By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist October 25, 2011 at 4:28AM
Sigur Ros has never needed much of a big stage production to get the power of their expansive, orchestral and otherworldly music across in concert. When this writer saw them perform at the intimate Théatre Maisonneuve in Montreal circa the release of Takk, they opened the show with the title track, a giant white screen in front of the stage obscuring the band, who were backlit, casting huge shadows as the music swelled. As they transitioned into "Glosoli," the screen slowly raised, revealing the band, and really that was all they needed to completely have the crowd in the palm of their hand. While Sigur Ros' rising popularity has allowed them -- and forced them, to a certain degree -- to employ projections and other big stage novelties, the music has always done more than any fancy lighting rig could. This dynamic is clearly displayed in the band's solid "Heima" documentary, which tracked them traveling through Iceland and playing acoustic concerts in small and remote towns, with their songs containing the same power and passion as they do in their fuller bodied, large-stage incarnations.
So with that in mind, the prospect of a Sigur Ros concert film is a tricky thing. With their shows putting the music first, and the ethereal nature of their sound to begin with, the band lacks the theatricality found in The Talking Heads' seminal "Stop Making Sense," or the expressive personality and quirkiness of Bjork combined with the new, live versions of her tunes featured in "Live At Royal Opera House." And while we can admire director Vincent Morrisset's (Arcade Fire‘s “Mirroir Noir”) approach for "Inni" -- a document of Sigur Ros' two-night stand at London’s Alexandra Palace on the tail end of their tour for Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum -- it still finds the images fading into the background of the music to the point where we would've have just preferred throwing on our own playlist of their tunes. Using handheld HD and “surveillance” cameras to capture the band in action, with the footage then transferred to 16mm to give the picture a textured, blown-out look, the result is arty and engaging for a moment, but the appeal of the aesthetic quickly wears off.
The film opens with a performance of "Ný Batterí" before cutting to the band's now infamously awkward interview on NPR in which they demur to explain anything about the origins or inspirations of their music. Morrisset sets this up to underline the indescribable nature of Sigur Ros' oeuvre, but it's only the first of a few vintage clips scattered throughout the movie to break up the show. And unfortunately, this material is actually more interesting than the concert in "Inni." With clips stretching all the way back to 1998, showing the shockingly young and gawky band playing a small club, as well as various snippets of archival interviews and performance footage, you start wishing for a straight, comprehensive documentary on Sigur Ros rather than the more esoteric concert movie being delivered.
So what about "Inni" itself? At seventy-five minutes it's pretty much the perfect length, and while it's pleasant enough in the moment, it's hardly memorable. Morrisset's dogged approach to avoid the traditional trappings of the concert movie, as well as his stylistic choice to manipulate the feel of the footage, results in a much more impressionistic view of the band members and the stage show they employed. None of the members, save for Jonsi, are given close ups, with bassist Georg “Goggi” Hólm and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason particularly left in the background (the latter is essentially captured in two different angles that never change for the duration of the concert). And Morrisett is much more interested in the spaces around them rather than in capturing the sensation of the geography and dimension of the stage they are inhabiting, so you never quite get a sense of the room they are playing in. The audience is barely glimpsed and only heard at the end of songs, but once you get used to the fact that "Inni" does little to deviate from its established course for the running time -- save for a split screen moment about half-an-hour in -- interest begins to fade except for those interstitial moments of older footage with the group. The approach is meant to simultaneously convey what the concert is like for both band and audience, but for anyone who has witnessed Sigur Ros play live, the monochrome, almost too intensely focused presentation of "Inni" through Morrisset's distinct lens is hardly indicative of the experience. And while the band is touting "Inni" as "the definitive live experience," it's odd that the choice was made to shoot in black and white, considering their colorful attire for that tour, part of which is being given away in numbered, limited edition versions of the upcoming release.
"Inni" is ample proof of why the band's videos have never done them much justice either. Trying to distill the imagery and moments that the music of Sigur Ros creates in the minds of listeners is an unenviable task, which is why their official videos, while handsomely produced, generally tend to be superficial. A testament to this conundrum is the vast amount of fan-made creations, which range from cutesy montages of stereotypical sunsets and sunlight to slideshows of war atrocities (seriously). Everyone has a different connection to the music that the band themselves have refrained from explaining in full. If you want the full Sigur Ros concert experience, you might just want to save your cash for the next time they pass through your town, as "Inni" is for the diehard faithful only. [C]