“Inni” by Sigur Ros

In the DVD commentary for the beautiful film “Heima”, Sigur Ros’ manager John Best speaks about his desire to bring the viewer closer to the band, to allow the audience to see the minute details that make up the grand scale of a Sigur Ros concert. However, “Heima” explored not only their music, but their relationship with Iceland’s intensely gorgeous geography and cultural past.  It was essentially a rock and roll nature film, with landscapes filling most of the frames.

“Inni”, on the other hand, focuses solely on the band and their full electric live show. For anyone who hasn’t seen them live, let me report: in concert, Sigur Ros are a behemoth. It’s like swimming with whales during a thunderstorm, including the calm lull afterwards. Inni captures this brilliantly. For nearly two hours, director Vincent Morisset features the band in extreme close-up, grainy black and white images, stripping away even colour itself in an effort to capture the raw essence of the band, actually playing their instruments and performing. The payoff for such a gutsy move is immense. Although casual fans may find it too intense, the film looks unlike anything else by a contemporary band, and they should be applauded for this alone. The camera is sometimes so close that it reduces their movement to abstraction. It’s edited brilliantly, with frames melting into each other, cross fades a-plenty. The lights and video projections, which have long been fixtures of their shows, are also given a prominent spot; however, Morisset plays with them as part of his overall vision, rather than simply filming the stage from the back of the room.

I loved the intimacy of actually watching them play close-up, although I first found it a bit unsettling. I’ve seen them many times now, and each one of those experiences ranks high on my all-time list of mind-blowing experiences. So, I think of them as these musical wizards, and I was afraid seeing them play so close would ruin the mystery. How wrong I was. One of the amazing things about this film is how it only serves to deepen the mystery of one of the most enigmatic and bizarre bands of contemporary history. It’s clear they are excellent musicians individually, but when they play together the music flows from this other place with such clarity and surreal beauty that it truly seems to be channelled from the beyond. Even though they have electronic toys, everything seems to be organic and human. Sigur Ros used to travel with a full string and horn section, to help them create their massive sound. But lately they’ve reverted to their original four-piece format, and its cool how little is lost by this shift: they can still fill a room with swirling, heaving waves of sound. Just the four of them.

But ah, the music! I cannot say enough good things about the songs, all of which are included on the album. Just buy it. The setlist is mostly from their last two albums, with a couple other oldies thrown in. “Festival” has one thrilling moment when Jonsi holds an insanely high note for an equally insane amount of time. “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” has Jonsi and Kjartan playing on one keyboard, seated beside each other on the piano bench like a couple of grinning kids. It’s a very cute and happy moment for a band that is sometimes thought to be somewhat dour and serious. The version of “e-bow” included is as powerful a rendition that you’ll ever hear; this song has always been a favourite of mine. The legendary live track “Hafsol” is given the rock and roll four-piece treatment, which is impressive as it previously relied on the string section. “Popplagio”, their so-called “pop song”, is still their closer, and for good reason. There’s simply no way to follow-up this song. It starts as a gentle ballad, and slowly morphs into the most terrifying thing you’ve ever heard. It’s beautiful, and by the end you want to scream and vomit. The film shows the band playing this final apocalyptic section with unmatched fury, while a hailstorm of confetti and wind and light explodes all around them. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve seen a ton of rock movies. This film is an ambitious and visceral document of a truly amazing and unique band. It made seeing Sigur Ros live in all their hugeness look like the unforgettable experience that it is.

Archival clips of the band, mostly from their early period, are scattered throughout the film as transitions. The short interview segments are hilarious, as they show them either giving ridiculous, cryptic answers or no answers at all. Even this seems calculated to convince the viewer that all the answers, all you ever need to know, can be found in the music. And there’s one astounding clip, from an early gig no doubt, of Sigur Ros playing in a bar, on a stage that is maybe ten feet wide. They are showing us how far they’ve come, and the contrast reminds us once again that there is humility and humanity at the core of this art.

The decision to include almost no shots of the audience is unusual for a rock concert movie, but like all of the other self-imposed stylistic limitations, it works so well. It reduces the audience to a ghostly presence that is seen but not heard. It’s as if Morisset is saying that where they play and who they play to is inconsequential, which is true. Sigur Ros dominate the experience no matter what the location or make-up of the audience, which is why they are so loved all over the world. But when the one really substantial shot of the crowd is seen, briefly, during the most climactic moment of the show, the effect is spine-tingling and otherworldly.  While watching it, I got chills, and my hair stood on end. It’s that amazing.

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