Best Laid Plans

Michael Winterbottom delivers the sex, and not much else

9 Songs


The trouble with pornography is that while it sells itself on the authenticity of the sex act, everything else about it is usually artificial, and very blatantly so. The hair color of the leads, most of the female body parts and especially the situation -- when was the last time you decided on a whim to have sex with the pizza guy because you couldn't afford a tip?

Your garden-variety movie sex scenes tend to provide more realistic scenarios for falling into bed, but so many actresses are so terrified of being "objectified" that they insist on negotiating the exact amount of skin shown, which leads to an unlikely amount of clothing being involved, and creative uses of shadow and camera angles to cover what underwear can't.

It shouldn't really be all that radical to depict actual sex between people who at least seem to be into each other and getting it on the way average folks do, but it's rare enough that 9 Songs stands out. This low-budget, low-light movie is literally nothing more than real sex and rock & roll, with a few scenes of drugs to complete the triumvirate.

So no need to worry about plot spoilers or anything like that, though there is no way to discuss this movie without describing some intimate acts; if that bothers you, turn the page. Matt (Kieran O'Brien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley) have sex several times, and between each sex scene, there's a live concert performance, usually at London's Brixton Academy, and featuring bands like Primal Scream and Franz Ferdinand. That's all that happens, pretty much. Matt's remembering the whole thing as he flies over Antarctica; he's a glaciologist, which, one imagines, is supposed to provide an ironic counterpoint to the hot horizontal action.

Director Michael Winterbottom often makes films that are somewhat cold and detached, and he's made various statements to the effect that the sex here is not supposed to be particularly arousing. That's very likely a subjective call, as different folks get off with different strokes, but damn, this film certainly works for this writer.

The songs...not so much. The live performances look like crappy bootlegs, and even when we're apparently supposed to be noticing Matt and Lisa in the audience, it's just too dark to see much. We're told that the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club show is where they met -- and we have to be told, because every human being in the audience is silhouetted and indistinct.

Though there isn't much narrative in effect, Winterbottom does quite literally build to a climax. Presumably knowing that most porn aimed at straight guys highlights blowjobs and money shots, he saves the female-on-male oral action and pop shot till an hour into the movie (which is billed in the press notes as being a mere 69 minutes long, but that number makes one suspect a joke). O'Brien is well endowed, while Stilley is all natural -- at one point, Lisa asks Matt if he thinks she looks like a boy. He responds in the affirmative, but says it's why he likes her.

If the movie were any longer, the onscreen events might become a lot more tedious, but there are just enough different things each time to avoid dull repetition. You may have seen a handjob onscreen, for instance, but have you ever seen a footjob? It's interesting, to say the least.

If we may nitpick for a moment, however: Matt asks Lisa if she thinks they could ever get to the stage of making love without a condom. She says no, but we've already seen intercourse that doesn't seem to involve protection, and a rubber appears only once. A safe-sex PSA, this ain't.

Oh, by the way, Matt is English and Lisa American. It's not clear that this is supposed to mean anything; Lisa seems to treat sex more casually, but that might be because she's female or because she's a bloody Yank. There's no such dichotomy with the bands they see together. While some, like the Dandy Warhols, are American, they all seem to have that same U.K./reworked new-wave sound. Then there's orchestral-soundtrack composer Michael Nyman, who's a good sport to allow footage of his 60th birthday party for a backdrop to what is essentially a porno film. Imagine John Williams giving the go-ahead for such a thing.

Nothing wrong with porn, of course. If it brings new faces to the art-house theater, more power to it. Just keep an eye on the raincoat crowd.

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