Sunday, July 12, 2009

Film Review:Until The Light Takes Us(2008)


But what was I expecting really?
I can't say I was really pleased with "Until the Light Takes Us" but I don't regret forking over $10 to check it out. The entire movie operated under the assumption that the viewers already knew a bit about early 90's Norwegian black metal, stories were left unfinished, a lot of choppy editing sort of cutting off full and total answers to posed questions. A lot of metalheads in attendance seemed to be into the whole B-movie Satanism aspect of black metal, which, as Varg explained in the documentary, was not the essence of the initial movement. With said crowd surrounding me, I endured their many hoots and hollers whilst straining my neck to keep my eyes somewhere above the wide pigtailed head positioned directly in front of me. So the viewing experience wasn't all that great in itself and I felt quite out of place, as is the case 99.9% of the time when I'm in the midst of a large gathering of people. The film was very promising at the beginning and from a few of the opening interview statements I had a feeling that this particular black metal documentary might actually tackle the music, take it apart, get into instrumentation, lyrical content, the philosophical stuff, all which nearly always takes a backseat to the controversial church burnings and murders. This was a bit naive on my part because most people could give all fuck about the inner workings of timeless tremelo riffings and the contrast/comparison to death metal, etc. It's a lot safer to focus on the sensational/outrageous topics that unfortunately draw so many people's attention to the early 90's Norwegian black metal movement in the first place...gets a better turnout. I also think the documentary played it a bit safe by only briefly touching on the nationalist ideas behind the scene. It would've been quite possible to go a bit further there as nationalism plays a big role in many of the albums that define black metal and also, where was Emperor? What about Enslaved? Not even mentioned oddly enough. Instead of going deeper into the mist-filled woods, far past any familiar landmarks to seek out the "why" behind it all, the filmmakers instead spend their time at art galleries exploring the modern art world's acknowledgment of black metal. This results in the film's most painful moments, an irritating Harmony Korine performance art piece which seemed to be largely satirical in nature and based upon a skewed "pop culture" interpretation of all things black metal and a performance art piece courtesy of Frost(from the mediocre Satyricon)in collaboration with some older artist who's name I am having too much trouble finding online. Frost works as a prime example of the trend, the scene born from the Satanic Panic media blitz that both Fenriz and Varg speak of, and Fenriz seems genuinely depressed about to this day. While Varg, Fenriz and Garm(who gets about one minute of screen time)speak words with conviction, Frost's words ring hollow as if he doesn't strongly believe in anything he does. I had trouble identifying with him, and with the audience, because what they seem to love about black metal is it's extremity, the shock-rock factor, unbridled and vocal hatred for Christianity, spikes, corpsepaint, Satan as a vehicle of rebellion and a penchant for self-destruction. It's dissatisfaction with this modern life that results in frustration with self, frustration with the mechanisms of control that try to restrain your mind, restrain the minds of so many around you. I am frustrated as well, I have inclinations towards self-destruction and a feeling of helplessness within the big picture but I try to rise above it and make use of my time here on earth, growing, learning, creating and etc. A daily struggle to keep your sanity and hold your head up when living in this increasingly insane cesspool of modern society is noble in and of itself. The small cluster of Norwegian black metal albums that I hold dear are each a portal to another realm, a more sane world with nature taking it's rightful place on the totem pole above humanity, a primal world somewhat pure and not yet broken by modern control mechanisms..full of boundless imagination. So how goddamn awkward it was to listen to even a few minutes of Burzum in a crowded room. Those genre-defining albums are so personal to me. I have a strong bond with them. They've encouraged me to fight to my inevitable end, to find beauty in death, to contemplate my place on this planet. The film seemed uninterested in this philosophical perspective and ended on a rather sour note, establishing black metal as being just another piece on the junk-culture patchwork quilt of modern society, it's original creators unable to reverse the damage. In closing, I am glad I decided to go see it. I was curious and would've kicked myself for not taking a 18 minute drive down the highway to see this one screening in my immediate area. Not recommended really but certainly not a shitfest like "Lords of Chaos" in a documentary format, not the nightmarish art student homage to black metal imagery that I was fearing in the back of my mind. Who I am kidding with a recommendation though..barely anyone reads this blog save for the spiders crawling round the web. But perhaps it's best that way....read on little spiders.
-Matt

6 comments:

Barrwolf said...

Well, I for one am an actual reader/non-spider. Thanks for the review. I live in Portland Oregon where thus far there has not been a public showing of the film... which is fine by me because I would much rather see it in my living room.

I think that Harmony Korine getting more screen time than Varg really shows who the film was made for.

Most all of us hessians into black metal have read Lords of Chaos. It would have been really nice to see a film that goes beyond the controversy listed on the cover of the book.

Until said...

There was a screening in Portland, at the Hollywood Theater in late May. Harmony Korine is onscreen for about one minute, Varg for about 30. So that's not a valid complaint. I think the reviewer makes a great point about black metal ending up on the junk heap of pop culture, and that's exactly the point. So I think that's actually something that's very effective about the movie, and it's great that you saw that and that it bothered you. The movie was not being totally negative about the artists though. It is more about pointing out this process. The film is intentionally ambiguous, this leads to thought and discussion. For the record, I am a spider. What does that mean? And I like this review.

professors of metal said...

Yeah, Until is correct there, Harmony Korine is only shown in his performing arts piece..he wasn't interviewed or anything. It was certainly better than Lords of Chaos in the sense that it didn't focus on Satanism or Nazism and try to paint the essence of black metal as being a somewhat confused mish mash of the two.

@Until
It was definitely bothersome but I am well aware of black metal being the butt of many an internet joke, being mostly about image and cheese-Satanism when portrayed in pop culture. Though I would blame a huge portion of the underground for this as well. Yeah, I noticed how the filmmakers didn't portray the artists as being somehow "wrong." This was a smart move, the artists clearly parodying the accidental, Satanic Panic version of black metal. I wish the film had gone deeper into all of this though. It just scrapes the surface as to why and how the particular sound, the particular melding of Tolkien, nature, occultism came to be. It would have been nice had the film delved into the compositions, the musical influences, how and why so many of the earliest bands sounded completely different from one another..Burzum/Immortal/Darkthrone/Enslaved/Emperor/Mayhem/Ulver.

P.S. A spider is a bot that crawls around the net. Thanks for your comments and time spent reading.
-Matt

Heiid said...
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Heiid said...

Why would anyone read Lords of Chaos? written to glorify what happened for shock value and create a mystique, mostly lies and has nothing to do with the music at all.
You American internet-blackmetallers don't know anything beyond you're rapidshare links, stories in the media, and suicidal-depressive BM nonsense.
Stick to your nu-metals, panteras 'cores' and whatever other shite that comes out of that country these days.

Heiid said...
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