Sounds Like Teen Spirit, by Patrick Felton
Over the last 8 years Magnolia Pictures has made a name for themselves as a home for some of cinema’s most offbeat titles. With titles ranging from World’s Greatest Dad, Rubber and Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery Of America, there is a certain brand association of daring, bizarre cult films that the folks at Magnolia seem to promise with every one of their releases. With Sound Of Noise, Magnolia Pictures may have created, to use the parlance of the film, their opus symphony. Despite its intentionally thin premise, Sound Of Noise hits enough high notes to make it one of the most relentlessly gleeful experiences of 2012.
Directed by Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, Sound Of Noise follows a troupe of dadaist avant-garde percussionists as they carry out acts of violence throughout the city. They are pursued by the obsessive cop Amadeus Warnebring, brother of composer Oscar Warnebring and confessed hater of music. Amadeus becomes obsessed with the case, puzzled by the metronomes left by the percussionists which appear to leave him unable to hear any music. From here we see a cat and mouse game between the films gonzo crew of musical anarchists and the tone deaf police officer obsessed with their capture.
The aforementioned “acts of violence” aren’t as much literal acts of terror as they are John Cage-style site specific musical compositions which incorporate objects from every day life into complex percussion pieces. They are executed with the speed, precision, and intensity of the average bank robbery. Sound itself becomes a stand-in for actual violence, and we see individuals using drumsticks, violins and even airhorns as stand-ins for fists, knives and guns.
Unsurprisingly, the standout scenes in the film are the musical sequences themselves. Highest among this is the hospital sequence. Subtitled “Doctor, Doctor More Gas In My Ass,” the sequence plays less like a traditional musical number than a music video, in which the collective turns an unwitting hemorrhoid patient into the canvas for a surprisingly catchy piece of electronic dance music.
The equally subversively titled “Fuck The Music” sees a classical music concert interrupted when the percussionists nearly level the venue with construction equipment while composing what sounds like a pre-David Fincher era Trent Reznor industrial composition. The film takes great joy in the annihilation of the concert goers insulated experience at the symphony.
The film’s final musical sequence “Electric Love” juxtaposes the inevitable showdown between Amadeus and the percussionists against the hijacking of the electrical grid. The resulting number turns the entire city into their personal Christmas light display.
Tonally, the film strikes a note somewhere between early period Jean Pierre Junet and Edgar Wright. The film executes its strange premise with the perfect balance of deadpan seriousness and narrative wackiness. The characters always play it straight, despite the film’s daft sense of humor. The film is filled with numerous sight gags, deep-bedded generic satire and sardonic motifs. One of the film’s favorite repeated gags is to subvert our assumptions about film music by revealing the music to be diegetic, even if this means staging a drum-set in the back of a van during a car chase. Other humor is more observational, often revolving around the cultural devide between the alleged high art of classical music and low art of drum-and-bass music. One particular observation about a drummer’s frustration with Haydn provided exceptional mirth. The film seems to be aware of its premise’s absurdity without ever drawing attention to it; a rare feat.
The film itself has a quite engaging aesthetic. In the metronome, the filmmakers seem to have found their perfect cinematic object. It combines form and movement in a very compact design that also has a consistent sound. The film plays with sound design rather cleverly through Amadeus’s inability to hear sounds made by any of the found instruments. Stylish cinematography and editing apes crime thrillers and DJ music videos in equal measure.
If the film has a flaw, it would be that it sometimes feels like a clever idea overstretched. Sound Of Noise is based on a short film, “Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers,” and it never quite gets away from the slightness of its premise. As hard as it tries, the lack of serious threat never allows the film to elevate the stakes beyond Amadeus’s obsession. The film tacks on an unlikely romantic subplot in the third act that does nothing to elevate the dramatic tension.
If you see Sound of Noise, it’s important to watch it with a group of like-minded friends. Like previous Magnolia Pictures releases, the film’s true joy comes from letting its extreme strangeness waft over the audience collectively. There is not a sequence in this film that couldn’t plausibly show up on the internet as a viral video (and many already have). It’s the perfect musical for the Youtube Generation.