In the fall of 2012 Icelandic music group Sigur Rós gave twelve filmmakers a modest budget to create films that correlated to songs from their 2012 release Valtari. The band relinquished all creative foothold to the filmmakers, allowing the music to act as true inspiration. Screenings have been held around the world and since March 15, 2013 the videos are available for download and on DVD. Some serious names participated in this project from both the film and fine arts worlds. Sigur Rós is dedicated to placing their sound in tandem with art. Their vision as a musical group is larger than solely making music and talking about the music they make. A look at a handful of the sixteen short films explores why these are not music videos, but something else entirely.
Film #1: Ég anda, Ragnar Kjartansson
Ragnar Kjartansson describes Ég anda as the "first useful pop video in history. File under: educational." Kjartansson is a well-known and respected contemporary artist living and working in Iceland. Mainly known for his performance work, his interest lies between the polar experience of emotions (e.g. the space between humor and sadness). In this video two men are seen dining on steak when one begins to choke. The scene progresses to show the various techniques for alleviating a choking adult male, a baby, or a pregnant female. Watch and learn.
Film #5: Ég anda, Ramin Bahrani
Writer and director Ramin Bahrani was pronounced by Roger Ebert as "the director of the decade." He took a note from Werner Herzog's Plastic Bag, a film he collaborated on before his Guggenheim Fellowship, for this video. A creation story of sorts, the video cuts between urban visuals and various animals, bookended by scenes of glass blower making something from nothing. It's unclear what infrastructure Bahrani is commenting on with this scenario, but it leaves room for thought, much like a Sigur Rós song.
Film #11: Dauðalogn, Ruslan Fedotow
Sigur Rós did allow a few fan-selected videos to enter the project, which is why there are sixteen represented and not just the twelve for each other album's tracks. Ruslan Fedotow's work was the first to win 'people's choice'. Originally there was no intention to include these videos in the roster, but the band absolutely could not deny this piece's rightful place among the rest. There is no real narrative, but scenes of companionship and intriguing imagery were skillfully collected and assembled to the music.
Film #14: Valtari, Christian Larson
Swedish director Christian Larson made sure another important art form was represented in this library of videos, contemporary dance. The performance between dancers James O'Hara and Nicola Leahey is astonishing. We become witness to an intimate, almost otherworldly dialogue, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. This moment is shared with us through careful cinematography and features four songs from Valtari: "Ekki Múkk," "Valtari," "Rembihnútur," and "Varúð".
Film #16: Leaning Towards Solace, Floria Sigismondi
While these artistic efforts do not feel like music videos most of the time, some do resemble short films, with narration, overlaid dialog, and very real actors. Floria Sigismondi has shaped music videos for Björk, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, The White Stripes, Fiona Apple, and many many more. In this project she solicited the help of Elle Fanning and John Hawkes to tell a story about a daughter and her father's impending death. The narrative of the film itself is a bit over the top at times, but Sigur Rós' "Dauðalogn," "Varúð," and well-shot cinematography prevent it from becoming cliché.
It's true that Sigur Rós has touched the lives of many. The band has made musical advancements and brought new attention to pre-existing practices. The Valtari Mystery Film Project, with its diverse roster of filmmakers, artists, actors, and supporters is proof of their continued relevance. Through their music and these art endeavors they will become (if they haven't already) an important creative force for this generation and generations to come.
To view all sixteen videos in The Valtari Mystery Film Project visit sigur-ros.co.uk.