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Culture Reviews
Nine Songs
35 mm 
Directed and written by Michael Winterbottom. Starring: Kieran O'Brien, Margot Stilley. 69 mins. UK.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: a tedious and amateur exercise in prurience passing itself off as something arty and punctuated by almost uniformly vapid musical interludes, “Nine Songs” is a cheap (and I do mean cheap) attempt to create scandal by featuring interminable scenes of a sexual nature.

The best that can be said about the film is that it is short and there is no chance of a sequel.

Will you like this film?

Yes, if: you are still looking up rude words in the dictionary for the purposes of getting a sexual education
No, if: you have ever had a real girlfriend
Maybe, if: you are fourteen and suffering the torments of the damned in an all-boys school

Comments: I would have left after ten minutes had I not been duty-bound to stay for the duration. It was clear this film was going nowhere. And I didn’t want to go there.

“Nine Songs” is about two immature and almost breathtakingly uninteresting individuals who spend their every waking moment licking and sucking and fiddling with each other. I found myself wondering how much nipple-sucking one film can hold. The answer is: a lot.

There is no story (and I mean no story), and in the absence of one, the spectacle of these two characters endlessly shagging each other and jumping about at the Brixton Academy (a music venue) to the sound of crap bands is meant to suffice.

I lived in Brixton for about five years. When I was there we had bands at the Academy you would really want to see. Things must have changed.

The premise of the film is that endless shagging, going to gigs every night and whoofing lines of cocaine up your nose is a radical, alternative way to spend your time. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the context of modern Western society – predicated as it is on the dissolute and distracted nature of the drones which make up its fan base – a more conformist mode of existence is difficult to imagine.

If you really want to stand out from the crowd, try working on having a good marriage, taking care of your kids and pursuing a course of life-long, self-directed education. Now that’s radical.

Out-of-five star ratings:

• Story:
• Dialogue:
• Substance: *
• Film craft: *

Story comments: there is no story, no character arc, nothing.

The only question for me – given the film’s sole interest in things carnal – was which of the characters was going to get bored with it all first. Yes, it was that dull.

If the topic of sexual dynamics is one which interests you, I recommend Roman Polanski’s “Bitter Moon” and Adrian Lyne’s version of Nabokov’s “Lolita”.

Dialogue comments: the characters’ mouths are pretty much too full of bits of the other person to talk at all and the total interaction between them would be hard pressed to fill the back of a postcard.

Since there’s nothing to add here, I’ll tell you something else. We (the people who had come to this first showing) were given crib sheets explaining the background to the film, how it didn’t have a script and was ad-libbed into being, and how the director had read a book once about sexual love which he wanted to make into a film. But someone had already optioned that book, so he made something up himself.

That’s all very well, but the film is still rubbish.

Substance comments: for me, sex scenes rarely work in films. This is not prudishness, exactly. I just find such scenes almost never add anything to the plot. And few things do more violence to a magical sense of romantic intensity than the sight of people doing it. We’re grown-ups. We can be trusted to imagine that the fact has taken place. We don’t need our faces rubbed in it.

Such scenes – whether they work or whether they do not – only make sense in any case in the context of a story. “Nine Songs” has no story. It has no context. It’s just shagging.

So, is this esoteric art? Perhaps the film has a deep psychological and philosophical base and we need to expunge our ingrained prejudices in order to suck the marrow out of the bone of its profundities, profundities which only a sexual adept is capable of perceiving. Perhaps that’s it.

I don’t think so. And I want my sixty-nine minutes back.

There are films which don’t focus on plot but which manage to create a state and thereby a value. “Dead Man” with Jonny Depp would be such a film. I stuck with that film to the end (and I mean, the end) and I’m very glad I did.

Could “Nine Songs” be such a film? You know, striving to create a deeply intense sensation, a portrait, a semblance of a higher verity, an essentially sublime representation – in this case of the joys of erotic love?

I’m afraid the answer is much simpler: this film is self-indulgent rubbish hoping we will be afraid to say so because it’s got lots of crotch-shots and nipple-sucking.

Film craft comments: the film would make one, good picture. One decent static composition could convey anything of value this film has to say.

For a film of sixty-nine minutes, this is sixty-eight minutes and fifty-nine seconds too long.

A taste of the story: Two insipid people who live in Brixton, London, shag each other on a backdrop of terracotta walls and go to gigs at the Academy. Oh, and they take drugs.

Yawn.


Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator: http://samgerrans.com.

19.03.05
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