Through sex, specifically the surrender and exposition of self through this oldest human hobby, Michael Winterbottom communicates the beauty and pain of a relationship.
9 Songs: Unrated Full Uncut VersionDirector: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Kieran O'Brien, Margo Stilley
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2005-11-22
Drawing a parallel between Antarctic exploration and a previous relationship, Matt (Kieran O'Brien) says, "Claustrophobia and agoraphobia are in the same place. Like two people in bed." The statement is one of the few snippets of scripted speech, not to mention a rare bit of off-screen narration. While mildly pretentious, the statement is innocuous in the context of a film more notable for its graphic depiction of carnality. However, on DVD, repeated spins past the statement only highlight the hot mess that is 9 Songs. While bold and apparent in its profundity, like the waning passion depicted, it dissipates.
The trouble with 9 Songs is its focus on the transitory, as Jesse Hassenger notes in his review of the film for PopMatters. Certainly, as a film, it is more "fantasy" than "attainable", but it also makes Matt's liaison with Lisa (Margo Stilley) believable by keeping their story simple: they explore each other through fucking. Through sex, specifically the surrender and exposition of self through this oldest human hobby, Michael Winterbottom communicates the beauty and pain of a relationship. And, quite frankly, depending on your sexual experience and maturity, you may recognize Lisa and Matt's situation. 9 Songs' intimate moments establish a distinguished and resonant sense of space the first time around.
However, when viewed again, the structural flaws of 9 Songs become apparent and distracting. The film's most egregious annoyance is, oh yeah, its purported rockness. While rock's ability to bridge booty and booze feels nearly as old as the aforementioned hobby, Winterbottom draws some cinematically unexplored parallel between the live rock experience and the claustrophobia and agoraphobia of a relationship... or, so one would think. As the film's monotonous use of cut-happy concert footage demonstrates, even the brashest music can become flaccid when juxtaposed with a "proper" love scene.
Worse, the DVD's interviews with Winterbottom, O'Brien, and Stilley reveal the film to be a loose and unstructured exploration of... who knows? The actors speak lucidly about rehearsals and filming, but respond with hand-jobs when recalling the film itself. The director chatters with great animation about the development of the story and his cinematic representations of lovemaking, but he does not reveal a clear thread through his myriad ideas. With so little to say, he confirms the film's excess. While 9 Songs' unusual treatment of love and sex remains its principle charm, its use of a rock backbeat and non sequitur Antarctic inserts appears unnecessary, at best.
Other DVD extras make a concerted effort to reinforce the presence of music in the film. An "unrated edited" cut (i.e., concert-only portions of the film) and music videos from three of the featured bands (Dandy Warhols, the Von Bondies, and Elbow) augment the disc, to disappointing effect. The live footage is a wash of fast cuts, grainy shots, unsynchronized audio and visual tracks, and spotty performances. And while the videos are pleasant enough, the presence of a horrifically boring promo doc on Elbow sprays the entire section with the pungent odor of a corporate promo campaign (notice how these are all bands searching for a stateside push?).
Unfortunately, the 9 Songs DVD does little to challenge the film's reputation for tee-hee titillation. Where the film threatens to unravel on its own, its inconsequential extras don't add meaningful conversation about its merits. Instead, the DVD smugly wears the movie's "sexiness" with the misplaced confidence of an exposed thong line. While its principles high five each other and the music blares, 9 Songs becomes less a lucid tale of human confusion and more an embarrassing addition to some jock's DVD collection.