Inni: Vincent Morisset's Sigur Rós Doc

Movies Features Sigur Rós
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Vincent Morisset has now found himself twice in the court of indie-rock’s royalty, first with The Arcade Fire and more recently with Sigur Rós. In just a matter of three years, he’s released Mirror Noir and Inni—two highly impressive films on two highly influential bands. But the filmmaker, whose primary focus lies outside of music-related work, didn’t pursue either project himself.

“Both projects came as accidents in a way,” he admits. “I don’t know to be honest…I liked the fact that these things just happened by accident.”

Morisset’s Mirror Noir documented the Arcade Fire around the time of their 2007 sophomore album Neon Bible. Hailing from Montreal, he found himself in the position to work with the group through their already-established friendship. This allowed him to easily and closely document the band as it blossomed into prominence. Mirror Noir packed in intimate moments, including a one-camera take of the eight-person band playing a stripped-down version of “Neon Bible” in an elevator.

Working with Sigur Rós was a far different experience, according the Morisset. “The nature of Inni was really different from Mirror Noir in the sense that, in a way, I didn’t want to become really close,” he explains. “One was more intimate as a documentary and the other is closer to a live film.”

Sigur Rós had already made Heima—their 2007 documentary that more traditionally followed the group touring around their home country of Iceland. In 2008 towards the end of the band’s tour behind Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, Morisset received a call from the group’s management asking him to film what potentially would be the group’s last performances at the Alexandra Palace in London before their subsequent hiatus. In that context, Morisset wanted to capture the experience of Sigur Rós’ emotional and ethereal shows as the band closed a chapter of their brilliant career together.

“I wanted to capture this pure, raw performance,” he reflects. “I got approached at the last minute—there was this sense of urgency. I said ‘yes,’ and I proposed everything to the band, flew into London, captured those two shows and worked on that for a long time.”

Filming the concerts in HD was the easy part; more laborious was transferring Inni to 16mm film, then projected the analog images in a studio, where Morisset re-recorded them once more, this time manipulating images in order to create purposely-imperfect final product—a conscious attempt to fulfill his vision.

“In [gaining] details and pristine [quality], you relate to it in the sense of how I view broadcast television—something really cold,” he says. “That doesn’t relate for me an [human] experience. I wanted to bring back something organic.”

In altering the images during the re-recording process, Morisset drew inspiration from Neil Young’s scoring method for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. “What he did was he sat down in the studio watching the film for the first time and played his guitar, reacting to the images in an intuitive way,” he says. “I thought I could alter the image in the same way, instead of sitting down on the computer with high-tech equipment and edit the image with filters and programs.”

In drawing from Young’s approach, Morisset hoped to create a “visual extension” of Sigur Rós presence onstage. Throughout Inni, the filmmaker employed a variety of methods to create the dreamy, abstract visuals that capture the group’s live essence. These effects included placing fingers in front of the projectors, pulsating the image to match musical rhythms, hand gashing and putting a salad bowl over the projector’s lens. They also experimented with the grading of the film, blending in a pearlescence into certain portions of the documentary, giving the predominantly black-and-white film a slight blue-and-yellow tint.

All of these post-production techniques give Inni a surrealistic feel. It’s a live film that hardly conveys any detail, appearing like it could have been filmed at any point over the course of the past century. Morisset treated his subjects in this way largely out of his disdain for traditional rockumentaries. The idealized straightforwardness and interview-based format within that style have never resonated with the director.

Because of this, Morisset included select archival footage from throughout Sigur Rós history. These clips—including a non-response during an NPR interview and frontman Jonsi Birgisson describing the group’s sound as “heavy metal”—say more about the band members’ personalities more than most direct clips could express.

“All those bits and pieces from the beginning of Sigur Rós, their history, are just little snapshots,” he elaborates about his clip selection. “They tell a lot of who these guys are and their kind of energy and their humor and the way they relate to each other and their friendship. It’s little pieces to the puzzle that doesn’t have all the answers, but for me those little moments are more interesting that someone talking about how good they are or whatever.”

All of these artistic techniques add up to truly reflect the film’s title. “Inni,” literally meaning “Inside,” offers a visceral look inside the anatomy of a Sigur Rós performance, doing so without ever directly approaching the band. Morisset’s series of spontaneous-but-mindful production transforms what would’ve been a standard run-of-the-mill live film into one that truly matches the subject’s own energy.

Morisset achieved his goal of making Inni a “visual extension” of the Icelandic act’s live power. As he moves forward beyond his second music-based movie project, the director stands at a certain crossroad in his career. Having become an internationally regarded filmmaker through his two works with The Arcade Fire and Sigur Rós, it seems that he could almost approach any band of his choosing for his next musical project. He could also step back and explore any other subjects that strike his interest.

Morisset doesn’t mind the uncertainty. “I think, sometimes, the things that are most interesting are the things that don’t get necessarily planned and that emerge from this process,” he says, having seen both Mirror Noir and Inni seemingly fall into his lap.

If his professional and artistic career indicates anything, it’s that happenstance has seemingly worked in Vincent Morisset’s favor. As the director’s now learned twice, letting the next happy accidents unfold can lead to life’s most unexpected surprises and impassable opportunities.