Film: Until the Light Takes Us (Variance Films 2010)
Directors: Aaron Aites, Audrey Ewell
In light of the recent tragedy in Norway, It’s instructive to get a glimpse into some of the cultural conditions predating that incident. And since my Mindful Bard recommendation this week discusses the way Negro spirituals and protest songs inspired and fortified acts of great courage and goodness during the civil rights movement, It’s an especially interesting contrast to look at a situation in which music was part and parcel of an extended network of heinous phenomena.
Until the Light Takes Us is about the pre-commercial origins of death metal and the mindset and activities engaged in by its followers. It isn’t exactly the feel-good romantic comedy of the season?in fact, it puts you in a zone where You’re forced to look at something horrible, just as Dasha accused the depressed charmer Stavrogin of wanting her to do in The Devils. But it has a level of aesthetic excellence and is worth seeing for the insight it grants into subcultures of malevolently infectious mental perspectives.
It’s the early 90s in Norway. You have a bunch of tall, leather-bound death metal musicians with very long hair. Most of the film is expounded in interviews with Gylve ?Fenriz? Nagell of the band Darkthrone; the man consistently wears a troubled expression That’s at the same time disarmingly innocent, like a child who’s about to be punished but doesn’t know what for.
Fenriz is boarding the bus where his bags are being inspected. He announces that they found tear gas in his bag?and that for this he must pay a fine?but no drugs, ?of course.? Then he puts his bags away, sniffing one pit as he lifts his tattooed arms into the carryall.
We also follow Varg Vikernes (a.k.a. Count Grishnackh) through the halls of the maximum-security prison in which he’s waiting out a 21-year sentence for first-degree murder. He’s the least scary-looking of this crew, but listening to him talk It’s obvious he’s the most dangerous.
These young men respect their Nordic heritage, with its gods and legends; they rather resent the Christian church for having put the kibosh to all that, for forbidding pagan worship, and for planting its edifices on hallowed pagan ground.
They look back wistfully on their idyllic, wintry childhoods and are bitter about the fact that all that is now being razed by fast food franchises and other hideous modern conveniences. Additionally, most had very conservative religious parents who tried to teach them what was important in life. This did not go well.
The story unfolds against a backdrop of misty twilights, city lights, and vistas of striking natural scenery and architecture that contrast strongly with scenes in which the young people smoke and drink in an old warehouse surrounded by barrel fires. It’s all very much Twilight of the Gods, and these young men probably wouldn’t fit in anywhere else.
The film has been criticized for not being critical enough of its subject matter, but That’s unjust. At first it may seem that the filmmakers sympathize with the plight of these ?metalheads? or that they are trying to inspire sympathy in viewers, but the banality of the evil of these young men is pretty salient. For example, a young musician named Dead shoots his brains out?literally?and when his friend finds him, the first thing he thinks about is finding a camera so he can document this wonderful event and use it in the band’s graphics. To hear Varga and Fenriz and others arrogantly expound on the depths and subtleties of their ideology and aesthetic is like chewing Brillo.
They talk in awed tones about the structure of the music itself?rapid eighth notes at close intervals, intended to create maximum dissonance. This was music designed to inspire violent thoughts and acts in retaliation to a vague and relatively minor set of grievances. Whether the music aggravated the violence or was rendered so demonic because of it is a question for clinical psychologists, but I’m guessing It’s a bit of both.
But is it art? A visual artist interviewed remarks that the graphics and sounds and theatre of these death metal guys are pretty mediocre. My take is that It’s downright ghastly. A movement that leads to a bunch of church burnings and a string of murders can only be spawned by a group of people engaged not in art, but in a demonic parody of it.