Imagine, if you would, trying to decide what film to watch with three of your friends. One is big into concert footage, preferring a bootlegged feel rather than a polished (ahem, authorized) production. The other? Nature documentaries. You personally want to see a drama, following a relationship through its highs and lows. Oh, and the pervert of the bunch? Hardcore pornography, because that's most definitely a genre that has to be seen in groups (and yes, that's a big heaping load of sarcasm right there). The four of you will undoubtedly fight over what to watch, as there really is very little common ground to be found, except perhaps for female-audience-targeted pornography with a more developed sense of character interaction and build-up.
If only the four of you had heard of '9 Songs.' You'd all have gotten your wish. Only, you'd all be disappointed.
Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom ('The Killer Inside Me'), '9 Songs' follows the relationship of Matt (Kieran O'Brien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley), with sex, drugs, sex, rock'n'roll, and some more sex sprinkled on the side, all set in modern England. As the two lovers fight and make up, we see their fragile relationship strengthen and weaken with every day, and witness what can best be described as a fling, physically and mentally, until they reach their end.
For those unaware of what they may be stepping into, you get to see a concert, and random people in it, then flash to a sex scene, as the music still plays. Back and forth, this transition goes, until you get a full on shot of cunnilingus. Flash to people arguing, talking, relating, getting naked, screwing. You see everything, and I do mean everything, as Matt and Lisa perform all sorts of sex acts on each other, including real sex, shown from an angle impossible to "fake."
Non-simulated sex acts (meaning they're actually boinking, folks) may be a shocker in cinema to this day (hell, full frontal still is!), but they alone aren't enough to carry a "film." Perhaps that may be the weakest link in this 69 minute (I wish I were joking) affair: it feels like a few ideas, thrown together with no coherency whatsoever, and called a film. No individual portion of '9 Songs' is particularly good, so combine annoying music with ridiculous nature footage, an unbelievable, one-sided relationship that's about as deep as Stilley's bellybutton, and a few shots of explicit sexual content that are hardly arousing in any matter, and you're left with a horrific mishmash, hodgepodge of an experience.
Am I being harsh here? Perhaps. Sure, the bands involved aren't bad at all (including The Dandy Warhols, Franz Ferdinand, The Von Bondies, and Primal Scream), but we don't get full songs. We get snippets, just like the mandated twelve seconds MTV must play of a music video...when they decide to actually play music, that is. The point of the concerts is to show Lisa and Matt doing something other than doing things the Bloodhound Gang explain vaguely in 'Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo,' and yet, we might see a total of two seconds of them, if anything, and are supposed to relate to them.
The relationship story isn't an endearing one, though some may find they've had similar flings in their life. The visiting stranger, the connection, the relationship with more basis on sexual chemistry than personalities and similarities, the jealousy, and the eventual heartbreak (and lack of concern by the dumper), it's not that uncommon a story. In fact, there is no standout element of the "love" these two characters have. Actually, Lisa seems to have a habit of bedding strangers in foreign lands, only to migrate and start the process all over, keeping the relationships in that safe distance where she won't cause extreme heartache when she decides to find a new bed to lay in. She's immature (not that Matt is any better), cold, and at times quite brutal.
The documentary footage found within is a total waste of time. Segments of the film are strewn together with little rhyme or reason, and we're to believe that Matt's interest, as a "scientist" (the only science we see him study is anatomy), all along was to explore the cold, unforgiving, frigid land of Antarctica. Perhaps that's meant to represent Lisa's heart?
'9 Songs' is just an oddity of film, proof that all one needs is to push boundaries and manufacture controversy to get all the free publicity they want. It's a cop out for those who just can't admit they'd rather just go watch a porno, only '9 Songs' is nowhere near sexy enough in its sexual portrayal to get a rise out of anyone. Perhaps it was meant to be smart, showing the evolution of what we see from the pair sexually, and what we see from them, and their fragile relationship when clothed, but I honestly doubt that. '9 Songs' wants to craft a story where you actually care about the people whose bodies are having the ride of their lives, but it just seems like a voyeuristic film crew got their dream job, and two actors got to have the stigma of having all their future relationships know that they're willing to bump uglies for money. Wait, wait, art. In the name of art...yeah, that's it!
Hey '28 Days Later,' how you doin'? Good? You tired of people bashing you for being limited in visual splendor due to intentional filming decisions concerning cameras? Maybe you need a new cinematic friend, an overly-amorous friend, and one with a number in its name at that! Well, here you go!
Filmed using two cameras (Panasonic AG-DVX100A, Sony DSR-PD150), which are less-than-suggested for that nice high definition look (hooray budgetary concerns!!!), '9 Songs' never had a chance. Hell, the film's trivia page on IMDb says something that should also help set one's expectations...something about projecting the film onto a white wall to create a negative...
So, does one blame the AVC MPEG-4 (1080p, 1.85:1) encode? Is that exactly fair? Not really. In fact, there are few technical issues that could be chalked up to the transfer itself (there are a few spots of artifacting and banding), as the majority seem native to the film itself. Concert footage has its fair share of noise, horrible delineation, and not even the slightest bit of detail, with some very blurred band shots. They're not in the witness protection, we don't need to protect their identities! The nature footage, well, blown out whites, noise, and a general lack of detail and cleanliness are quite obvious.
The ugliest part of this release? Fuzziness. Murky grain and murky, murky detail (so murky it has to be said numerous times) prevent any portion of the film from looking splendid. Sure, edges are clean, and there's no real sign of manipulation, but this just never looks pretty. The picture is constantly flat. Skin tones are constantly completely wrong, and are a borderline travesty. Throw in some constant vertical lines (of green and pink hue), and you have your run-of-the-mill disaster.
There are two options for '9 Songs' on Blu-ray in the audio department: Linear PCM 2.0 (default), and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (with no subtitle options whatsoever). The film is very distinct, with its split narrative, and the audio matches this. The "documentary" shots have great sweeping winds through the room, and a front heavy focus, while concert footage puts you in the middle of the room, with crowd noise coming from all angles (and music is split through the room, though it is more predominant in the front). The concerts have a great deal of bass thump to them, so it is somewhat enjoyable, even if the music itself isn't. Sure, range is near dead, with no highs to speak of in said footage, but it's not all that bad considering it's middle-of-a-concert live recording. Also worth noting: some footage of the bands performing does not sync up with the audio, as it has been edited slightly, with a few cameras capturing the events.
In the "romance" part of the film, there isn't much to speak of. Sure, there's plenty of grunting, as if it were pre-leap '2001: A Space Odyssey,' and every moan and snort comes through fine, but dialogue doesn't dare move from the front channel, and there's absolutely nothing else going on. Well, nothing save for some random feedback and some light hums.
Palisades Tartan didn't put any extra content on this release. It should be noted that this appears to be the uncensored cut, as the cover advertises the "full uncut explicit version" of the film, and the content of the film speaks for itself. I really would have felt uncomfortable hearing a commentary, as actors or crew discuss the explicit sex scenes, and their experiences filming them, and I honestly didn't want to see any deleted scenes, as any shot not good enough to make it into this film would have to be truly, truly bad.
'9 Songs' isn't the first film to feature non-simulated sex acts, and it won't be the last. It most certainly isn't the best, but it's not the worst, by any means. Those looking to add some sex in their collections can pick up the already released 'In the Realm of the Senses,' 'Caligula,' or (player compatibility permitting) the UK import of 'Antichrist.' Those willing to go the DVD route may find 'Battle in Heaven' to be quite interesting, even if the sex scenes are much less appealing, considering the weight of the male lead. Honestly, looking through that list of titles, and reminding myself of 'Caligula' on Blu-ray, I'm ashamed to admit the Penthouse-funded porn epic is a far superior film to '9 Songs,' and actually can be quite enjoyable, with a real "story," to boot.
'9 Songs' won't win any awards for its debut on Blu-ray (in the US, at least), with ugly video, and average audio, and not a single extra. Some may have ordered this title on a special Tartan site, with free bonus DVD releases (making for quite the bargain!), but those who didn't get in on that deal may want to wait for this one to bottom out before taking the risk. This is a film unlikely to warrant repeat viewings, and a presentation certain to hammer that point home. This is not high art. The most hardcore of pornographic videos may have higher artistic merit, and are at least honest with their intentions. Just go watch one of those instead.