9 Songs (2004) - Synopsis

9 Songs (2004) - Synopsis ImageMatt, a young glacioloist, soars across the vast, silent, icebound immensities of the South Pole as he recalls his love affair with Lisa. They meet at a mobbed rock concert in a vast music hall— London’s Brixton Academy. They are in bed at night’s end. Together, over a period of several months, they pursue a mutual sexual passion whose inevitable stages (familiar to anyone who’s ever been in love) unfold in counterpoint to the nine live-concert songs of the story’s title.

This daring combination has won 9 Songs a devoted following ever since director Michael Winterbottom (Jude; Welcome to Sarajevo; 24 Hour Party People) first screened the film for packed audiences at the 2004 Cannes film-market.

Incidental music heard over various radios and CD players throughout the film include an extended disco version of Madan, by Salif Keith, and a pair of piano nocturnes, Sola and Platform, played by Melissa Parmenter. The nine concert songs are, in order of their appearance: Whatever Happened to Rock n’ Roll, by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; C’mon, C’mon by the Von Bondies; Fallen Angel, by Elbow; Moving On Up, by Primal Scream; You Were the Last High, by the Dandy Warhols; Slow Life, by the Super Furry Animals; Jacqueline, by Franz Ferdinand; Nadia, from the 60th birthday concert of Michael Nyman; and, finally, bringing the story full circle—Love Burns, once again by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

While some of these directly comment on the affair as it progresses, others act strictly as a trigger to Matt’s memories of Lisa, as he later studies ice sheets. At first, they are consumed with each other, as lovers. Then, with time, an emotional dynamic emerges. Even in the most intimate moments, she (however subtly) gives the orders, and he blissfully complies. They meet strictly at his place. We learn nothing about her work, and almost as little about her past, except that she is American and has had passionate affairs since her adolescence. By contrast Matt, whose arctic career is a running motif, is a comparatively open book as a person—simple in his love of both music, and Lisa. He keeps bringing the word “love” into the conversation. She warmly responds, but just as happily wriggles free of it.

What they know they have together is sex, and this is revealed, repeatedly, even graphically, with an uncompromised frankness. “Forget who you are,” Matt tells her, blindfolding her in a rare moment of seizing the initiative. “Forget where you are.” Yet even as he guides her through this little bit of kinky fantasy, she takes over. Matt lets her, helplessly observing elsewhere: “She was 21. Beautiful. Egotistical. Careless. Crazy.” As they move deeper into their respective fantasy lives in one another’s arms, can it be helped if they are also moving farther apart?

The Antarctic, as described by Matt, may be the one comfortable place on earth from which to remember her: “Claustophobia and Agorophobia in one place—like two people in a bed.” And yet – there is all that music, a goad to sense-memory as mobile and abiding as the ice cap itself.