OK, everyone! Raise your hand if you are interested in seeing 9 Songs because of the musical performances of such hot bands as Franz Ferdinand, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and The Dandy Warhols? Yeah, OK. Whatever. I’ve got your number. I see you averting your gaze and looking a little uncomfortable. Admit it. You want to see the much-ballyhooed sex scenes that happen in-between the nine songs. Don’t pretend otherwise. We’re all curious for the same reason.
The great thing about independent film, is that occasionally a movie comes along made by a respectable director that pushes the boundaries of what you can show as far as sex in a movie. Usually it is the French that go for it, but in this case a Brit is giving it a whirl. Michael Winterbottom, a fascinating fellow whose work runs the gamut from brilliant (the Afghan refugee movie In this World) to the squirm-inducing (Jude), combines the sexiness of one of his earlier works (I Want You), with his love for music (24 Hour Party People). He pares the plot down to the most basic elements: nine songs, with as many scenes in-between, and calls it a film.
So, if you love the bands, you’ve got half of a movie worth watching right there. If you like arty yet graphic “indie” porn, you’ve got your other half. You just have to decide for yourself how GOOD each half is, and if they make up a whole film that’s worth bothering with.
The rock concert scenes are filmed at crowd level with a hand-held camera. Silhouettes of raised hands wave and punch the air, and the backs of people’s heads are often in the frame. It is gritty and unpolished. If you are looking for stellar camerawork, you won’t find it here. But what Winterbottom’s camera does capture is the immediacy of being in a packed concert crowd. You can practically smell the smoke of cigarettes and pot, and feel the heat of the bodies around you. And you know what? Rock concerts ARE sexy, and I think 9 Songs captures that phenomenon better than any film I’ve seen in a long time. Being in a crowd like that, with the throbbing music pulsing through your body, can be a real turn-on.
Then we get to the sex scenes. 9 Songs introduces us to… no, wait, throws us into bed with Matt and Lisa, a Brit and an American who meet at a show. (Well, if you can call having sex as “meeting”. Whatever.) They have sex, and have sex some more. The camera is literally in their faces and other body parts, and the shots are often dark and muddy—but that’s OK, really. As their scenes progress in-between songs, you not only see more bits and pieces (and the resulting interaction between said bits and pieces), but you also see their “relationship” progress, hit some rocky parts, and then basically end.
Kieran O’Brien, as Matt, fares quite a bit better than Margo Stilley as Lisa. Matt narrates the film, and occasionally we see that he has a career as a glaciologist (the job title that I had to pick up from the press notes). He is also the more sympathetic of the two, precisely because not only is Lisa an annoying American twit who doesn’t seem to work or go to school or anything, but because Margo Stilley is easily the weaker of the two actors. I guess the pickings are a little slimmer with acting talent when part of the job requirement is to have sex on film. But luckily, the acting in the film is not by any means an all-out embarrassment. It is the lack of any character development or plot that gets you restless before the sex scenes do.
For all of you standing in line (or rushing to the video store), you are going to see the film regardless of reviews. Nothing I can say would keep you away. If the film was rumored to be a total bomb, I probably would have seen it anyways, as I know you will. 9 Songs is one of those films will highly benefit from the curiosity factor, but, alas, it really isn’t interesting enough otherwise to reach a wider audience.