There’s a scene early on in INNI where the members of Sigur Rós sit down to an interview at NPR. Asked if their music started out as something more conventional before it became experimental, the four of them stare at the off screen host, dumfounded. Describing their music is a fool’s errand, one even the band seems incapable (or, at least, unwilling) to do so. In jest, in another archive interview, they describe themselves as “Pure Heavy Metal… we worship Satan.” With heavenly harmonies, droning instrumental passages and singer Jónsi’s sublime falsetto, often capped with lyrics sung in a made up language, they’re often relegated to such genres as the meaningless “post-rock”. Ethereal and dense, the music draws from Classical, rock, and progressive elements to craft a sound which is both unique and, if open to its charms, extremely accessible.
Stylistically, the film feels like an extension of their music – shot in a faux-vintage film style, with blown-out highlights, exaggerated grain and a desaturated, almost bichromatic palate, the concert footage is as dreamy and otherworldly as the performances. The songs chosen are drawn from throughout their career (the end credits carefully cite the source album for each track), creating a nice overview of their output. There are brief segments such as the interviews mentioned above that interrupt the show, as well as footage of what’s clearly a very early gig. One of the exemplary moments of the film comes when this early performance merges seamlessly with the modern gig – the intimate setting replaced by the stadium show, an enlargement of the scope of the tune while keeping the same core drone intact. It’s a compelling metaphor for the band, moving from simple instrumentation to more complex, but with a key and unique sound that ties their history together.
Save for these moments of musical synchronicity, there’s little to help the uninitiated get inside the work. However, for those already open to the charms of the band, this is a fine performance captured in a style entirely respectful of the musical material. Most tellingly, while the music can often appear distant or somber on first listen, the film captures the charismatic interplay of the musicians. When Jónsi sits beside Kjartan Sveinsson, sharing a Yamaha stage piano, the sound of the four hands creates a lovely piano counterpart to the steady bass work and dynamic drumming solidifies both the musicianship and musical sensitivities of the band.
It’s not a stretch to think of Sigur Rós’ music as being otherworldly, yet at its core it’s a melodic, often joyous expression. By presenting the band in this vintage-y visual fashion, shooting as if Eisenstein or Dziga Vertov decided to make a concert movie, INNI allows the viewer to experience the concert as if half in a dream. This is no dreary, druggy dirge, nor anything approaching the fantastical or psychedelic. Instead, with INNI we get a compelling musical presentation with visuals that compliment without distraction. For long time fans, it will be an extension of what they already draw from the music, with a film that looks like the music often feels. Even for those brave uninitiated, INNI will be time well spent on a unique musical journey.
INNI opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, October 28, 2011