Friday, October 14, 2011


Standing in stark contrast to Sigur Ros' last concert/documentary film "Heima," director Vincent Morisset films the band almost exclusively in the live setting, focusing on the tremendous and at times overwhelming emotional power of the music made physical. Sigur Ros are a band of unusual force, able to summon great swathes of catharsis as well as hushed and intimate declarations that seem to speak to each listener individually; Morisset captures both extremes here, showing a band at the absolute height of their craft. The cathartic moments taeke center stage here, perhaps as a response to "Heima"'s more affirmative examination of the Sigur Ros experience, creating a piece rich in mood and atmosphere and way heavy on intensity.
The band performs a full set intercut with minimal moments of archival footage dating back to earlier moments of their career; specific attention is paid to the members struggling to answer such insipid questions as "How would you describe the music?" The interviewers asking these things almost seem malicious, trying to trap the band into admitting to some sort of pretense on their part in the ultimate realization of their sound. Sigur Ros have been accused of artistic distance in the past and acute reservation regarding discussion of their work, but these interviewers' inability to grasp the ethereal, incredibly personal quality of the band's music speaks to a shallowness on their part. Their refusal to simply let it exist, to be a matter of shared communication and organic creation between the band members (and audience) is insensitive to the point of critical density. The need for definition indicates the discomfort Sigur Ros' intensity of vision can cause; you either get it and respond to it or you don't. The critics in Morisset's film don't get it.
In watching "Inni" the band's self identification as a heavy metal group seems only half in jest. The guitars roar like hurricanes throughout, filling the air with the plaintive and yearning screams of frustration Sigur Ros uses them to summon. This is a loud show; even the near moments of silence when only Jonsi Birgisson's impassioned vocals ring solo seem deafening. This is a band that can summon up something real and pure and inexplicable that other bands are incapable of approaching. The emotional impact of the music is shattering, unlike anything i've felt across years of listening to thousands of bands and records. There is something special about Sigur Ros. They know it, their fans know it, and both are unafraid of it. The concert becomes less a performance than a transference of something otherworldly; for those attuned to the right frequency a Sigur Ros show is more about sound being given over in order to inhabit you than a simple run through of some songs. It's a deeply personal experience, and even just watching the film allows for most of that communication to reach out.
From a visual perspective, Morisset chooses simplicity and favors the austere pallet of black and white to render this most otherwordly of bands. The film is grainy, shadowy and at many times unfocused but it all works; never once do you feel like you're in the presence of an amateur director. The choices presented are all done for their stylistic effect and relationship to the music. Reality seems to waver in and out, and the crushing physicality of much of the music almost demands the heavens above break in two. The archival footage plucks you from those cradling moments of performance, breaking the thrall. The use of color here only reflects the importance, the towering life, of the performance footage. Color seems drab and dead, black and white seems alive and crackling with electricity. The film's penultimate moment (which could really be any, depending on your personal relationship with the songs) for me comes in the final song, a performance of "Popplagio" that begins in the archival footage and carries over into the concert proper, a flawless transition that highlights the song's endurance as well as the clarity of vision Sigur Ros have possessed virtually since their formation. "Popplagio" builds to a shuddering, sky-cracking crescendo that culminates in a torrent of shards of something (rain, paper, who knows what?) flying across the stage; the band seems to be playing in the middle of, and simultaneously summoning, a blizzard. It's achingly beautiful, emotionally draining, and enthralling to the point of trance.
In that capacity "Inni" functions as a perfect companion piece to Sigur Ros' recorded output. While "Heima" sought to humanize the band and clarify some of the mystique surrounding them, "Inni" gives over to that mystique completely and becomes a piece that perfectly summarizes the "experience" of Sigur Ros. This is as close as you could come without being there; despite its hyper stylizing you never once feel that you're being made to view the band in any specific way. The film, much like the music, is for you and you alone, open to your personal interpretation and most especially your emotional reaction. Morisset has created a portrait of something enigmatic and treasured. That portrait is now part of that enigma.

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