9 Songs by Michael Winterbottom

First published by Morning Star on 23rd March 2005

Sleaze or art?

NICOLAS LALAGUNA asks if 9 Songs is a love story for modern times or simply pornography.

Oxford graduate Michael Winterbottom and his partner in Revolution Films, Cambridge graduate Andrew Eaton, have stirred up some real controversy in their new film 9 Songs.

The film follows a sexually focused relationship between US student Lisa, played by 21-year-old model Margo Stilley, and well-heeled London urbanite Matt, played by Kieran O’Brien of 24-Hour Party People fame.
The film begins with Matt flying over Antarctica, selectively remembering his relationship.

Through Matt’s memories, we see how the couple met at Brixton Academy while watching a Black Rebel Motorcycle concert and the 12-month sex and live music marathon that follows it.

But it is not the feel of the film or the great soundtrack that is courting such controversy.

It is the sex scenes which take up nearly half the film that have raised the eyebrows.

The sex is explicit and graphically displays the logistics of intercourse.

That being said, while the mainstream media deliberated over whether 9 Songs is pornography or art with little help from the film’s own publicity, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) gave 9 Songs an 18 classification, so that it can now be shown in any cinema without being cut.

This isn’t the first time that images of actual sex have been classified 18 by the BBFC.

To date, they have always been films that used the images as a method of furthering a wider plot.

There was Ai No Corrida in 1991, Romance in 1999 and, more recently, Intimacy in 2001.

This means that, according to the BBFC, 9 Songs is not pornography and, as such, does not deserve an R18 classification, which would limit it to licensed sex shops and cinemas.

If you have ever seen sexually explicit pornography – the kind that could pass for an Open University gynaecology special – then you will be able to watch this film without being dumbfounded by your own new-found voyeur status and you might just find something else there.

Overcoming the hype about the sex lets you into a much deeper and well-crafted film.

It is an accurate portrayal of how many people remember relationships – selectively.

Matt remembers the relationship in terms of nine concerts, a lap-dance, a few laughs and a lot of sex.

However much we like to believe, that as time goes by, relationships stay in our memory in their entirety, in truth, we remember fewer and fewer fleeting moments and often it is only the most emotionally charged.

For many people, the sex will get in the way of giving 9 Songs the intellectual space that it deserves, but that doesn’t stop it from being brutally accurate in today’s dating world.

It may or may not be a love story, but it is a fine peek at what, for many, is a modern-day relationship.

Man and woman meet, man and woman mate, man and woman discover their differences, man and woman go their separate ways.

As to whether 9 Songs is a modern love story or just another art-house shag-fest, well that kind of judgement is always going to be in the eyes of the beholder.

So if you don’t like the thought of watching a lot of real sex, don’t see 9 Songs. If you’re not bothered, give it a chance as it might just surprise you.