"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, April 30, 2012

Crying with Jonsi at the Zoo

I just watched the movie We Bought a Zoo, and I'm not ashamed to admit I cried. Granted, it was a single, shallow tear welling in the far corner of my left eye, but I'll count it. That brings the total to five. I've cried at five movies in my life.

But that's not the point. The point is that, though my twelve-year-old daughter called it "the most touching movie" she's ever seen, it is a gooey gumdrop of a movie, and I would never have cried had it not been for Jonsi.

Jonsi hails from the Icelandic band Sigur Ros (which means Victory Rose in Icelandic), and I cannot gush about them enough. Several years ago, I heard this song late one night on a Denver radio station which I never listen to but did that day. It was kismet. The song was the "Untitled 3" track from the album ( ). (That's the album title: two parentheses. For those in the know it's called "the parentheses album.") The song builds slowly with the repetition of a simple piano melody, adding layer after layer of strings and electronics and vocals until it just sort of topples over from its own weight. That night in my car I fell in love with Sigur Ros.


The above video is from the documentary/concert film Heima. This live version is slower and quieter than the album version, and it leaves out the soft, Jonsi vocals, but it's still quite lovely.

Heima features performances filmed at various locations around Iceland and is just stunning, both visually and musically. I never imagined the landscape of Iceland to be so varied and beautiful. But add in the lush soundscape of Sigur Ros, and you just might keel over from pulchritude.

(I just discovered that you can watch the entire Heima film on YouTube. I'm not going to include a link because the video is grainy and not so gorgeous after all. Plus I don't know how legal it is that it's there in the first place, and I don't want to get in any trouble with the band in case I ever have the chance to join their collective and become one with the universe. But should you have the opportunity, at least check out the penultimate song, "Untitled 8" also called "Popplagio," from about the 1:20:00 to 1:30:00 mark. Ten minutes that will change your life.)

Sigur Ros is all about expectation. Their music revels in soaring anticipation that ends in a climax of epic proportions. And not just one song per album. That's MOST of their songs. Take a sweet melody, repeat, add layers, then crash it all in to a wall. And it works every single time.

Here's an example: This is the song "Festival" from the album Med Sud I Eryum Vid Spilum Endalaust (which means "With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly"). The first four minutes is a quiet, atmospheric little thing with Jonsi's controlled falsetto vocals, but then a solid bass line kicks in and then the drums and it doesn't slow down again for five too short minutes when the last 30 seconds presents the melody again, delicately whistled. "Festival" is featured at the end of the movie 127 Hours. Talk about anticipation. You go in to that film knowing exactly what's going to happen with the rock and the arm and the knife, but you still need the salve of Sigur Ros to heal what you and James Franco have had to endure.
 

In 2009 Jonsi released a moody ambient album called Riceboy Sleeps under the duo moniker Jonsi and Alex. Then in 2010, he released a full solo album called Go. It features a few songs sung in rare English and the most conventional song forms of his career. Still, it's utterly giddy and intense music.

Then Cameron Crowe had Jonsi write the music for We Bought a Zoo. I like most Cameron Crowe films. And he has a clear understanding of how music can enhance a movie. But I wondered how Jonsi would work with a story as understated as the one about a widower who buys a zoo. I should never have questioned him.

As you know, I cried at the end. And I'm going to tell you why. A widower having learned to live again, Matt Damon is sharing with his kids the story about how he met their mother, and it's sweet and everything, perhaps even a little saccharine, but Jonsi just won't let up. The strings soar and then the kids say "Hi" to their mother as if she were there and...Jeesh.

Sorry. I'm not crying again. I'm just running out of ebullient synonyms for the soaring, giddy, climactic beauty that makes up this music. Give it a listen. You will smile involuntarily. Let me know if you tear up.

8 comments:

  1. I'm not one of those "in the know"; I'm usually one of those in the "huh?"

    However, Cameron Crowe also used a Sigor Ros song called "The Nothing Song" at the end of Vanilla Sky, which is one of my favorite movies (definitely in the final 5.) The right music at the right moment in a movie can definitely push an emotional moment over the top. I wish life had a soundtrack at all the right moments.

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    1. I know I saw Vanilla Sky, but I can't remember much about it. But I did know that Crowe was a fan of Sigur Ros and used them a couple times in Vanilla Sky. So I'll have to watch it again, if only for the music.

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  2. Yay! It's always awesome to discover a fellow Jonsi/Sigur Ros fan. My brother introduced them to me years ago, and I've loved them ever since. So unique. Ever since they featured the song Hoppipolla at the end of the movie Penelope, I've seen their popularity slowly growing. Great post.

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    1. I haven't seen Penelope, but love "Hoppipolla." It's used in We Bought a Zoo, too.

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  3. Jeez! Will you people quit recommending cool music? I'm just now getting into full swing with "Apocalyptica" and now this!

    Just kidding, of course. Thanks for the tip. Now I have even more stuff to make the wife say "What in the heck are you listening to?" (grin)

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    1. My wife stopped asking that years ago. It's become too much work.

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  4. Thanks for the introduction - it is new to me and quite amazing!

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    1. Cool. Now try that song Julie mentions, "Hoppipolla."

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