The music of Iceland’s Sigur Ros fills the cinema, as if reverberating off the walls of some darkly beautiful fjord. The black-and-white footage of front man Jon Birgisson, straining to hit his vocal heights and sawing at his guitar strings with a violin bow, shimmers on the screen.
Even before sitting down at the new Sigur Ros concert film Inni, directed by the wonderfully inventive Montreal director Vincent Morisset, who has previously worked with Arcade Fire and the National Film Board of Canada, you know you’re going to experience something stunning.
And yet it’s exactly that expectation that could have weighed the film down. The intense music and highly experimental photography could have rendered Inni overbearingly haute.
Yet Morisset, with his eye for imperfection and a light touch, avoids all that beautifully. This is simply one of the most engrossing concert films in recent memory. Morisset’s visual playfulness is perfectly suited to the band.
Over nearly two decades, Sigur Ros has been a staple of the critical orthodoxy – a group that the hip not only have to listen to in order to keep up, but also genuinely like year after year, album after album. Before going on hiatus in 2010 to pursue other projects, the band members were in top form when Morisset filmed them at London’s Alexandra Palace over two nights in 2008. It was a peak musically, and visually, with an assured stage presence, decorative costumes and the kind of flashing lightshow that hypnotizes to no end.
Even at this point in the band’s career, Sigur Ros defies expectation. Somehow Birgisson can bow his guitar and sing falsetto in a way that skirts rock pomposity – or caricature. Guitar bowing inevitably conjures an internal smirk and thoughts of Jimmy Page waving his bow like a magic wand through half-hour versions of Dazed and Confused. Birgisson’s bowing isn’t just an added flourish, it’s the emotional centre of the songs. (And whereas Page would discard his bow to the side of his amp in order to get on with the tune, Birgisson wields his throughout most of the concert.)
However, the film shows that Sigur Ros isn’t some high-art act to overanalyze. They are still just a band of guys, part of the whole rock ‘n’ roll, Dazed and Confused lineage. Inni shows this by including brief snippets of interviews from the early days, with the musicians trying hard to answer a hopeless interview question on whether they always sounded so experimental. A particularly charming old shot shows them trying to get their gear ready on a stage pretty much the size of a handkerchief.
Unlike the 2007 documentary Heima, which follows the band playing around Iceland, Inni focuses more on the irreality of the stage and on Sigur Ros’s darker material, such as Svefn-G-Englar. (That song, especially, has an impressive past. A decade ago, it had been turned into one of the most arresting music videos ever, featuring a theatre group of performers with special needs and Down Syndrome performing a dance about the seasons and elements.) Morisset adds a whole new element to Sigur Ros’s visuals, playing throughout the film with all aspects of the image, from light distortions and rich contrasts. Imperfections are accentuated. The effect is like the output of some photographer getting hugely inspired and a little crazy in the darkroom one rainy day. Yet unlike many concert films, there’s still a great deal of visual information. You can still see how the band plays the songs.
One major caution: Anyone seriously interested in the cinematography should first see the film, and then read Morisset’s detailed description of his shooting technique on the film’s website. Reading the director’s notes first could take away some of the magic. For this is the perfect film for a band that was never trying to be something other than inventive.
- Directed by Vincent Morisset
- Classification: NA