore on the cover of one of her most critically adored albums, 2001’s Vespertine. Her deserved accolades and attention at the Oscars felt ripe with the potential expansion into other mediums as her star ascended.
That didn’t happen. Björk’s acting career ended with Dancer in the Dark, but it didn’t begin there, a fact often overshadowed by The Swan Dress and all it signifies. Long before the Oscars, and even before “Birthday,” there was The Juniper Tree.
In 1986, Björk spent the summer filming a black-and-white interpretation of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale directed by Nietzchka Keene that eventually premiered at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival. The Juniper Tree is a showpiece for Iceland and Björk as she navigates the island's jagged basalt cliffs, cascading waterfalls and sprawling landscapes dotted with sprinting horses with better bangs than Brigitte Bardot. Björk's character, Margit, is the daughter of an accused witch and little sister to Katla -- who shacked up with a widower, Jóhann, and his suspicious, tow-headed son, Jónas -- after their mother was stoned to death.
Of the five characters we meet in The Juniper Tree, Margit and the ghost of her mother are the two calm, kind faces in a tale peppered with abuse, cannibalism (!), murder and grief. In this exclusive clip, Margit brings Jónas to meet her mother, not realizing that she's the only one who can see the ghostly vision. She sings to him, and the scene feels prescient and familiar, in that Björk's talent is so hypnotizing that the line is blurred between fairy tale and fact for a brief moment onscreen.
The new restoration of the film was helmed by the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation.
Catch The Juniper Tree at New York's Metrograph starting Friday (March 15) before it expands to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Nashville and other select cities, and watch Björk sing in this scene from The Juniper Tree below.