Screaming Masterpieces

Sigur Ros live
I’ve been thinking that Iceland is “the next big thing” for music for quite a few years now. After Sigur Ros proved that Bjork wasn’t the only musical genius hailing from the island country, it seemed pretty obvious that something was going on with the music scene in Iceland.

Screaming Masterpieces (or is it “Masterpiece” singular — SIFF seems to have the name wrong?) starts with the same premise. It’s somewhat of a “Who’s Who” of the Icelandic music scene. Bjork is definitely covered (and interviewed) pretty extensively — which makes sense, since she is probably the most famous musician to come from Iceland.

The documentary also gives us some insight into other Icelandic bands such as Johann Johannsson, Mum, Bang Gang, Apparat Organ Quartet, Slowblow, The Sugarcubes, Ghostigital, Mugison, Amina, Minus, and a few others. (I found that list of artists from the Screaming Masterpiece soundtrack web page. After hearing some of these bands perform in the film, I am definitely going to find out more about Bang Gang, Apparat Organ Quartet, Ghostigital, and Amina. As for Mum, it’s kinda funny that they were in the film since I’ve been looking for their remix of Goldfrapp’s “You Never Know” from one of the “Fly Me Away” singles.

One thing the film definitely confirmed for me about Icelandic music is that it’s very majestic, intense, and ethereal. Even the heavy metal and punk bands created beautiful noise (at least, more so than their American and European counterparts). A bunch of the musicians also commented on the role that the landscape plays in their music. Granted, I haven’t been to Iceland, but pictures of it are pretty amazing, and I can totally understand how the mountains, the ocean, the sky, the northern lights, etc. would encourage one to make such beautiful sounds.

Although Screaming Masterpieces managed to cover a pretty wide variety of musical styles, I was surprised that the electronic group Gus Gus wasn’t included in the film. Their song “Ladyshave” was pretty popular and they’ve released three albums, so I’m fairly sure they are not some totally obscure group. Also, one of the members of one of the bands in the film noted that a sense of family and collaboration was one of the main defining characteristics of Icelandic music. Gus Gus, from what I understand, is something of an artists troupe, so it seems to me that they exemplify this perfectly. Oh well.

Ultimately, it seems to me that the main reason music from Iceland is so interesting and unique is the fact that the population is fairly small. Not even 300,000 live in the country. As one guy explained, if you are a small band you might hope to sell 200 albums or so. You can’t make much money from 200 albums, so rather than trying to make something marketable and whatnot, you just go ahead and make whatever sounds good to you. And for whatever reason, “whatever sounds good to you” in Iceland is better than anywhere in the world?

(As a final side note, I also learned that most of the people who live in Iceland don’t consider it to be part of Scandinavia. I’m debated whether I should edit the Scandinavian playlist on my iPod by removing Bjork, Gus Gus, etc. For now, I’m going to keep it there…)

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

I’m glad to say that I’ve started SIFF off on a good note. And very apropos, my first film this year was a film about films: This Film Is Not Yet Rated by Kirby Dick.

Basically, This Film is a documentary about the MPAA and it’s often-criticized ratings system. Toward the end, the film delved into a meta-film state where Dick went through the process of having the film rated by the MPAA then go through the appeals process.

Like any good documentary, This Film contained lots of funny stuff (clips from overly sexual movies, witty comments, lesbian private investigators in Los Angeles), commentary from famous people — both intellects (Lawrence Lessig, various academics) and film types (John Waters, Mary Harron, Maria Bello, etc.), and some really probing questions about the subject matter (Why are the members of the ratings board kept anonymous? What is an “average” American parent? Why is violence allowed more often than sex?, etc.)

The film started with the basic question: Why does nobody know who is on the board of people who gives films rating for the MPAA and what qualifications do they have when it comes to rating movies? It turns out that the eight members are kept anonymous so that they are not influenced by the studios (despite the fact that, according to the film, they often consult for a movie after viewing it).

The filmmaker ends up interviewing various private investigators in an attempt to discover who is on the board. He ultimately chooses a lesbian couple who claim that they will do whatever it takes to get the information needed. “Whatever it takes” turned out to be sitting outside the MPAA, finding out who goes to lunch when, tracking down some license plate numbers, making vague but information collecting phone calls to the MPAA office, and tracking down people at restaurants. With the PIs help, Dick is able to give us the MPAA Ratings Board Class of 2005. It turns out that many of them have children well over the age of 20, which begs the question: Why should they be the ones rating films?

This Film also delves into the obviously biased method in which films are rated. Of note: gay and lesbian films get NC-17 ratings for things that easily make it into R-rated straight films (e.g. But I’m a Cheerleader vs. American Pie), violence is not as much of a problem as sex (e.g. dismemberment in Sin City vs. a Maria Bello’s pubic hair in The Cooler), if a film has violence no blood must be shown (e.g. bloodless PG-13 Tomorrow Never Dies vs. bloody R-rated Saving Private Ryan), and military the military should be shown in a positive manner (e.g. realistic Gunner Palace vs. Top Gun).

The audience for this film was great. The Egyptian was totally packed (I forgot that you often have to wait in line for SIFF films, and this line was wrapping way around over toward QFC) and the crowd was totally into it. I’m one of those people who hates it when people clap and cheer during movies, but This Film and the audience had me clapping and laughing and cheering more than any movie I’ve ever seen. The energy of the film is great and really keeps people engaged with what could potentially be dry material.

Following the film we were lucky enough to have Kirby Dick take some questions and give some answers, but I didn’t realize he would be there and didn’t plan accordingly by bringing a notebook to jot things down. The jist of a lot of the questions, though, were along the lines of “What next?” and “What does this all mean?” It seemed pretty obvious that leading up to the film’s theatrical release in September there is probably going to be some sort of grassroots anti-MPAA/ratings movement. We’ll see what pans out.

I gave this movie an “enthusiastic” 5 and I don’t think it’s just because it’s my first SIFF film this year and I was excited. This was a truly great movie and I highly recommend it.

Play Along

2006 SIFF program cover
Just the other night Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) 2006 had its kick-off gala. The opening film was The Illusionist. I didn’t go.

But I did end up buying a bunch of tickets for other films. Here is my list, join me if you can!

I will admit, despite the fact that I am seeing more movies this year, I’m not as excited about the lineup as I was last year. I chalk some of this up to the fact that last year was my first SIFF so this year it’s not as new and exciting, but at the same time, there aren’t movies by directors that I absolutely love (like 2046 or Mysterious Skin). But who knows, I’m hoping that I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Watch my blog for reviews (I’ll try to get them up as soon as I can after each film) and feel free to join me and/or comment on all the reviews.