A man stands alone in the snow. Something about his stance tells me that he belongs there among the drifts and swells of snowbank, something about how the bright shade of his coat blends into the carefully muted background in a way that, by the laws of color, it should not. A quiet male voice recites something I read in high school but I can’t understand him.
As the camera shifts from crisp Alaska landscapes to gritty shots of fire and boats to a rather brown view of man lounging in England, a narrative takes place in my head. I try to push it away, reminding myself that that is not the point of this.
The director has spun a story of immigration and displacement, insisting all the while that he is not telling a story but rather presenting us, the audience, with images that evoke certain themes and feelings. I do not believe he didn’t have an agenda in creating this piece.
He clearly appeals to our sense of the familiar with images like trains and families and the voiceover classic literature. But there is also the introduction of something totally alien, with shots of a dreadlocked man in sepia and haunting violins, the taking of symbolism that is so very prominent in our culture and turning it on its head, molding it into something that plays with our sense of traditions.
The result is a beautiful thing that feels like a thousand things I have seen before, but nothing specific.
My problem with films like this, however, is that I don’t know how to talk about them. I did not realize until after the film was over that all of my notes are the notes of a reviewer and don’t have anything to do with analysis, because when I write reviews I leave it up to the audience to create their own meaning.
I am not sure if the argument I’m making here is that the film is not accessible unless you’re a film person, or that the film is accessible to everyone but it is going to encounter people who don’t “get” it.
The entire time, I felt as though I was missing something, as if the intended audience for this film is in on a big complex joke that I am not privy to.
The thing that occurred to me while watching The Nine Muses was this: while experimental film is beautiful, it is not truly storytelling, it is designing the exposition of a theme. Experimental filmmakers invent a theme and follow it, finding or creating bits of footage that fit their end goal. The objective of experimental filmmaking is to evoke a feeling or a sense of something in the viewer that could not possibly be represented by a traditional story. The filmmaker is trying to access something deeply instinctual and visceral within us by appealing to our memories and associations of images and sounds with certain cultural motifs.
I do not feel that a film like this is analyzable, and that any attempt I make at trying to find meaning ends with me inventing a meaning instead of discovering one organically within the piece. It is far from having an easily distinguishable plotline.
To me, this film does not belong in a program designed to teach the complex art of storytelling. It is akin to reading postmodern blackout poems in a classic literature class. While the medium is the same, both the intent of the creator and the spirit of the creation are so wildly different that they are considered separate species.
Because of this, and because my primary medium rooted in the concrete inscription of ink on paper, I have neither the technical film knowledge nor the abstract mental structure required to study this piece in any depth. The only real impression I came away with was how visually striking it was.