Tuesday, October 18, 2005

9 Songs (Winterbottom, 2004)

For a film director like Michael Winterbottom, with an impressive body of work including the brutally moving literary adaptation, Jude, and the tense political drama, Welcome to Sarajevo, the temptation to venture outside of your comfort zone must be a strong one. Having established yourself as an artist of note, you can tackle those odd projects in the back of your mind that have always seemed appealing. Hey, why not do a concert film with your favorite rock bands? Or perhaps a nature documentary that would take you to an exciting far-off part of the globe? What the hell, why not do a pornographic film? You know, but tasteful! With his odd little feature film, 9 Songs, Winterbottom combines all those ideas into one.

Over the course of 70 minutes, we witness a British man and an American woman meet at a rock concert at London’s Brixton Academy, begin a sexual relationship, develop an increasing amount of trust, find their love plateau and ultimately break off the affair as the woman returns to her native country. Their story, such as it is, is told almost exclusively their the way they interact sexually. Winterbottom seems to have issued himself a challenge – to see whether the way a couple copulates can be used as a form of narrative. If we could watch the throughline of our sex lives (providing we were able to keep a straight face), would we be able to discern a beginning, middle and end? The strongest aspect of Winterbottom’s film is that he is able to depict a relationship that seems genuine and loving. We believe Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley as a realistic couple with their petty squabbles and expressions of affection, both explicit and otherwise. Indeed, they are almost too ordinary. Winterbottom provides little that could be called plot. There are no huge revelations, no involving plot twists. Nor does Winterbottom use their sexual encounters to showcase perversity or an abusive relationship. The way they connect is mostly conventional. Their moments of disconnect are brief and subtle.

Winterbottom marks the passage of time with scenes showcasing several contemporary rock acts, all shot at the Brixton Academy, where our two lead characters are habitual patrons. If there is a progression to the concert sequences intended to convey information related to the characters’ relationship, I was unable to detect it. Most of these sequences feature reaction shots from the large audiences in attendance as much as they showcase the artists on stage. Like the sexual act, we are encouraged to see rock and roll as an outlet for humans to temporarily abandon themselves. The gathered concert goers give their bodies, as the performers on stage use their music to set the mood, the rhythm and the intensity. Unfortunately, Winterbottom does little to bring together the seemingly obvious connection to be made from these two disparate parts of his film. The concert sequences are all shot essentially in the same manner, mostly from the back of the concert hall and stand curiously separate from the rest of the film. In addition, the featured performers strike me as largely uncharismatic and do little to distinguish themselves from one another. (If I had to choose a stand-out, it would be the Von Bondies’ performance of “C’mon C’mon”.) Rather than using diverse performers to comment on the different aspects of the lovers’ interaction, Winterbottom uses a vague, uninvolving series of scenes in which the man waxes philosophical about the purity and loneliness of the Antarctican continent. We can tell that Winterbottom is grasping for a resonant metaphor to give his film shape, but these scenes never truly add any sort of depth to the film’s themes, nor do they tell us anything of interest about the central characters.

While certainly not an embarrassment, 9 Songs is also far from a triumph. Considering the provocative material involved and the film’s desire to showcase fresh voices in rock, 9 Songs is, above all, strangely unmoving. The film three different parts never coalesce into a meaningful whole and individually never arouse more than moderate interest. We leave the cinema not so much with any sort of feeling, but rather wondering what it was that we were intended to feel.


Post a Comment

<< Home