Director Michael Winterbottom is no stranger to showcasing sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in his work, as one of his most famous films to date is 24 Hour Party People. Four years after that was released came 9 Songs, a movie once described as the most explicit one in British film history. The controversial flick met the ire of the Australian film censors because it showed its lead characters having actual sex and now it’s available on Blu-ray for the very first time.
The film is a low-budget affair where handheld cameras and an improvised script with scant dialogue follow a couple who meet at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club concert. The pair seem like a normal, young couple and Winterbottom cast two unknown actors, Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. The former plays Matt, a British climatologist while the latter is Lisa, a free-spirited, American exchange student. They both share a mutual passion for sex and they have a lot of it (including vaginal sex, masturbation, oral sex, a little BDSM and sex with a vibrator). And that’s the film in a nutshell.
Michael Winterbottom had said at the time that he was questioning why literature can be graphic but mainstream sex on film generally isn’t real and is almost exclusively simulated. He wanted to show the relationship from its giddy beginnings to the comfortable domestic period and finally at the inevitable break-up and frame this through nine songs. Unfortunately, this is a rather flimsy plot line and there is very little character development or descriptions of the characters’ motivations. It’s just plain old sex and music and the viewer has to fill in the gaps about the two youngsters, if they choose.
The music is perhaps the best part of 9 Songs with live performances from BRMC, The Dandy Warhols, Franz Ferdinand, The Von Bondies, Super Fury Animals, Michael Nyman and Elbow. Some viewers might try to find a link between the chaotic haze and energy of the gigs and the heady stages of the lovers’ relationship, but this link seems tenuous at best. The film is definitely sensual and visceral, with Matt admitting in the opening scene that what he remembers best about Lisa was her taste and the feeling of her skin touching his.
9 Songs is an experimental and raw relationship study. It’s a warm portrayal of a couple that is seated in frank realism but one can’t help but feel like this could’ve made a bigger impact had more time been devoted to looking at the pair as complex people rather than as mere sexual beings. 9 Songs is graphic in showing a couple’s 12 months together in London but it’s an all too simplistic view of sex and music that is like the film equivalent of a one night stand. It tries to be intimate but you’re left walking away knowing virtually nothing about the individuals and what makes them tick.
Review score: ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
9 Songs does not contain any bonus features. It is now available on Blu-ray.