Charlie Don't Surf

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Michael Winterbottom's '9 Songs'

To Micah Pollack, Feb. 19, 2006

9 Songs... well. All in all, no, I guess I didn't like it. I'm more inclined to think well of Michael Winterbottom than almost anyone, and I got to chat with him a little after the screening of 9 Songs at Sundance last year. I loved 24 Hr. Party People, Welcome to Sarajevo, Code 46, In this World, and just saw Tristram Shandy on friday, which by the way was very entertaining. I think the little dude's a great, inventive, serious director, I'm so glad he's making movies. But whatever idea he was looking for in 9 Songs didn't seem to emerge, for me.

It seemed hastily and cheaply made. The concert scenes are crudely shot with DV and dark as the tomb -- he used a minimal crew as he did on In This World. Obviously there was no script, no budget of any kind, and the couple's improvisations with dialogue aren't particularly interesting. The romance of these two was pretty inconsequential, if there was one. So there's little investment for the audience, but there is a sexually intense period of a few lost days/weeks, rendered very candidly -- starkly. Okay. But to what end, if we don't care about them? You sure don't see that many erections and ejaculations even in the fringe-iest of indie movies -- but at Sundance, Winterbottom said he had no interest in shock value. After the screening as we were filing out of the Egyptian, I asked him about how he had figured in the stunned response of most audiences (certainly the one that night) to the sex, as a reaction he'd wanted, and he was like, "We didn't worry about that, it's just a story told with the sex left in it," but that seems almost naive to me.

I can tell you that when those two actors came up to the stage for the Q&A afterward, it was one of the most awkward sessions I'd seen in 10 years at the festival. Ultimately I asked a question because it was just a room full of silent people staring up at them. When someone asked them later why they'd agreed to do the explicit scenes, they both basically said, "Well... come on. It's Michael Winterbottom, and I respect him so much as a director."

I don't begrudge Winterbottom the chance to make a movie with explicit sex, that's fine. But in a scenario that's otherwise sort of a vacuum, the movie becomes about the sex, and I can't think that's what he wanted. Maybe write a bit more into it. They don't have to have a fabulous Claude Lelouch affair, but how about some more interesting people, or maybe some dialogue? no? Bertolucci gave you some pretty absorbing characters in "Last Tango," and you felt the period they were in, but not in 9 Songs...
I thought. It was not well received at the festival. I welcome your view.

He gave Kieran O'Brien a role as a tabloid reporter in Tristram, and the lad got to keep his wanker in his pants this go.