Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir ræðir við Business Doc Europe um heimildamynd sína, Band, sem verður frumsýnd á Hot Docs hátíðinni í Toronto eftir nokkra daga.
Af vef Business Doc Europe:
Describe them how you will, whether Dadaist or surreal (my suggestions), feminist punk or psychedelic pop (director Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir’s suggestions), The Post Performance Blues Band, consisting of Álfrún, Saga and Hrefna, all friends since art school, are somewhat of an oddity. But a gloriously maverick, cavalier, devil-may-care, anarchic, couldn’t give-a-shit oddity. A triumvirate of Icelandic talents reminiscent of Lene Lovich and The Slits in their pomp, with a bit of Cosey Fan Tutti (of Throbbing Gristle fame) thrown in for good measure. And maybe Björk, as she is Icelandic too.
But the thing is, they could give a shit. At least enough of a shit to realise that babysitter costs will always exceed the remuneration they can expect from a gig (especially if only five people turn up). They want to work within chaos, they say in the film, but as the ball started to roll at the beginning of the band’s existence it wasn’t long before it steadfastly refused to roll any further.
Plus there are the existential questions. What’s it all for? Aren’t people of a certain age supposed to be more sensible? Should they really be dancing spasmodically on stage while singing about how all they want for Christmas is a snog from a stranger? Of course, the answer is a resounding YES (at least to the last question). Nevertheless in the film, the women decide to put a deadline on their ambition. If they can make it big by December 5 (we are not told the year) then all is good. If not, then they will go their separate ways.
But at the very least, as director Örnólfsdóttir points out to Business doc Europe, there would be a document, a feature film, that would chronicle the adventure, however it may turn out.
Örnólfsdóttir further sums up the dilemma. “When is the right time to give up following your dreams? When are you too old to be up and coming? For me it was a kind of excruciating pain,” she says, even though she and her bandmates had/have a genuine belief in quality, the validity and the artistry of their performances. “Then I thought to myself, if there’s a camera here, then it’s brilliant. Then I can make a film about it. Then I can have the camera as a witness to see our failure. And it’s funny, it’s a comedy…But going through it in reality, it’s just terrible.”
The Post Performance Blues Band performances are manic and experimental and have an authenticity which isn’t generally evident in the pop world they are trying to conquer. In one memorable scene Örnólfsdóttir crawls off the stage in her gold lamé catsuit only to continue crawling out of the auditorium and down a steep set or stairs.
Maybe it’s an Icelandic thing, but difficult, idiosyncratic and challenging pop seems to be de rigeur on the island. The band they have supported in the past, Hatari, the controversial and politicised stars of Anna Hildur Hildibrandsdottir’s 2021 Eurovision doc A Song Called Hate, are cut from the same complex cloth, although Hatari’s fame and notoriety determine that Icelandic venues are sold out when they play.
At one point in the film the women decide the band needs another dimension, given that their bass has player left. So they take the decision to recruit the more than willing Petur, a man. But as soon as they get him on board, they undergo another bout of existential navel gazing as they mull over the decision they made, and confront Petur (unscripted) with a renewed assessment of what they want the band to be. “Hysteria, power, happiness and humour,” they underline, but there is no room for ‘him.’ The Post Performance Blues Band is destined to continue as a strictly femme outfit.
This sequence is particularly interesting in blurring the lines between what is real and what is manufactured, and emphasises as well the dichotomy that Örnólfsdóttir felt being both filmmaker and protagonist and therefore having to record her own reactions to events with a sense of detachment. “The camera is there. I mean he [Petur] is obviously aware that we are making a film…so I cannot tell you if he is genuine in his reactions… So it’s the filmmaker’s dilemma as well. Does he think that he’s just playing a part in a film? Does he understand that we are serious? That we cannot have a guy in the band? So I was also confused with what’s real in the moment and who is playing…and because it [the film] is about performance as well. So it’s kind of confusing if I am me, myself, or if I’m this kind of alter ego. It all became this kind of gray area somewhere between reality and fantasy.”
The film bows out in typically idiosyncratic fashion as the increasingly truncated band play a live show in a major Icelandic auditorium. So was the filmmaking process in any way cathartic for director Örnólfsdóttir and her bandmates? “There is something therapeutic to just stand there and not run away,” she resonds. “You kind of feel like you have defeated this feeling of fight or flight, to just run away and hide. You just stand there and embrace the emptiness…I’m here and I’m embracing it, and then I think feel the power in it. I definitely think everything we do with the band is empowering.”
After the May 3 world premiere at Hot Docs the band will be wowing (and challenging) festival audiences once more with their unique brand of anarchic femi-punk. And yes, Örnólfsdóttir will be wearing her gold lamé cat suit, although she can’t further confirm whether the venue has steep steps for her to crawl down and away from.