Occasionally a filmmaker will get the urge to include unsimulated sex acts in an otherwise non-pornographic, mainstream film. In 2004 Michael Winterbottom wrote and directed one such film, recently issued on Blu-ray, entitled 9 Songs. The basic idea was to chronicle a relatively brief but passionate romance between a man and woman. Rather than develop them as characters, Winterbottom chose to show the couple going to concerts and having sex. It’s no exaggeration to say that nothing else remotely interesting happens in the film.
Kieran O’Brien plays Matt and Margo Stilley plays Lisa, the only two characters of any consequence in the entire movie. O’Brien, 31 at the time 9 Songs was made, was already somewhat established as a working actor, particularly in the UK. Stilley, on the other hand, was a 22 year old rank amateur with no credits to her name. Winterbottom directed these two in what amounts to a series of vaguely artistic porn segments. I say vaguely for the sole reason that the camera does not linger endlessly on close-ups of genitalia. Instead, we get glimpses lasting a minute or two, with a bit more care invested in camera placement than the average porno, and the lighting is far worse. Now we all know what pornography is actually intended for, and the sex scenes between O’Brien and Stilley simply don’t last long enough to fulfill that purpose. So what is the reason for putting the actors through it?
It amounts to nothing. Everything we see O’Brien and Stilley do, none of which is shocking or inventive, could have been acted out rather than explicitly performed. I don’t believe that seeing Matt ejaculate on himself following oral sex makes his relationship with Lisa any more believable. In fact, it only helps take the viewer out of the movie because of the sudden awareness that no amount of “acting” can result in such a scene. It is two actors having sex on camera, nothing more and nothing less. The veteran O’Brien continued working steadily in the years since 9 Songs. The much younger Stilley has struggled to find her way, with few credits on her filmography.
The bands that perform in concerts attended by Matt and Lisa include Franz Ferdinand, Super Furry Animals, and The Dandy Warhols. But fans of these groups are bound to be disappointed if they invest an hour and ten minutes watching this movie segments of actual music. The bands and the songs they perform are poorly integrated into the context of the film. It could literally be anyone on stage when they attend these shows. It’s all so random and disorganized. There is nothing coherently conveyed about these characters, and why we should care about their relationship one way or the other?
9 Songs is presented in a lackluster 1080p high definition transfer. The very low-budget movie was shot on digital video, and perhaps this is simply the best it can look. This is a muddy, unpleasant looking release. A considerable amount of visual noise mars the image throughout. The low lighting that dominates the proceedings doesn’t help at all. The darker scenes, of which there are many, sorely lack detail. Colors are muted, with skin tones looking a bit sickly and pale. For lack of a better way to summarize, this is an ugly movie.
The soundtrack options are a choice between DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio and PCM 2.0 stereo. The DTS is preferable, but not as much as one might think given the amount of live music in the movie. The concert scenes were not very well recorded, and this is reflected in the soundtrack. The live performances are thick and muddied. They do sound “live,” in keeping with the documentary style of the movie, but that’s hardly a compliment. Anyone drawn to the movie because of the music will be disappointed to find that the audio quality sounds pretty much like being in a club with a subpar PA system. There’s very little definition in the instrumentation, with it all blending together in an annoying mush. Dialogue sounds okay throughout, with the voiceover narration being the best sounding spoken-word element.
There are no bonus features of any kind present on Tartan Video’s 9 Songs Blu-ray. Previous DVD editions apparently included some interviews with the director and cast, but these have not been carried over. The movie is a dud from start to finish. At best it will remain a curiosity piece for those interested in seeing how well unsimulated sex mixes with mainstream filmmaking. It’s very hard to say considering how undeveloped the movie is dramatically. A few minutes of real sex aren’t worth the hour of mindless chatter and badly recorded concert footage.