Sound of Noise Dir. Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson

[Magnolia Pictures; 2012]

Styles: comedy, crime
Others: Ocean’s Eleven

From the onset of film culture, music has always played a dominant, if somewhat overlooked, role in the medium. Even before the innovation of sound, any screening necessitated musical accompaniment by live musicians (having sat through a few truly silent films, in the form of prints without retrofitted soundtracks, I can only describe the experience as eerie). It’s also worth noting how much of the critical debate surrounding Michel Hazanavicius’ “silent” film The Artist describes the soundtrack as a sort of invisible character. In certain cases, the music can even overshadow the film itself: for example, Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night is more of a vehicle to enhance The Beatles’ music than a filmic endeavor with a Beatles soundtrack. Similarly, Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson’s Sound of Noise serves as an elaborate set piece for the four avant-garde instrumental tracks that the comedy’s anti-heroes utilize to wreak havoc on Sweden.

Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson) is one of Sweden’s top anti-terrorism cops, but more importantly, he’s the failed scion of a musical family who has channeled his disappointment into a hatred for music. Sanna (Sanna Persson) and Magnus (Magnus Börjeson) are radical fringe musicians, who, from their entrance into the film, state their goal to free the city from “shitty music” that’s pumped in through little speaker boxes throughout the city (not being a native Swede, I would have liked to know more about these Big Brother boomboxes). They recruit four other renegade percussionists to perform Magnus’ magnum opus, a noise piece employing found instruments and sounds in four different parts of the city’s infrastructure. It’s up to Amadeus to stop these musical terrorists.

Despite this seemingly absurdist plot, the film plays more or less like a conventional cops-and-robbers heist movie, often bordering on light parody. Amadeus presents a standard variation on the intuitive detective who instantly knows more than his peers about the brewing conspiracy. His forced identification with his adversaries recalls the cliché of cops and criminals cut from the same cloth. On the criminal’s side of the equation, the recruiting montage and planning explication sequence (only shown for the first operation) alludes to Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven. The two overt political statements the film makes — the shredding of money for one of the musical pieces, and the fascistic round-up of musical degenerates — get lost in the smattering of pastiche and plot.

As mentioned above, all this really serves as a showcase to highlight the four musical sequences of the film. While each one of these contains interesting sonic and visual elements, they could also function as viral videos with equal effect. Ultimately, it raises the question as to why filmmakers with a clear understanding of experimental movements in music package their knowledge into such a formulaic film template. Taking a unique view of ambient sound as a motif, why contain it to those sequences, rather than using it to enrich the entirety of the film. Perhaps this could have created a more lively debate between the standards of classical music and the new frontiers of instrumental composition, or even better, the delicate balance of audio and visual in film.

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