Valtari Mystery Film Experiment
Icelandic outift Sigur Rós commission 12 filmmakers to visualise their latest album. The results are always engrossing
Icelandic band Sigur Rós have always pushed boundaries when it comes to the visual aspect of their music. The 2005 tour film Heima, for instance, showed the band performing in an array of unconventional settings, including disused factories and even on top of a dormant volcano.
Following that release, the four-piece indie outfit produced album number six, the eight-track Valtari, which saw them return to their restrained, brooding roots after experimenting with a more commercial sound on their two previous records.
At the same time, they commissioned 12 filmmakers to produce music videos for each of the eight tracks, and proscribed them a modest budget. Valtari Mystery Film Experiment, therefore, also features multiple videos for various tracks, including 'Varúð' ('Caution').
Tonight’s screening in Queen's Film Theatre is one of many taking place around the globe – from Belfast to Brazil, Anchorage to the Antarctic – as Valtari Mystery Film Experiment gets its worldwide premiere. And to make things even more mysterious, the videos are not shown in chronological order. The ever elusive Sigur Rós would be proud.
And for those not lucky enough to be here, you can look forward to another screening of the Valtari Mystery Film Experiment, as well as previous Sigur Ros live film Inni, when they are both screened in the Black Box, Belfast on Saturday, January 19 as part of the 2013 Out To Lunch arts festival.
There was always a danger that the directors behind each of these short films would take the road more often travelled and give us seven minutes of stunning but unimaginative Scandinavian landscapes, with the chosen song layered over the top as an afterthought.
It is with relief, then, that Valtari Mystery Film Experiment gives the viewer an utterly unique take on Sigur Ros's work, showcasing each song from the Valtari album in vastly different ways.
The film beings with the song 'Varúð' ('Caution'), by Inga Birgisdóttir. It is an animated piece, showing figures lighting beacons on cliff edges as the music slowly builds, with waves crashing against the rocks and day turning to night. It is typical Sigur Ros: the slow, quiet intro morphing into a crescendo of sound.
This slow/quite, fast/loud dynamic is characteristic of each of the songs on Valtari. 'Eg anda' ('I breathe'), by Ragnar Kjartansson, shows two smartly dressed diners eating a banquet, then one suddenly chokes. There follows instructions of how to administer the Heimlich manoeuvre, almost taking on the feel of a public safety video.
The common theme in the films is love, whether it is a Shia LeBeouf-starring portrayal of a drug addicted couple’s fiery relationship in the Alma Har'el directed 'Fjögur píanó' ('Four Pianos') or the closeness of the choreography in the stunning film for the album’s title track.
There are also frequent references to nature, natural beauty and our relationship with our surroundings, and none more so than with Nick Abrahams' film for 'Ekki múkk' ('Not a Sound'), which shows a character played by Irish actor Aiden Gillen seemingly lost, making his way through the tumbling British countryside.
The narratives of the various films are intriguing, and much of the imagery and cinematography is quite stunning. But it is Sigur Ros's ethereal music that leaves the most lasting impression.
While those who may not be familiar with the band’s music might find the overall project quite slow and meandering – dare I say, even pretentious – it is hard not to be entranced by this series of films and their accompanying soundtracks. I can't think of a better way to spend my lunch hour come January 19.
Valtari Mystery Film Experiment and the 2011 live film Inni are being shown as part of the Out To Lunch arts festival on Saturday, January 19 at The Black Box, Belfast.