Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #80: Until The Light Takes Us (2008)

I'd heard about a handful of documentaries that have popped up over the past two or three years tackling Norwegian black metal and its turbulent history as their subject. When one actually appeared in front of me after I drew a pentagram in ketchup on the floor and lit some scented candles, I decided to give it a watch. Being big on Norwegian black metal myself, I was wary of being sold a cheap hunk of fan-service meant to do little more than nod in my direction for an hour and 20.

Opening up the DVD package I found a pretentious little booklet with a glowing review, an essay by the directors telling you what theoretical approach to use while watching, and a Fredric Jameson quote. Huh. Unexpected. But I should have expected this - with black metal having become a satanic farce, there's been a real push among aficionados to re-contextualise the subgenre and understand it as a clear instance of youth culture. And, moreover, as punk did before it, be recognised as a viable movement with an ethos of its own.

I'm happy to report that Until The Light Takes Us doesn't hammer that notion down into your skull as fiercely as the booklet does. Instead it follows the daily lives of four or five key figures in black metal history - of special note, Fenriz of Darkthrone and Varg Vikernes of Burzum, the latter of which was, at the time of filming, still in jail for murder and the arson of historic church sites. Other figures from the metal scene of the period pop in and out of the film, but the most engrossing portraits are found in those main two. They are old friends and they haven't spoken to each other in years. They don't come together in the film, as there is a palpable sadness that forces them to leave it all to time. It culminates during a scene where Fenriz is shown footage, shown earlier, of Varg speaking well of him and his music, but Varg, as always, is possessed by a persecution complex, and you can hear the accusation of abandonment in his voice. Fenriz actually holds back tears and laments over the past with little word.

There's a lot of psychoses on display in the film. His obsession with persecution aside, Varg hints at anti-semitism, Hellhammer explicitly approves of the killing of homosexuals, Fenriz tries to figure out where it all went sour, and a younger black metaller takes part in an ultra grim performance art piece proposed by a local painter. All reflect on what the genre is supposed to be about, and their points slowly converge. When all is said and done, we've been given a look at the really interesting and sympathetic people that invented a new mode of metallic expression, and the really interesting and awful ones that are an inseparable part of it too.

For black metal fans, you'll get the bonus of seeing intimate interviews with people you've probably mostly read about, and rare rehearsal footage you might have never seen before.

So: Surprisingly good. Worth a watch for fans and non-fans alike.

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