Eight months ago 9 Songs caused quite a stir at the Cannes film festival. The reason: sex. Real and lots of it. But we’ll examine that in a moment. Director Michael Winterbottom’s low-budget offering is an hour long account of an intense affair between a twenty-something British scientist, Matt, and an American studying in London, Lisa.
He meets Lisa at London’s Brixton Academy which leads to the first of many nights of passion which proceeds to yo-yo between the couple at various Brixton gigs (hence the title) and Matt’s flat. Essentially a pattern of song, sex, song, sex. It’s almost an even split of the hour. The sex scenes last an eternity compared to the moments of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Franz Ferdinand and The Dandy Warhols, with the exception of composer Michael Nyman, whose piano trickles throughout the film.
Much has been made of the graphic nature of the sex, which is all real. Hollywood sex breezes the censors in its own depraved pseudo orgasmic glory. But when it is actually shown for real, it’s a whole different ball game (pun not intended). Frankly it doesn’t matter. Especially in Britain, where it almost buckled at the BBFC due to Ann Widdicombe and other conservatives. The censors should have given it a 15 instead of an 18 rating. The statistics and playgrounds don’t lie. We are a nation riddled with under age sex. Even the good and great are at it like rabbits, as The Sextator has proved.
So, shameless pornography or art school pretentiousness? 9 Songs is neither. The sex is rampant, but not pornographic. For viewers of a sensitive nature, much worse has been yielded by war movies and ultra violent films. However even the sight of O’Brien’s (24 Hour Party People) penis ejaculating drew gasps from a room full of hardened film critics.
Winterbottom was more concerned with close observation of an affair between two people and he succeeded. At moments with the briefest of dialogue and the camera hopping between the expressions of the couple, it is deeply intimate and shot so simply that you feel involved with Matt or Lisa.
Most viewers will be able to relate to 9 Songs, and for a while, it may make you think twice about couples and their mannerisms in public. If you see it with a partner, it may add to or alter your perception of your relationship with them. Not bad for a film shot in a hotel with two actors (Stilley is an amateur who answered an ad to help pay herself through college) and three film crew.
Winterbottom makes no secret he was so inspired by Michel Houellebecq’s novel Platform that he wanted to make a movie about sex and didn’t care about the story, he admitted at Cannes. Wherein lies the problem. While Houllebecq linked love and frequent sex with capitalism, Islam and sex tourism, Winerbottom hashes a portrait of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Winterbottom does pay homage to Houellebecq in a discreet moment of the film, but for viewers aware of Houellebecq’s work, 9 Songs pales in comparison. Incidentally Winterbottom had wanted to make Platform but Houllbecq declined, having already set to work on the script himself.
For all the expected hubbub 9 Songs will generate, it isn’t much to get excited about. After the first few song-sex couplets the pattern becomes a drearier countdown to its inevitable conclusion, spiced up by sadism and cocaine.
For a real thought-provoking look at love and sex my money is on Houellebecq, especially if he remains at the reins of Platform the movie. 9 Songs, while worth the experience, transpires to be no more than a quickie.