Screaming Masterpiece

Screaming Masterpiece


Reviewed by: George Williamson

A lone figure, the Head Pagan of Iceland, stands on an ice-covered mountainside at dawn and begins to chant. Slowly his voice is joined by the sound of a stone xylophone and a wordless choir. An orchestral swell and the sound of electronics come to the fore, a slow-flying raven fades into view and soars over iceflows and black sand beaches as the music rises to a cacophonic crescendo.

Screaming Masterpiece gives an overview of the cutting edge of contemporary Icelandic music, from the post-rock stylings of Sigur Ros to the intellectual - well, they say they are - rap of Quarashi to the beatbox folktronica from Bjork.

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It's a fairly wide focus for an 87-minute documentary and is devoid of external input, composed mostly of interviews with Icelandic musicians, talking about the music they make and the influences that go into it. Many cite religious music, whether Christian hymns or ancient Pagan poems and folk songs, as the aural basis for their music and the bleak, bitterly cold Icelandic scenery for their lyrics, but almost all speak of trying to find their own voice, trying to create something that becomes uniquely Icelandic.

The film explores the analogy between the geographical location of the island and its cultural position, a long way from the US, neither in Europe, nor Scandinavia, drawing influences from all of them, yet not conforming to anywhere.

It's an interesting film that includes some really fantastic music and, although some of the musicians appear pretentious and self-important, the interviews produce enlightening insights into their roots. It is, however, an almost entirely youthful one, never deeply exploring anything pre-punk and sticks mostly to the Reykjavik avante-garde and underground metal scenes, avoiding more popular mainstream music and the plethora of jazz and folk artists from the country.

Director Ari Alexander Ergis Magnusson mixes music video - notably Chris Cunningham's excellent robot-porn promo for Bjork's All Is Full of Love - and live footage of music festivals and gigs, but occasionally is a little heavy handed with the beautiful, but somewhat obvious, stock footage of icy glaciers, snowy peaks and black sand beaches.

If you like artists like Sigur Ros, Mum and Bjork, you'll find plenty to interest you here - possibly your next big thing - however, those whose musical taste is more down to earth, may find some of the bands' pontifications a little hard to swallow and some of the music a little too dissonant for comfort.

Reviewed on: 08 Aug 2005
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A look at the Icelandic music industry, its roots and stars.
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Read more Screaming Masterpiece reviews:

Kotleta ****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


EIFF 2005
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