Tartan Video // 2004 // 69 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Geoffrey Miller (Retired) // January 13th, 2006
Admit it, the only reason you're interested in this movie is because of the sex.
Sometime during the late '60s and early '70s, a series of events widened the scope of sexual expression in cinema. I Am Curious (Yellow), a 1967 Swedish arthouse film with some XXX content, became an underground hit. The notorious Deep Throat was a genuine pop culture phenomenon, leading to a brief period where porno movies were socially acceptable to watch in theaters. Those two (and other similar films of the time) haven't aged well, but their influence is immeasurable.
Since then, there have been several attempts to incorporate explicit sexual acts into a mainstream film. The most infamous example, 1976's Ai No Corrida (In The Realm Of The Senses), wasn't available uncensored for decades and still sparks controversy. More recently, there's been a flurry of films, primarily from France (and specifically, director Catherine Breillat), that have aimed for the same goal. Most of these movies have been artistic failures for the same reason: They're so obsessed with shocking viewers that they never bother to develop plots or characters worth caring about.
Michael Winterbottom, an experienced and acclaimed director, would be an ideal candidate to break the curse. He's a gifted, daring, and versatile filmmaker. To see him at his finest, just check out 24 Hour Party People, his document of the seminal Factory Records label (Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays). But while he uses many of the same techniques he's honed in previous movies (including a heavy reliance on improvised dialogue), 9 Songs feels more like the work of a zealous amateur than an accomplished veteran. It's sloppy, repetitive, and unfocused.
The plot is sketchy and paper-thin: Matt (Kieran O'Brien) is an English research scientist, now in Antarctica, reminiscing about his relationship with Lisa (Margo Stilley). Lisa, an American living in England for unexplained reasons, meets Matt at a concert. Their relationship, as far as we're shown, consists of little more than going to concerts and having sex. Matt's painfully pseudo-meaningful narration while he's working in the frozen tundra is the only vague exposition provided.
As for the sex, which takes up roughly half the running time, it's just as real as everyone says it is. I won't got into extensive details, but suffice to say it covers all the bases and then some. Unlike, say, In The Realm Of The Senses, the erotic scenes depict the sort of "normal" relations any regular couple would engage in. These are not superhuman porn stars performing; they're two awkward, average people having sex. Despite the obvious intention to provoke viewers, these scenes are all done tastefully -- almost too tastefully, really -- with light classical piano twinkling in the background. They aren't particularly arousing or titillating, and I doubt that they're meant to be. There are plenty of less explicit love scenes throughout cinema that are far sexier than this joyless, sluggish fornication.
The real question that's bound to be on the mind of everyone who sees 9 Songs is, "What's the point?" I don't find the idea of un-simulated sex in film offensive; in the right hands, it could be a very powerful tool. But when there's no substance beyond that, it's simply a gratuitous grab for attention. The sex scenes in 9 Songs don't add any depth because we're shown almost nothing of Matt and Lisa's relationship besides sex. A handful of short conversations between them reveal nothing besides their lack of chemistry. Stilley, a first time actress, delivers her lines with an embarrassing amateurishness, and O'Brien sleepwalks through his.
The concert footage that forms the rest of the picture is, in fact, the most entertaining part of the film. A variety of indie and Brit-rock acts are featured, including Super Furry Animals, Primal Scream, and a then-unknown Franz Ferdinand. The bands' performances are captured through chaotic "in the crowd" shots, from the viewpoint of a concertgoer in the midst of a crowd. The downer with these segments is their brevity; most last under three minutes, not even long enough for a complete song.
Extras include interviews with Winterbottom, O'Brien, and Stilley; some additional material (music videos and live performances) on the featured bands; the theatrical trailer; and a completely useless option to watch only the concert footage (unless skipping chapters is too much work for you. The video is on the dark and grainy side, which may or may not be intentional.
Maybe someday a talented director will helm a mainstream film that successfully integrates explicit sexual content. This is not that film. The only redeeming aspect of 9 Songs is the music, and there just isn't enough of that to make it worth seeing. Even at a scant 69 minutes, the movie drags on and meanders aimlessly. It isn't art; it isn't pornography. It's just crap.
Review content copyright © 2006 Geoffrey Miller; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 69 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Concert Performance-only Option
* Interviews with Michael Winterbottom, Kieran O'Brien, and Margo Stilley
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* Additional Material Featuring the Bands of 9 Songs
* Tartan Video New Releases Previews
* Official Site