One cannot entirely condemn Winterbottom, because the film is not without its meritorious moments, yet at the same time, 9 Songs doesn’t effectively traverse the line of glorified pornography, so much as it narrowly scrapes past it.
Michael Winterbottoms 9 Songs is a sexual experience from near enough its first frame. The films premise is incredibly straightforward; Matt (Kieran OBrien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley) meet at a concert, and over the course of the picture we gain an uncommonly intimate glimpse into their romance, which just so happens to revolve around both sex around music. From the outset, 9 Songs asks us to consider where the line between glamourised pornography and artistic sexual expression is drawn, and whether Winterbottoms film is able to transcend it. A number of the films sex scenes are unsimulated, which has been a high point of discussion from the moment the filmmakers attempted to tender its release. Genitals of both genders are on full display, and while it is in its own way refreshingly frank, the film wont just alienate and embarrass the more body-conscious viewers among us, but bore those with a genuine interest in the experiment. Given the repetition of sexual interludes and musical excursions, 9 Songs is perhaps most shocking in its blandness. Just as the onset of an interesting or thoughtful dialogue between the two leads appears to emerge, it transpires into a sex session. It is difficult to know what the director is trying to say, that is, if he is trying to say anything at all, for the characters dont seem especially harmed or averse to emotional intimacy from past encounters, and their lack of warmth is therefore alienating. Despite outward criticisms, however, the film must be defended against accusations of it being extremely pornographic; direct penetration is sparingly displayed, and instead is mostly inferred. Thus, while the film may be a loosely strung together concertina of sex scenes, porn it is not. In fact, the film is in some ways a lot more conservative and sensible than you might expect; in lieu of all of this sexual activity, safe sexual interaction is abundantly occurring at numerous times, almost pointedly so. A late-day lesbian conflict introduced feels like a feeble attempt to inject resonance and meaning into Matt and Lisas liaison, a result of their distinct lack of characterisation, given that all we ever see is them in bed or at concerts. The gravity of the conflict between them is expressed through the symbolic meaning of the songs, or rather, the act of going to the concert; Matt, in one post-argument visit to the Academy, attends alone, and this should say a lot, but its an empty, unpopulated moment. Only in the final sex scene is the viewer able to extricate any definitive, emotive meaning, yet once again, we are barely familiarised enough with these characters beyond their acts of chemical exchange, and so any attempt at causing us to feel anything simply appears forced. The manner in which the film ends, while certainly not particularly unique, is a smart move, considering the temptation that must have lingered to pile on sentimental truisms. In this respect, and the only manner in which it can be asserted, 9 Songs is a restrained picture. The ambiguity of the fate of Matt and Lisas relationship is an interesting point on which the film ends. The director chooses not to romanticise or force-feed his creation or his audience with even a hint of a slant in either direction, deftly reflecting the fickleness of relationships and the meticulousness with which they must be preened. 9 Songs, as an experimental film, is an interesting exercise, yet it is difficult to consider it a success when everything outside of the sex scenes is either dull, pointless, emotionally corrupt or all of the above. The film should be commended for its daring attempt at capturing raw, gritty, penetrative sex onto celluloid, yet we are overexposed to these moments at the detriment of the films effectiveness. Winterbottom shows us more than is necessary to convey the affection felt between these characters, and accompanies these moments with musical interludes that appear to have little significance symbolically, thematically, or otherwise. One cannot entirely condemn Winterbottom, because the film is not without its meritorious moments, yet at the same time, 9 Songs doesnt effectively traverse the line of glorified pornography, so much as it narrowly scrapes past it.
Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.