Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#25) Michael Winterbottom's 9 SONGS

 I think if there was a tagline I could come up or contribute as a (sorta) film crtic for Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs, it would be this: "Come for the fucking, stay for the rock songs."  That's really what one of the most explicit mainstream sex movies ever made is proposing for its audience, which are that a) two actors, Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stiley (and both actual actors, by the way, no "John Cockthrob" names in their resumes), would play characters who fall in love, whatever that is, and have lots of actual on-screen fucking and masturbation and all of those goodies we do with our genitals, and b) lots of indie rock songs performed live by their respective bands.

This is actually a sex-rock movie that I'm surprised one of my short-lived girlfriends in college didn't sit me down and watch with me.  I imagine it wouldn't turn her on for the sex, more-so to see Franz Ferdinand and the Dandy Warhols get their rock on.

It is, in all respectable terms, an experiment, pushing the envelope even further than Catherine Breillat did with her film Romance in terms of what you can show in a film that is not going straight to the back of the video store and covered in sticky white stuff.  If nothing else 9 Songs asks for and for some of us gets respect as being a piece of art that rests in the very rare netherworld of films that are not porn but not quite there for full mainstream consumption (Romance certainly wasn't, and Shortbus came closer, no pun intended).  It's not meant to be porn, according to the director, but just a shapshot of two young people in love and hanging out and going to rock shows and occasionally showing the guy, Matt (O'Brien) doing his Antarctica-explorer thing, which is his job, I guess (we never see what she does for work, but then she might be too young to "do" anything for a living yet).

And yet I can obviously see why some people, critics, audiences, did see this as just art-porn.  There's probably a big cross-section of people who would watch 9 Songs just to get off, and hey, more power to ya if you just pop it in for a few minutes and then eject before the missus or the kids walk into the room . But it's not "supposed" to be meant for that; this I also told myself as the sex scenes were at times a turn on, not because the people are particularly attractive but because the staging of the sex is meant to be intimate and raw, and the cinematography is not meant to reflect the work of porn directors who only stay on the genitals.  It doesn't pretend to be anything it's not, which is a very improvisational look at a couple who do the things couples do: cook, cuddle, fuck, on one or two occasions argue, do cocaine, dance, and those rock shows.


The experiment is admirable, but here's the rub: an actual film still needs something of a semblance of a story or character development, at least some of the time.  9 Songs would work best for people just looking for a "tone-poem", so to speak, of young love, but for me it didn't entirely work as a narrative experience.  As a series of moods and vignettes and the possibilities of daring, sure, it's cool.  But I never knew really what these two saw each other at the start, and there's only a couple of times we see them having some meaningful interactions as far as conversations go.

They're cute together, but they don't really change during the movie: they start out horny and lovy-dovy, and end horny and lovy-dovy, only on separate parts of the world as Matt goes back to his Antarctica stuff and Lisa goes back to... being young and kooky I guess.  It is, at its worst, tedious and repetitive, since you can almost count when the next sex scene will appear based on when the next rock song appears.  And don't get me started on the audio in those Antarctica scenes.

But speaking of the rock songs, I think that will be what draws people more to this film, possibly, maybe, than just the sex.  The bands on tap, and some of them I hadn't heard of before (re: the poster), have at least some kind of interesting groove going on, and some of them rock the fucking house.  It may be a little too "hip" to listen to on an endless loop, unless I was one of those people and I don't think I am, but a good many of the songs by Primal Scream and Franz Ferdinand and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are genuinely good songs, and shot in a rough, underground style by Winterbottom to get the feel of fun and excitement and how unique this place is.  This isn't POP music, at least not intentionally, so he doesn't get a lot of close-ups.  It's all from the audience, and it's surely the aspect that I liked as being most "documentary-ish".

Make sure to check this out in full HD on those... other sites....

9 Songs delivers exactly what it promotes, and how that works for you depends on how much repetitive graphic sex by reasonably good looking folks does, and how much of the indie rock track you can stomach.  It's a film that divides its audience, and I feel divided myself looking back on the movie.  I admire its just-go-for-it attitude and fearless respect for its audience at a time when most sex on screen has to be diluted for the ratings boards to get a wider release (indeed if not for the rock bands and somewhat the name and radical reputation of the director it might've taken me longer to be acquainted with the movie outside of jerk-off sites).  But as an actual movie, it's only at best fair and at worst kind of rubbish.

PS: In case you're wondering how much sex or how graphic... well

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