Michael Winterbottom hit it big with “24 Hour Party People”, a frenetic look at the Manchester music scene. Sex, drugs, and rock & roll were at its heart, though not necessarily in that order. “9 Songs” strips those same themes to their bare minimum, with a big emphasis on the sex.
At its heart, “9 Songs” is about a man in sorrowful remembrance of a relationship cut short. Matt (Kieran O’Brien), a glaciologist studying Antarctica, narrates the story of his brief love affair with an American girl named Lisa (Margo Stilley). Matt and Lisa meet at a rock concert and waste no time in getting intimate. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
The rest of the film shows the couple going to concerts and having graphically depicted sex. You’ll see everything. Genitals, penetration, and even a “money shot.” Winterbottom prided himself on the frank realism of the sex scenes. No faking, his actors really got down and dirty. Aside from intercourse and concerts, Matt and Lisa have little moments where they eat, bathe, or perform some other mundane act. No script was used for the movie, instead these scenes were ad-libbed by the actors. One cute scene, Lisa flexes and poses in front of a mirror. They really don’t say much at all. A bit like the couple from “Before Sunrise”, if they stopped yapping and went straight to business.
Really, that’s about it. Don’t expect any deep insights into the hows and whys of the relationship. Eventually, the couple try to spice things up with bondage, blindfolds, and at one point, a lap dancing stripper. Lisa announces she’s going back to America and that’s that.
Every once and a while, we watch Matt trek the lonely tundra of Antarctica. The cold landscape standing in stark contrast to the heated passion of before. The metaphor hits with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
The film itself is shot in typical Winterbottom style, in digital with mainly handheld camerawork. The concert footage is shot as if we were in the audience. Lots of shots through the heads of fellow concert goers and low angle shots as if looking up from below the stage.
The video is presented in presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Because of the format of the footage, a lot of the colors are muted and slightly grainy. Aside from that, there aren’t any glaring blemishes.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and DTS 5.1. Both come in crystal clear and music lovers will like how the concerts sound.
Extras included on the DVD are:
A Concert-only option that allows you to watch the performances. The nine songs of the title are:
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll
The Von Bondies – C’mon, C’mon
Elbow – Fallen Angel
Primal Scream – Movin on Up
The Dandy Warhols – The Last High
Super Furry Animals – Slow Life
Franz Ferdinand – Jacqueline
Michael Nyman – Nadia
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Love Burns
This feature isn’t all that great as it is not the uncut performances. Rather, it is simply the footage used for the film with other scenes still intact.
You’ll also get interviews with director Michael Winterbottom and actors Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. There are also music videos for The Von Bondies, Elbow, and Dandy Warhols. Plus, a meet the band featurette with Elbow and the original theatrical trailer.
I really don’t know what to make of “9 Songs.” The sex isn’t salacious enough to consider it pornography. The music isn’t played up enough for it to be a concert film. The quiet character moments come far too infrequently. Thus, leaving us without anything to latch onto, aside from the curiosity of seeing authentic sex. In the end, the concept is far more interesting than the final product.