9 Songs (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

9 Songs represents Michael Winterbottom's effort to make a bold, shocking, avant-garde film. In a career filled with the successes and failures one might expect from a daring innovator, Winterbottom has always been interested in experimenting with forms and genres, and he's dealt with fairly explicit sexual matters before, but he's stayed pretty close to mainstream sensibilities in the past. This film is nowhere near the mainstream, and the sex is completely explicit. In a nutshell, it is a short (70 minutes) inexpensive ($150,000) film which consists almost entirely of two elements: realistic non-simulated sex scenes and rock concerts. It is more or less a two-character drama charting a year in the life of a relationship, but I'm not sure if "drama" is the right word, since the non-musical portion of the film only lasts about forty minutes, those minutes are scenes of sex and nudity, they include very little dialogue, and what dialogue there is consists mainly of mundane matters.

Matt, the male character, is a geologist working in Antarctica. Since he has nothing to do with his spare time, he spends his waking moments in a melancholy remembrance of things recently past, reviewing a relationship that did not turn out as he hoped. As we see it through him, that romance seems to consist of nine rock concerts, each followed by some sexual encounter. The cycle of the relationship is reflected in the progression of the sex acts. The sex which was once passion and romance transmogrifies into a way of expressing other emotions: anger, humiliation, apology, etc. The sex is presented in "real time", or close to it, which is to say it seems drawn out and static much of the time, as when it becomes just the repetitious thrusting of heads or hips. If you are curious, the film does eventually present all the basic sex acts in graphic close-up, including a "money shot." In other words, it is about the same experience you would have if you spied on the bedroom and bathroom of your attractive neighbors for a year without their knowledge.

That's just about all there is to it.

Part of the sexual appeal of the film comes, or should come at least, from the fact that the actor and actress are not porn stars, but mainstream performers. Margo Stilley is a new ... um ... comer, but Kieran O'Brien is a familiar face in the UK, with two dozen IMDb credits over a movie and TV career which has spanned nearly two decades.

Maybe that will turn you on if your recognize them. I suppose I might have gotten a tingle if the couple had been Katie Holmes and Ryan Phillippe, or somebody like that, but since I don't know either one of the people in this movie, and Miss Stilley is every bit as bad an actress as the women in porn films (see picture to the right), I found it no different from watching anonymous porn actors, and I was bored stiff.

Wait a minute, drop the "stiff" part out of "bored stiff." The sex scenes are not really very erotic.

The reviews of the film could not have been much worse. BBC gave it the lowest possible rating, and huffed with classic British aplomb that the film was a "stultifying, self-conscious, and flesh-creepingly repulsive lot of codswallop." I'm not sure what codswallop is, or whether we have it in Texas, but I'm pretty sure that statement ain't no compliment. The Independent took the time to write a very good article, but summarized by calling it "empty-headed" and giving it their own basement score. Within the population of reviewers, those two were not especially harsh. For example, Goatdog wrote a lengthy and contemptuous piece, scored it 0/5, and refused to list Michael Winterbottom as a writer. ("That's not writing. It's just typing.")

IMDb voters treated the film less harshly than the critics, with votes spread about evenly up the scale, and even some passionate defenders. On balance, however, they also place it at the nadir of Winterbottom's career.

To be honest, I was only interested by one element of the film, and that was a very minor thing that the director may or may not have been intending. The sex scenes are punctuated with different music throughout the film, occasionally with no music at all, and it is interesting to note how deeply the background music affects ones mood while watching the mechanics. It demonstrates that the actual sex acts are virtually inconsequential to our reactions, and that the director can produce any response he chooses simply by selecting the correct music or lack thereof. Demonstrating that point was certainly not the reason why the director made the film, but the title of the film leads me to believe that the director was interested in the impact of music on our response, if only as an oblique sub-text.

Apart from that relatively unimportant bit, the only other positive comment I can make is that the film is only 70 minutes long, so the pain is over quickly.



  • Not yet available on Region 1 DVD
  • You can order a Region 2 DVD here



Margo Stiller and Kieran O'Brien have real sex in real time. You can see everything, including erection, penetration, cunnilingus, fellatio, and a money shot.

The Critics Vote ...

  • BBC 1/5, Independent 1/5

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C-, I suppose. I don't know. I don't think it is a very good movie at all. In fact, I can see why BBC called it "codswallop" because that sounds right even though I don't know what codswallop is. I have a feeling that it would translate into Texan as "bullshit," and I have no argument there. I have no idea why Winterbottom thought this was a good idea, but it does have its passionate admirers, defenders, and apologists at IMDb. I suppose you might want to watch if you know the actors and want to see them having sex.

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