In the strangely dark yet optimistic experimentalism of ‘Inni,’ the second concert documentary film about the Icelandic group Sigur Rós, we get a decent sense of what the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould once called the ‘idea of north’ in the band’s music.
As New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has noted, Iceland’s music culture is extraordinarily diverse and prolific, given its population of just 320,000 – about the same as my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. There are, as Ross noted, ’90 music schools, about 400 choirs, 400 orchestras and marching bands, and some vast, unknown number of rock bands, jazz combos, and djs.’
Sigur Rós is as well known internationally as Björk – who also comes from Iceland – and despite what some hipster poseur critics might suggest, these musicians remain solidly influential on the global scene. Its most recent album ‘Valtari’ debuted at seventh in the Billboard 200 chart and eighth in the United Kingdom Album Chart.
‘Inni,’ released in 2011 which is unlike so many other concert films in how it brings the viewer so close to the music in a way that would never be possible with a large-venue audience, will be screened Thursday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. by the Utah Film Center at Brewvies (677 S 200 W). The screening is part of the UFC’s Damn These Heels! Year-Round program.
Unlike the 2007 film ‘Heima,’ which was like a vibrantly colored travelogue of the band’s homeland, ‘Inni’ follows the minimalist’s sensibilities, which are part of the musicians’ influence, and transforms a November 2008 performance at London’s Alexandra Palace into an impressionistic and intimate black-and-white experience.
Vincent Morriset and Rob Hardy captured the performance on high-definition digital, transferred the footage to 16-millimeter film and then projected and re-filmed it, occasionally filtering the images through glass and other screens. Concert scenes in the 74-minute film are occasionally broken up by a few low-grade color snippets with the musicians.
However, this film brings the music to the viewer in ways rarely achieved by concert films. The band is characterized by some as ‘post-rock’ and widely championed by first-class critics such as Ross and Greg Sandow, who is at the Juilliard School of Music. Yet the musicians also coyly avoid the labels, a position taken by many musicians today. Sigur Rós reflects a musical aesthetic that Icelandic native understands as essential to the nation’s unique geography and position in the world.
For example, the music of Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson, one of Iceland’s most prominent composers who Sigur Rós lead singer Jón þór (Jónsi) Birgisson counts as a role model, underscores the artistic resourcefulness of avoiding becoming too specialized in form, technique, and genre when it comes to writing music. ‘There is not much room for egocentric expressionism in Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson’s music – or, for that matter, in Icelandic music in general,’ Göran Bergendal has written. ‘One is tempted to believe that Iceland with its very small population is intolerant of egocentric exhibitionism: artists are expected to say something about the general human condition rather than about their own personalities.’
That sentiment is evident throughout ‘Inni.’ Indeed, the band’s soundscapes are as comforting as they are a bit disconcerting in their avant-garde aspects, particularly the lyrics that are sung in a nonsensical language. In fact, the band’s third album, ‘( ),’ which was released 10 years ago, was sung in the language called Hopelandic.
Earlier this year, the band set social media abuzz with a video for ‘Fjögur Píanó,’ the closing song on its new album ‘Valtari,’ featuring actor Shia LeBeouf in full-front nudity. The video, directed by Alma Har’el, was part of a mystery film experiment in which the band commissioned filmmakers to come up with a video representing their own inspirations or interpretations of the tracks from the latest album. Last month, Dash Shaw and John Cameron Mitchell released ‘Seraph,’ featuring two tracks ‘Rembihnútur’ and ‘Ekki Múkk’ and has nuanced touches about sexual identity.
The film is a fitting addition to the UFC’s ‘Damn These Heels’ Year Round’ series. Iceland is one of the most enlightened nations on matters of sexual identity. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the nation’s prime minister who just announced she would not seek reelection, is the world’s first openly gay head of government. In fact, more controversy was likely triggered in Iceland by Birgisson’s public commitment about being a vegetarian than about his own sexual identity.
For more information about Utah Film Center’s fall programming, see here.
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