From Iceland — The Musical Impact of Three Icelandic Movies

The Musical Impact of Three Icelandic Movies

Published June 29, 2007

The Musical Impact of Three Icelandic Movies

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 KKband
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.

Blossi/810551 (1997)

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.

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