(Iceland, 88 min.)
Dir. Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir
Program: The Changing Face of Europe (World Premiere)
Pardon if this statement seems like hyperbole, but Band might be the greatest Icelandic music doc ever. The competition admittedly isn’t very stiff, but the bar is officially set. Band is as delightfully weird and wacky as the tunes of the Post Performance Blues Band (PPBB) that fuel it. What follows is a story of being twenty feet from stardom. Bandmates Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir (who also directed the doc), Hrefna Lind Lárusdóttir, Saga Sigurðardóttir are tired of playing dive bars with single-digit crowds. These artists are at a make-or-break moment in their journey. Having invested so much time and energy into their music, they agree that it’s time to make the leap. They can make the twenty-foot jump and become stars, or they can bellyflop while trying. Buckle in and embrace the strange as Band follows these wannabe rockers. It’s a wild ride.
The women of PPBB are nothing if not ambitious. Their music, for one, is as non-commercial as it gets. “Euro-pop” might be a vague classification, “techno” is too loose, and “world music” doesn’t do it justice. “Weird,” however, is just right. PPBB’s style truly is performance art. When they put on a show, they put on a show. Songs about waffles and coffee become set-pieces that deconstruct gender and domesticity. Their concerts transport the few members of the audience to the lunatic fringe as dancers decked-out in sequined bodysuits and hooded masks writhe with poles. It’s pretty zany, especially as presented here with distinctly cinematic vision. Cinematographer Sebastien Ziedler shoots the group with an eye for eccentricity. Band captures every beat of PPBB’s madcap hunger to succeed.
Band at a Crossroads
Örnólfsdóttir grasps that the crossroads she and PPBB face is especially true to their situation. The women are all approaching 40, and they know the performing arts are unforgiving to their gender. One member of PPBB has already called it quits, so the remaining three feel the stakes. Örnólfsdóttir, who also aspires to be an actress, undergoes a draining audition process for a part she expects to receive. Her agent likes her, the casting people like her, and even the director compliments her reading. However, she understands that launching an acting career at 40 is even less probable than becoming the next pop star. What’s why PPBB needs to go all in.
Band follows PPBB as they explore all possible options. They Zoom with an American advisor—a sort of career guru who doubles as a therapist. They book big 2000-seat venues and land gigs on tours. And they even add a fourth member—a male, who forces them to confront what it means to be a girl group, what they see as the core of PPBB’s identity, and whether they can stay true to their artistic integrity in the pursuit of success.
Moreover, this well-intentioned dude, whom they approach, radically changes PPBB’s dynamic. People don’t quite know how to process their performances because a male presence shifts the meaning of their alt-grrrrrl riot. Egos flare up as marketing team sexism brands the new cock as a beacon to which the hens flock. When the women of PPBB see a poster that features the three originals occupying one half and the newbie enjoying an equal slice of the branding pie to himself, they confront an existential crisis.
Destined for Cult Status
Egos and everyday sexism are merely factors of PPBB’s struggle to balance the desire for success with the reality of daily life. Parenting and paying the bills are factors they need to deal with. However, the routine of domestic life simply doesn’t satisfy their creative hunger.
Through Örnólfsdóttir’s vision as the film’s director, though, Band becomes a thrilling and visionary portrait of the artistic impulses some of us simply must feed. One can see the film as the epic performance they never got to have on stage, the music video they never got on MTV, and the full articulation of a band’s artistic impulse. The film all but guarantees that PPBB will be immortalised with cult status, resulting in prophetic you-had-to-be there murmurings about the shows that were and could have been. (This critic, for example, truly regrets watching the film via a digital screener and missing the much talked-about performance at Hot Docs’ world premiere.)
Few people even get their fifteen minutes of fame, but with Band, the PPBB should at least enjoy eighty-eight. One hopes, however, that the audience for this one exceeds a body count of five.
Band had its world premiere at Hot Docs 2022.