9 Songs [DVD]
Director : Michael Winterbottom
Screenplay : Michael Winterbottom
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2004 (Europe) / 2005 (U.S.)
Stars : Kieran O'Brien (Matt), Margo Stilley (Lisa), Huw Bunford (Himself), Cian Ciaran (Himself), The Dandy Warhols (Themselves), Elbow (Themselves), Franz Ferdinand (Themselves), The Von Bondies (Themselves)
Almost as soon as it was possible to record motion pictures on flexible celluloid, someone had the idea of using it to record people having sex. Primitive one-reel “stag films” date back to the very beginnings of the cinema in the 1890s, thus the idea of depicting actual sex acts on film is nothing new, revolutionary, or, at this point, particularly interesting. That didn’t stop Michael Winterbottom, however, from delving into the realm of hard core in 9 Songs, a slight film in every sense of the word that traces a couple’s summer-long affair.
Because explicit sexuality is as old as the medium itself, the primary challenge for filmmakers has been finding a way to incorporate it into artistically meaningful films. This was clearly Winterbottom’s aim, and the ultimate failure of 9 Songs shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering that virtually every filmmaker who has explored this particular terrain has met with a similar fate.
The idea almost took root in the early 1970s, when “porno chic” was all the rage and hard-core filmmakers like Gerard Damiano (Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones) could be hailed as “auteurs.” The desire to find a way to incorporate hard-core footage into a legitimate film even tempted the likes of Stanley Kubrick, who in an interview with a French magazine in 1971 confessed that he was fascinated with the idea of making a big-budget hard-core film with known stars. The simultaneous pinnacle and low point of such thinking was Caligula (1980), the enormously expensive hard-core epic directed by Tinto Brass and funded by Penthouse magnate Bob Guccione. Since that film flopped, a few filmmakers have made inroads, particularly French filmmakers such as Catherine Breillat, whose 1999 film Romance caused a significant stir, albeit not significant enough to encourage others to follow her path.
Michael Winterbottom has been one of Britain’s most interesting directors, having made numerous button-pushing films of different generic stripes over the past decade, including an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Jude (1996) and the brutal reality-check Welcome to Sarajevo (1997). According to a BBC interview, when he decided to make 9 Songs, “he was motivated by a desire to ‘show people making love, so that we can see a relationship being told through two people being intimate together.’” An interesting idea, but one that is fundamentally flawed because there is no way to see a relationship told in all its complexity only through physicality, which is all we see in 9 Songs. The film is brutally boring and monotonous because the relationship is limited in virtually every respect to what the couple does together physically.
The title refers to the fact that the film is divided into nine segments, each of which features a live performance by a British rock band (including Franz Ferdinand, The Dandy Warhols, and The Von Bondies). These musical segments are then intercut with scenes involving Matt (Kieran O'Brien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley) engaging in various sexual activities in his apartment. There is no connection between the music and the sex except for the fact that they are both shot on gritty digital video, which provides a sense of immediacy that is at first intriguing, but, like the rest of the film, is ultimately tedious. Winterbottom avoids both concert-film and porn clichés by giving 9 Songs a sense of documentary-like thereness (the concert scenes are shot largely from a spectator’s point of view and the sex scenes are sporadic and unchoreographed), but it isn’t enough to sustain interest in the failed experiment.
The entire film takes place over a summer because Lisa is a traveling American, and at the beginning we learn from Matt’s voice-over narration that it has ended. He is a scientist who has since gone to Antarctica to conduct research, and Winterbottom invests the same destylized approach to his depiction of the icy wasteland that he uses to show the sex and music. The fact that we know the relationship has ended should lend an air of poignancy to the couple’s scenes together, but it doesn’t because we learn virtually nothing about them beyond the physical details of their sexual activities. There are a few brief conversations (mostly banal) and at least one argument, but there is never any sense of the spiritual connection between them, which leaves the viewer no other choice than to assume that there isn’t one. Winterbottom has said that he wanted to depict a “love story,” but all he gives us is sex, and that is simply not enough.
|9 Songs Unrated Full Uncut Version DVD|
|9 Songs is available in both an unrated, uncut version and an unrated edited version.|
|Release Date||November 22, 2005|
|9 Songs was shot on digital video, so the image is not terribly attractive even though the transfer reproduces the intended look of the film very well. The image is somewhat muddy in the darker scenes, although the colors tend to be quite vibrant at times and the detail level is surprisingly good when there is plenty of light. Contrast tends to be quite extreme.|
|The Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks are both uniformly excellent. The scenes between Matt and Lisa are understandably limited in terms of the soundscape, with only bits of dialogue and a lot of moaning and groaning, but the nine concert scenes benefit greatly from the 5.1 mixes.|
|Included on the disc are intriguing interviews with writer/director Michael Winterbottom and actors Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stilley, who mostly discuss, not surprisingly, what is was like to have sex on-camera. Also included is the original theatrical trailer and a viewing option where you can just watch the concert sequences, which, when you think about it, is an interestingly unspoken swipe at the meaninglessness of the rest of the film.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Tartan Video