at home with Sigur Rós
You know that feeling of home? That combined feeling of belonging and riling to grow beyond it. For those of us gypsy, home is not a feeling tied to only one place, rather we know home from people, atmospheres, or certain possessions.
Sigur Rós’ film Heima (2007) taps into the ubiquitous understanding of home for both the homebody and the gypsy. While I don’t know the band in a personal sense, and the film doesn’t expose their personal lives, I can understand and appreciate the homecoming that they are experiencing because of my own understanding of home. What is wonderous about this film is its ability to take its audience home–to Iceland. The Iceland that always seems so far apart from everything American or European becomes a welcoming and warm embrace of arms long known and loved and missed.
Amidst this homecoming, and facilitating the ease of our connection to an alien land, is the beautiful music of Sigur Rós with Amiina. The soundscapes walk us into the communities and culture of Iceland. They are also the guiding hand as we tour the pretty images of the Icelandic countryside.
There is no describing Sigur Rós’ music, either you have heard it or you haven’t. Many a music critic has gone to lengths to put their sound into words and dissect the experience of listening to their music. What cannot be described in words though is easy to see as the film meanders over their homeland. The textures and places and even the absences produce an understanding of Sigur Rós and the music they make. The music seems to be a reflection and a translation of being Icelandic.
If you can’t tell, I’m in love with this film. The moods and visuals speak to me deeply. I’m shocked whenever I consider that this is only the second film by director Dean DeBlois, the first being Disney’s Lilo & Stitch (2002) where he actually co-directed. Nothing against animation or Disney, I just would never have seen this coming from him*. I am happy to say someone did see it.
*according into Bryant Frazier, DeBlois (with cinematographer Alan Calzatti) was called in to salvage the project when the tour footage taken would not successfully come together. See Frazier’s article here.
Heima documents the return of Sigur Rós to their homeland in the summer of 2006 where they perform a series of free concerts in communities around Iceland. With the help of Amiina and other Icelandic talents the performances enchant their fellow Icelanders and later, film audiences everywhere. Sigur Rós was seeking to reconnect with their roots and reinvigorate a sense of community throughout Iceland. They began with free concerts given in anonymity, surprising their audiences with the return of their internationally famous sons.
“on their way they went to ghost towns, outsider art shrines, national parks, small community halls and the absolute middle-of-nowhere-ness of the highland wilderness, as well as playing the largest gig of their career (and in icelandic history) at their triumphant homecoming reykjavik show.” Heima press release.
There is very little dialogue. Brief interviews feature only members of Sigur Rós and Amiina. There are no extended familial portraits of the band mates, only their interactions with their greater family. There are no interviews or snippets from music producers or journalists. Heima reveals a very personal and intimate portrait of musicians and their muse, the land and the people of home.
The film would invite an intimate glimpse between musicians and their homeland (both the people and the land itself) with its continual use of the objective point of view proving the camera merely a witness not a manipulator of artist or emotion. It is especially important to the Stage weary Sigur Rós that they find a venue that is natural and healing rather than packaged and unreasonably demanding. They would document a similar sense—a view into a place that is untouched, and for those places that have been irrevocably changed (the Dam) a longing for earlier times is evinced.
The documentary is not grainy. There is not one impatient cut, nor is it awkward. It is balanced in composition, pace, color/lighting…almost painfully so. Nothing would inhibit full-sensory pleasure. And yet the crafting is not in the least dishonest. The direction and editing merely attempt to capture its muse’s essence and transcribe it. They succeeded.
Sigur Rós’ sound evokes a sense of their physical landscape while similarly becoming an evocation of their surroundings. Much of the film is composed of studies in sound and their visual manifestations, or is it the other way around. Needless to say, the influence of where Sigur Rós calls home becomes evident, and the way in which they give back is inspiring.
an excerpt from Heima the “rockumentary”
Directed by Dean DeBlois (who went on to direct How to Train Your Dragon (2010))
Cinematography Alan Calzatti*
Produced by: John Best, Dean O’Connor, & Finni Jóhansson
Sigur Rós : Jón Þór (Jónsi) Birgisson, Georg Hólm, Kjartan Sveinsson, Orri Páll Dýrason.
Amiina: Hildur Ársælsdóttir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir
* according to Calzatti’s wiki page, he and DeBlois went on to do another project with Jón Þór (Jónsi) Birgisson called Go Quiet using music from Jónsi’s 2010 album Go. You can bet I will be hunting this down.