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Murder Slim Review: 9 SONGS

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Michael Winterbottom gained most mainstream success with his excellent Jim Thompson adaptation THE KILLER INSIDE ME, but he started off guest directing British TV shows like CRACKER and BOON. Unfortunately, this early British crime-TV style is replicated perfectly at the style of 9 SONGS. It has curiously washed out colours and the tedious documentary style so identifiable with British "realism". The problem, as with CONTROL, is that it leads to such a flat cinematic experience. I racked my brain while watching 9 SONGS to try and think of the mood it reminded of me off until, ah-ha! It's the recent cycle of British Telecom ads on TV in the UK.

As with the BT ads, 9 SONGS is filled with awkward silences, lots of staring and characters you would quite happily kill just to bring some excitement into their flat, tedious lives.

It features Matt, a bland glaciologist escaping to the Arctic and remembering his love affair with an American, named Lisa. The presence of an American in a British movie is becoming very common in low-budget UK releases. BOTCHED, SEVERENCE, WHEN EVIL CALLS, STRAIGHTHEADS and so on. I presume the belief is this will spread the movies' worldwide appeal. It's a cunning ploy, but one scuppered in 9 SONGS by their choice of a particularly whiny American gal who will also make you long for glaciers far, far away from her. Both Lisa and Matt are notable for their empty, dead eyes - either they can't convey emotion or they genuinely don't have any souls.

Realism is a tough nut to crack. Real people are often flat-out dull, predictable or annoying. But whereas Todd Solondz brings out interesting comments on mediocre, flawed people (HAPPINESS, PALINDROMES), Winterbottom's 9 SONGS has nothing to say. In fact, the characters have very little to say either. It's baffling why they get together in the first place, it's baffling why they stay together. The only time they seem to have any laughs is when they smoke weed together, and that lasts around a minute or so. It's a blessed relief when they split up because of the tedious bitching and blank stares. It also brings the happy realisation that the movie will soon finally be over.

But, of course, such things as story, visual style and characterisation were not the main selling point of 9 SONGS and - you suspect - the main thrust of the story. It's the sex scenes... particularly one handjob. 9 SONGS is famous for being the first English language film to be released in UK cinemas to contain an erect penis and a cumshot. This happens quite a way into the film, when the BBFC censors must have been fast asleep. They covered this by saying they passed 9 SONGS because it was "artistic"... a term often sadly misused to mean "very little happens". Mundanity is not insight. Empty characters are not a statement on anything other than emptiness.

The sex scene touted in the trailer is notable for being immensely loveless, tedious and mechanical. It's pretty much impossible to have a good sex scene in a movie. The pace slows to a crawl, the narrative stops, so at least liven it up by having fun with it. In 9 SONGS' handjob, she reaches over him, gives him a little rub and he cums on his belly. He grunts and she looks slightly bored. Since when is sex depressing? Not only is the sex more lively in a porno, but maybe something like THE DA VINCI LOAD will even bring you a laugh or two. Or, hell, even better - just watch a good movie.

9 SONGS was notable for me for having no redeemable features. Even the titular nine songs were by bands I either disliked or hated. But even if you do like Kasabian or Franz Ferdinand or whatever, don't ruin your fun by having your favourite music split up by one the dreariest relationships committed to film.

It's actually not much fun writing a truly negative review. There's always the possibility that you might put something off watching a movie they'd actually enjoy. But, with 9 SONGS, it really is in a one-in-a-hundred shot that you'd get anything out it. Avoid this one.

Review by Steve Hussy