9 Songs

Smoke and mirrors.

Released in 2004, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 15 Mar 2005 by Scott Morris
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You may, by some twist of fate or stroke of good fortune be unaware of Michael Winterbottom's latest movie, although given the deliberate tabloid baiting contained within this is doubtful. Theoretically, this film charts the relationship of Matt (Kieran O'Brien) and Lisa (Margot Stilley) solely through their sexual activity in-between their trips to see the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The talking point is the explicit portrayal of the ol' in-out that would typically see this banished to the netherworld of a Restricted 18 BBFC Rating. This is a very clever smokescreen to try and cloud the fact that Michael Winterbottom has sold an empty premise as high art rather than crap porn.

There's room for debate on niggly definitions later, but allow me to make one tiny little point first. This 'film' is the dullest, most vapid, most insubstantial offense against entertainment I've has the misfortune to suffer through since Full Frontal, and stands a better than evens chance of being worse than it. There is no plot in any conventional sense, and despite what others contend no plot in any other sense either. What you get for the money you've worked so hard to earn is the most boring, least erotic and utterly superfluous skin flick imaginable, intercut with a few decent tunes. This isn't art, which is a separate issue that we'll get to in a minute assuming I calm down enough to write something more coherent than 'RarrrrrrggghhGrrrrYearrrgh', which is a reasonable representation of my thoughts on 9 Songs at the minute. No, the only important, ship scuttling issue we've got with this movie is that it's very, very dull for reasons tied in with the previous statement. This isn't art, and it's not entertainment either.

In a movie, you're only going to care about the characters if there's some way to identify with them. To establish why all but the strangest of people will feel utterly disconnected with our stars here, allow me to sum up what we learn about out protagonists. Matt is English, and would presumably be a geologist given his interest and day job in Antarctic / Arctic (I forget which and don't care enough to clarify) ice cores. Lisa is American by way of Henley Regatta if the incredibly irritating accent is anything to go by, twenty-one and crazy, although we've only got Mattyboy to trust on the last point. At no point does she wear her underpants on her head and stick pencils up her nose, so she can't be that crazy. That's yer lot.

"Surely you must has glossed over something?" I don't think so. "But where's all of the subtle interplay the small troupe of misguided defenders spoke of?" It wasn't present in the first place. They're lying to you. "How, you big fat git?" Less of the lip. Well, most of them are trying desperately to read so much into the vanishingly small amount of dialogue that their conclusions are utter guesswork. "Example, please." That's more courteous. See, wasn't hard, was it? Anyway, there's a lot of chinstroking going on claiming things such as Lisa's refusal to allow Matt to deliver man yogurt from an unsheathed pork truncheon as a metaphor for distance in the relationship. "Assuming I've decoded that properly as meaning 'no unprotected sex', isn't that right?" Well, I'd say it's as likely that she doesn't want to get a bun in the oven."

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"You're being very literal about this movie, aren't you?" Well, yes, because there's no other way to take it. In other works where we get to know how characters are thinking, what makes them tick, you can say with reasonable certainty what an off the cuff remark or subtle glance means. We don't know Matt or Lisa from Larry, so we can only go on what we're given. We're given nothing. "Can't you fill in the blanks of the relationship? That seems to be the point of it from what you're telling me." Why in the name of the Blessed Murray should I? What basis do I work from? If I have to imagine all of the good bits in a film for myself, why bother paying the money for it in the first place?

"Well, you did, didn't you?" Very funny. I have a calling to fulfil, and that requires watching tripe like this. Hopefully I can convince others to avoid it. "Whiny, aren't you?" Watch it, imaginary questioner. I created you, I can destroy you. "Sorry." You should be. "So, what about this penetration lark then?" Well, it's certainly chock full of graphic sex acts. It's one of the very few occasions the BBFC have allowed an erect penis to be projected onto the wall of a cinema screen, and one of the fewer times it's allowed said member to project its payload over the stomach of one of the stars. Now, I've nothing against watching the beautiful act of love and the ropey jets of jism it concludes with but there is a time and there is a place for this.

There's a perfect mechanism for delivering porn in this day and age and you're surfing it right now. Internet porn has immediately rendered the cinematic outlet obsolete, and as such 9 Songs would be something of a dinosaur were it actually good porn. At least some porn has a gripping story about a broken washing machine, and the burly man who comes to repair the washing machine. This is just a really dull skin flick with a complete absence of fun and pretensions at something grander. "Back to the point, Johnny Arrogant. Why'd the BBFC let this member only through the entrance?" From their press release, 'The Board's Guidelines allow the more explicit images of sexual activity at '18' if they can be exceptionally justified by context. The Board has concluded in this case that adults should be free to choose whether or not to see the film. The film does not raise issues of harm or sexual violence.' Fair enough. What troubles me is 'The film's exploration of the relationship provides sufficient contextual justification for the Board to pass the work uncut at '18''. Eh? Did they get a different film? There is no context whatsoever! The sex is the context! IT'S ALL THAT'S HERE! THE WHOLE THING IS COMPLETELY GRATUITOUS!

"Calm down, you're starting to sound like the Daily Mail." Ahem. Sorry. This vacuous nothing-as-art thing always gets me upset. See also The Dreamers, which suffers many of the same faults to a lesser extent. "So is this really porn, as you've been claiming throughout?" Technically no, given that the definition of pornography I've got to hand is 'Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.' Seeing as 9 Songs' primary purpose is to cure insomnia, I suppose it's not porn. It's certainly aching unsexy, and aroused isn't quite the term I'd use for this...experience. Were 'aslumbered' a real term, it would fit quite well though.

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"I take it this is art then?" Well, again depends on how you look at it. Dictionary.com time again. 'Art n. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.' Well, that's vague enough to cover everything that's ever been written, said or thought about, so by that yardstick, yes, it is art. Personally, to be art to me it needs to have some intrinsic beauty, interest or at the very least provoke thoughts and discussion. The only thought 9 Songs provoked was 'By the Beard of Wotan, I'm bored'. "It's provoked this discussion, hasn't it?" You don't count, you're just a lazy literary device. Although I've actually developed more character for you than Matt and Lisa put together, so don't get all cut up about it.

What angers me so isn't just the fact that it's a waste of my precious, slender leisure time. It's that as far as I'm concerned it's an utterly transparent attempt to raise profiles by bolting something controversial onto something so insubstantial that it's almost as if this is a prank on Winterbottom's part. That some people can defend this, see something deeper, heaven forfend, like this, is so utterly alien to me that these people might as well be from Pluto. It's all trickery, misdirection, smoke and mirrors.

Allow me for a moment to be as pretentious as those who annoy me so and quote myself, from the aforementioned Dreamers review "Welcome to the wonderful world of the arthouse cinema. Throw in a deliberately controversial theme, fannying around it making sure to not come close to saying anything worthwhile about it, make sure there's a few scenes where dangly bits are suitably exposed and reference previous films so that the audience can sit around congratulating themselves on having seen them and gosh, aren't we just so clever? Halfbake at Gas Mark 4 for ninety minutes and serve with a polo neck and an inflated sense of self-importance. For pudding, why not congratulate yourself for making something so important, so challenging, so provocative?" You'll note that 9 Songs replaces cinema with music and gratifyingly isn't even 70 minutes long, but everything else is valid. Thus I contend if you're the kind of person that liked The Dreamers, you'll like this. Now get the hell off my property and don't darken my virtual doorstep again, y'hear?

Is it art? Debatable. Is it entertainment? Hardly. Is it any good? Dear lord, no. One last trip to Dictionary.com - 'Boring adj. Uninteresting and tiresome; dull.' Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Something this free of life and so absent of point can have but one reward waiting for it as it hits the last paragraph in the sky...

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 0/5 TippyMarks. Get thee behind me.

Michael Winterbottom
Cast list:
Kieran O'Brien (Matt)
Margot Stilley (Lisa)