Helga Þórey Jónsdóttir
Grapevine Issue 9, June 29, 2007
In the early 90’s, a couple of young directors made very popular movies that were intertwined with the Icelandic music scene at the time. The birth of pop-culture movies was a much needed one. Before the 90’s, Icelandic cinema was ridden with thrillers and comedies, some of them very accomplished and true to the barren nature of Icelandic art. Others where full of clichés and had no real impact on young movie makers of the era. Social stipulations called for new forms of expression. Remember, it was the time of Oliver Stone’s music driven epics, and singers like Madonna who challenged people with picturesque music videos and electronic music, that was winning over Europe. Audiences were heavily influenced with the combination of music and pictures, birth of new music movements, and were ready to take on the pop-cultural crossovers that lay ahead.
Icelanders are extremely influenced by American culture and Hollywood cinema is no exception, but in the early 90s there was no Tarantino to lead the way. Young Icelandic directors had nothing to loose – no standard had been set for movies that combined music and cinema in the fashion most western audiences are used to now. But the independent movie industry was growing and Icelanders were a part of the new atmosphere that was being created.
Veggfóður: Erótísk ástarsaga (1992)
Veggfóður: Erótísk ástarsaga (Wallpaper: An Erotic Love Story) came out in 1992 and became extremely popular, even though the movie was not particularly good and the director placed the strongest actors in supporting roles. The story is about a country girl, an aspiring musician who comes to the city looking for opportunities. She starts working in a bar and meets a few men who impact her life dramatically. The lead actress, Ingibjörg Stefánsdóttir, was a part of the band Pís of keik (Peace of Cake) and the band is featured prominently in the movie. They are the band she’s looking to join and their music is used in several scenes.
Pís of keik was an electronic band, inspired by the growing house music scene of the era. The music can hardly be called innovative but it has its moments – musically they are decent but it’s the disturbingly bad Madonna imitations of their lead singer that kills any hope of the personality she might have had. The funny thing is the fact that Ingibjörg does have a voice but she probably didn’t have a clue how to use it or exercise it properly.
The movie features three giants of Icelandic music of the nineties: Sálin hans Jóns míns, Todmobile and Síðan skein sól. Each provide one song and are a strong reminder of the leading influences in domestic pop at the time. Of course there were other bands making waves, nevertheless these three were the biggest acts – and to some they still are.
Sódóma Reykjavík (1992)
Only two months after the premiere of Veggfóður, Sódóma Reykjavík came out. The movie was called Remote Control in English and has become a classic in Iceland. The plot is simple; it revolves around a young mechanic, Axel, and his quest for his mother’s remote control. The movie is funny because Axel is a social looser who is stuck with his hard partying sister outside of his element. Some of the greatest moments in Icelandic cinema are in this film, but what’s also interesting is the fact that some of the greatest moments of Icelandic music are also there.
The metal band Ham are prominent. Sigurjón Kjartansson, the leader of the band, plays a big role in the movie as well as performing with his band. Ham was an exceptionally popular group and when the movie came out they were one of the biggest underground bands in the country. Their song, Partýbær, from the movie is one of the most recognizable songs in Icelandic rock – one that any self-respecting music enthusiast knows.
The collaboration between Björk and KK band is also notable. Together they cover the tune “Ó borg, mín borg,” which is an ode to Reykjavík. The leader of KK-band is called KK and has been a prominent figure in the blues scene in the country for years. Björk needs no introduction; she also collaborates with Þórhallur Skúlason on an electro-track named Takk. Þórhallur has been an important force in the Icelandic electric scene and ran the label Thule for a while.
Sódóma Reykjavík’s musical input was far more important than in other pictures before, due to the closeness between the director, Óskar Jónasson, and the rapidly growing underground scene. Almost every artist on the soundtrack is still working, has gained notoriety, and some have become legends. When comparing Sódóma with Veggfóður, from a musical standpoint,
one finds that the similarities aren’t many. Veggfóður is more pop-driven, it’s used as a vehicle to promote a mediocre band while Sódóma’s music is only there to support a film that echoes the mood of its music.
Júlíus Kemp, the director of Veggfóður, premiered his movie Blossi/810551 in late summer of 1997 (Blossi means a spark or a blitz). The movie is probably one of the worst movies ever made in Iceland. The charm of Veggfóður is gone and the plot, about a guy and a girl escaping a lunatic by going on a road trip, feels embarrassing and unoriginal at best. What’s striking when watching the movie, considering the music, is the fact that it’s somewhat outdated. Cuts from a three-year old Primal Scream album, and Josh Wink’s ’95 hit “Higher State of Consciousness,” feel strange to listen to compared to Quarashi’s “Switchstance” which was comparatively new in years. The Prodigy are featured quite prominently, but the truth is that in 1997 most of their old fan-base was gone and the band could hardly be called pioneering anymore. Also the evil trend of songstresses taking on old disco hits is forced upon the listener with terrible results.
What’s interesting to see when the credit list rolls is the fact that many Icelandic artists contributed to the movie. Bang Gang, Botnleðja, Maus, Quarashi, Súrefni and many others participated in what can only be called a movie about nothing. Blossi presents variety of domestic music but not very prominently, with the exception of Quarashi. When it comes to representing foreign artists, it misses the point so badly one wonders how terrible can a music supervisor get before he or she is fired?
From ’92 to ‘97
The musical landscape grew dramatically between the releases of Veggfóður and Sódóma in ’92, and Blossi in ’97. In the early 90’s, Icelanders were still getting to know electronic music. House-music and Raves were a new thing, but the lack of confidence prevented any serious ventures in that area. In ’97, however, Björk was a world famous artist with two hit albums and we had all the confidence in the world to help us grow faster. The presence of electronic music was now stable and anyone who wanted to play it had audience. If Blossi had been a good movie it would’ve presented this atmosphere in music at end of the century – especially since it’s so influenced by Quentin Tarantino. Veggfóður is kind of childish and doesn’t tackle its music seriously enough to realize that the main band of the movie is inadequate. Sódóma Reykjavík is, on the other hand, golden. Everything about that movie is solid and the best part is, as stated before, the fact that it holds some of the most profound moments of Icelandic culture.