RUNNING TIME: 69 Minutes
• Concert-Only Viewing Option
• Director & Cast Interviews
• Band Material
"It’s a love story meets a concert documentary meets a porno."
Kieran O’Brien, Margo Stilley
At its core, 9 Songs is the simplest of love stories – two people meet, have a summer fling and then drift apart. It’s the sort of stuff Danny and Sandy would sing about. However, what makes 9 Songs stand out a little more than Grease or it’s imaginary prequel is that a) the music in the movie is actual music performed live by actual bands and b) there’s sex, real sex – and a LOT of it.
On paper, 9 Songs sounds like an interesting little movie; your basic summer love story set to the tunes of 8 of Britain’s top rock/pop bands. With the right choice of music, the synchronicity of the whole thing could prove to be quite the cinematic experience. And then when you add in the idea that the love scenes wouldn’t be simulated but in fact be actual sexual intercourse, you’ve got a recipe for an extremely brave, unique sensory experience that you’re guaranteed not to find anywhere else. And it’s a Michael Winterbottom film on top of that? Again, on paper, 9 Songs sets itself up as the type of movie that would define someone’s career, the type of movie that could be someone’s legacy.
So what went wrong?
Imagine my disappointment when I learned it was only a band. I wanted to see Dyno-Mutt, dammit!
Well, basically, this film fails on every single level. I wish I could say it was a case of three great layers just not gelling into one great film, because at least then you’d be able to find some enjoyment, no matter how sporadic it is. In reality, what we have is a case of too many layers and too much attention paid to the gimmicks and not enough to the basic foundation – the narrative. To make that even worse, when the audience is presented with the most tempered of all the narrative foundations – the love story – any mistake or stumble is going to be all to easily apparent and in 9 Songs, the mistakes are vast. To begin with, the fact that our couple would not end up together is revealed in the very first scene. I’m not saying that a good love story needs a happy ending, but you need to have something to invest in, that something being the journey. With the opening reveal, there’s no need for that journey (and subsequently the investment) because you know exactly what’s going to happen. Even so, moving on it becomes apparent that even had our lovers’ fate not been revealed it really wouldn’t have mattered as, again, all the attention was paid to the gimmicks, rather than the foundation.
What’s even more disappointing is that with all the attention paid to the gimmicks, they can’t carry the film on their own. Well, perhaps they could have had they been at all interesting, but they weren’t so the whole thing falls to the ground. In regards to the music, the song selection seemed to be spotty, with some songs being a little too obvious as to their place in the barely-there narrative and others seeming to come completely out of left field. And on top of that, even trying to look at the music as entertainment in and of itself is futile as the person holding the camera had obviously no experience shooting a live band. There’s a lot going on up there on stage and if you’re going to edit together an interesting, engaging live performance you need to get as up-close-and-personal to the band as you can (while still being able to represent the audience), capturing as many moments as possible in an effort to show as much as you can on screen. However, I guess I can’t lay all the blame on the photographer as a lot of these bands have zero stage presence.
"Yeah, so you may have kicked my ass, Jack White, and you may be in a better band, but I’m in a movie, so nyeah!"
So, with those two aspects biting the metaphorical dust, we’re left with the biggest gimmick of all – the sex. I’ll give Winterbottom credit here – this was a gutsy move and he made it based on a philosophy that I can get behind, sort of. He posits that the audience can become more emotionally involved in a love scene if the passion and pleasure is real. And to an extent that’s true. I can watch films like Dead Alive and I Spit on Your Grave without batting an eye, but I absolutely can not handle Trauma: Life in the ER or those UFC fights because I know they’re real. And of course that frame of mind can extend into sex scenes as well. The problem is that when you’ve got a sex scene, you can go one of two ways: raw titillation or passion, emotion and chemistry. Unfortunately, the sex on display here falls shy of either direction. It’s shot a little too dramatically to be titillating (although that wasn’t Winterbottom’s intention, so that can be forgiven) and it’s hard for a viewer to be affected by real passion and chemistry when there is none. The problem our director made was casting two people who didn’t know each other at all. They were complete strangers, which would have been a perfect casting choice had he wanted to go the pornographic route, but for his intended goal he really should have hired a husband/wife duo to do this, a la Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. That’s what’s good about simulated sex – it goes great with simulated emotion. Otherwise, the explicitness of what’s being shown on screen is such a distraction that you HAVE to have real, raw emotion to go along with it, or it weighs everything down. Although I could be wrong, as it would have been interesting to see how the real sex would have worked between two characters that I was emotionally invested in and cared about. Which of course brings us full circle back to the importance of characterization and a narrative foundation.
In the end, 9 Songs is a film that tries so hard to juggle so many balls that it ends up dropping them all. It’s a shame too, especially when I think about what this movie could have been. That said, I really can’t end this review without giving some respect to the two leads, Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. It couldn’t have been easy to do what they did and I still maintain that it’s a noble ambition that Winterbottom had. I just wish the two of them could have made that commitment on a more organized project that would have validated their efforts.
The cover art here is very nice, split into two panels with the top accurately representing our couple and what they showcase in the film and the bottom displaying the title and the band list on red. It’s a nice mix of detail and simplicity.
If they were balls, she’d fondle them. That’s how horny Lisa really was.
Feature-wise there are some interviews with the two leads and Michael Winterbottom, but as is expected, they all focus on the sex aspect of it. You’d think that if the only thing anyone (including yourself) would want to talk about in regards to this film is that one aspect of it, that you’d realize you haven’t made something to be proud of. Aside from that there’s a play option that will let you watch just the concert footage, which would be awesome – if it were any good. Finally, there’s some band materials (music videos, epk stuff) and some trailers.
The menu design is pretty groovy though.