Screaming Masterpiece

Screaming Masterpiece

****1/2

Reviewed by: Kotleta

Could Iceland be the only western country to appoint a Head Pagan?

Falling somewhere between Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, and quite separate in every way from each, Iceland is an austerely beautiful country that revels in its individuality. In recent years, it's most famous export has been music, producing a stream of bands that are courageous and creative in their experiments with form and function, making sounds that are unique and personal, free from commercial pressure. Which is partially explained by the fact that success at home means selling only 200 CDs. They have less to lose.

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According to Bjork, ever since they become independent in 1944, Icelanders have been trying to work out what being Icelandic is all about. Screaming Masterpiece shows one aspect of that cultural debate, the search to define national identity through musical expression.

One man with a beard who has borrowed the keys to a vacant isolated church, so that he can play its organ as loud and as often as he likes, comments, "Foreigners all ask about elves, trolls, Bjork and Sigur Ros." To be fair, there is quite a lot of exported pop-pixie Bjork here, which also fulfils the elf quota. There are no trolls, but there is Sigur Ros. Briefly.

However, the variety of bands performing and discussing far exceeds the limitations of mainstream pop culture, giving a wider voice to Mum, Singapore Sling, Vinyl, Trabant and Nilfisk, not to mention all the ones I can neither spell, nor pronounce. Maybe it's something in the air, or all those saunas and ice baths, but regardless of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, 90 per cent of the musicians could pass for school kids, even on a sunny day. The exception is Damon Albarn, who pops up for a minute, seemingly on his way home from the pub, to explain how his emigration was influenced by a childhood dream.

Elegiacally epic camerawork sweeps over the snow-kissed landscape as lovingly as the man in a funny woolly hat plays Viking songs about Odin on his xylophone. Outside, it's all wide-open spaces, but the Icelandic music scene is a small, claustrophobically friendly one, where bands are like families and musicians play in several groups at once. It's a culture of limitless possibility where anything can happen, as proven by the anecdotal evidence of Nilfisk, who played their first ever public performance by opening for the Foo Fighters in Rejkjavik only a month after forming.

Ari Alexander and Ergis Magnusson's film is an essay on the evolution of sound that offers no conclusions - how can there be when the story is still unfolding? This is a charming, enthralling, screaming masterpiece that will do wonders for the Icelandic tourist industry.

Reviewed on: 17 Jan 2006
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Screaming Masterpiece packshot
A look at the Icelandic music industry, its roots and stars.
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Read more Screaming Masterpiece reviews:

George Williamson ***1/2

Director: Ari Alexander, Ergis Magnusson

Writer: Ari Alexander, Ergis Magnusson

Starring: Amina, Bjork, Bang Gang, Ghostdigital, Minus, Mugison, Mum, Nilfisk, Eivor Palsdottir, Quarashi, Sigur Ros, Slowblow

Year: 2005

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Iceland/Denmark/Netherlands

Festivals:

EIFF 2005

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