Sexual conservatism is spanning the globe at immeasurable speeds. Progress is abruptly halted in favor of sparing people from offensive imagery and raunchy banter. Apparently, the harshest crime you can commit is flaunting your body or enjoying sex out of wedlock. Treat people any patronizing way you’d like and dip your hand into charity jars, but for the love of all that is holy, do not expose a breast!
Counteracting the regression we have made back to the traditionalist era comes Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs, labeled “the most sexually explicit film in the history of British cinema.” As a director, he is not afraid to push the envelope and show the graphically sexual nature of the burgeoning relationship between Matt (Kieran O’Brien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley). They go to a concert, have lots of sex, go to a concert, have lots of sex: rinse, lather, repeat. Winterbottom shows us more explicit content than Paris Hilton’s videotaped sexcapade. What he forgets to do is make an actual movie.
Matt is a fan of British punk-rock concerts, and that is where he meets his new infatuation, Lisa. She is young, wild, and highly promiscuous; the type of girl you’d never bring home to meet your mother. Before the band has gotten a chance to smash their guitars on stage, the duo is back at his apartment having sex. They continue this pattern through 9 stages of their relationship, represented by live concert footage ranging from The Von Bondies to Franz Ferdinand. We learn that she is an American free spirit, and he is a glaciologist, deeply fascinated by the arctic. It also becomes clear that he is madly in love with her, while she cares only about the origin of her next orgasm.
There is no story to be told, and that is where the movie disintegrates into ashes. Since Matt is telling the story and he barely knows the girl he is dating, the film is devoid of depth. They are complete strangers, barely conversing or communicating outside of physical realms. Their dialogue is brief and trite, not to mention agonizingly boring. It appears that they jump into bed together just to avoid having another one of their lackluster conversations, and who can blame them? The one thing reality TV has taught us (besides how to descend your head into a bucketful of maggots for cash) is the brutal fact that people’s lives are not very interesting. There is nothing enthralling about watching people walk around a room, sipping coffee, and talking about how their Xerox machine malfunctioned again at work. Dressing up the mundane with vivid pornographic sex does not make it any more fascinating.
9 songs is about a strong sexual connection that never manifests into an healthy relationship. Matt, the 'good guy', seems to have about as much personality as the blocks of ice he researches. “You are so boring today,” Lisa accurately complains to him one afternoon. She is even worse, guzzling pills and spewing harsh comments without provocation. “Sometimes when I kiss you, I just want to bite you, and not in a nice way” she quips one day over brunch. In another scene, he is cooking her a romantic meal, and she is in the bedroom loudly moaning from a vibrating device. Don’t cry for the troubled couple, they engage in make-up sex shortly afterwards. Yawn.
Despite a weak (or rather, nonexistent) storyline, the music is fantastic. Winterbottom has an ear for great emerging bands as he showcased in the far superior film 24 Hour Party People. The concert footage is more engaging than the couple’s antics and I wasn't pleased when they were brought back onto the screen. There is no commentary to make about their acting abilities, outside of the speed at which they can thrust. The experimental movie taps into a sense of realism not often depicted cinematically, but it fails to take the necessary further step to make it effective or memorable. Do yourself a favor and rent a porno instead; at least they pretend to have plots.