I have read that the film SOB was at least partially inspired by Blake Edward’s true life interest in making a hardcore adaptation of The Joy Of Sex. It obviously never happened, and after watching Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs, I have decided that maybe that’s a good thing.
Winterbottom’s film has gotten a lot of attention for two things: lots of live performances by some of today’s most interesting alternative (is that even the term anymore?) bands, and two actors having actual real sex on screen. It’s possible that they haven’t gotten attention for much else because the film really doesn’t have much else in it. There’s some stuff in Antarctica, but that’s just a framing device to tell the non-story of an American woman and a British guy who have a hot affair and go see a bunch of shows. For about 70 minutes.
The framing device is meant to explain to us the concept of the film, which is that it’s the memories of the guy, which I can get behind. I can get behind a film that’s more impressionistic, made up of the parts of a relationship that sticks with you. But that isn’t the movie that’s here. 9 Songs is a hodge podge of elements that never cohere to become anything.
The musical performances are good – I like a lot of these bands, especially Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Franz Ferdinand – but they’re from another movie altogether. Sure, our couple is cut to occasionally in the audience, but the musical interludes feel just like that: interludes. There’s one scene where the couple are in a car, driving someplace for something (beats the shit out of me) and they’re listening to Franz Ferdinand and that’s how the music should be used. That’s how music works in your memories. You don’t remember performances, you remember songs attached to moments in your life, that are attached to a face or a smell or a street or a taste. As a result it feels like a special pornographic episode of 90210 with the Dandy Warhols playing the Peach Pit!
While the music is pretty good, the sex is middling. It’s certainly hardcore, and is up for serious debate as to whether it’s pornographic. It’s not gratuitous, though, so much as its unrelenting. There’s just so much sex. Most of the film’s running time seems to be devoted to these two rutting, and while it isn’t that they’re unpleasant to look at, the whole thing eventually turns tedious. In real life a relationship based almost totally on sex is pretty exciting. I mean, you’re having sex. In movies it’s a crashing bore. As you’re not having the sex.
Beyond that, the constant sex raised an interesting point, something that actor Peter Sarsgaard had talked about last year when I interviewed him for Kinsey. He said that having real sex on screen is like having real killing on screen. You’re crossing a line and going outside of acting. It’s an interesting thought – almost nothing you normally see in movies is really happening. Even when someone is eating in a movie they’re probably spitting the food out between takes. There’s an illusion spun, one that we can accept because we know it’s there. We know that nothing we see is real, but when it is real – when a character is so much like the actor playing him that we can’t separate the two, or when the guy in 9 Songs cums on his own belly after getting a graphic blow job – the rest of the illusion is shattered. The false stuff really rings false. And you start to notice the seams, you start to think about the cameraman in the room with them and the casting process and how well these two actors did or didn’t know each other, and then you start wondering if that’s really coke they’re doing and if they’re really cooking and if he was supposed to blow his load so quickly and – it just snowballs. Movies need veracity, the veneer of truth, not reality. That’s why we have documentaries and porn. And even porn has a sheen of falseness that creates an illusion around the whole. Here Winterbottom seems to be going for some almost-Dogme realism, which ends up being only distracting.
I’m all for the frank and graphic examination of human sexuality in film. I would love to see it explored in a film that has a storyline, or characters, or even dialogue that sounds written and not improved by first year drama students. I would like to see a film that explores a relationship built only on a fragile sexual spark, but does it in some sort of engaging or interesting way. I would like to see a film that features my favorite alt-rock bands, but not in some kind of “And now a performance by the Von Bondies!” sort of way.
Of course 9 Songs won’t play in many theaters, and most people will never see it during its release. This is a movie that will gain a massive life on DVD, though, as people eager to check out the fucking – and appear hip to the indie film world! – pick it up. I don’t want to say that the film is a sham, although I suspect that it may be, but I can’t help but think that Winterbottom and his investors had that in mind all along. I wish I could recommend 9 Songs for more than arty wank material, but beyond some nice cinematography there’s nothing here.
4.0 out of 10