In ways both concrete and intangible, the music of the Icelandic experimental rock band Sigur Ros and the lunar grandeur of the isolated nation that spawned it share certain common traits.
Both exist in a kind of hermetically sealed universe: Iceland's rugged island geography and the group's ethereal soundscapes are similarly haunting and majestic, timeless and austere -- and yet somehow still seemingly untainted by the influence of the outside world (or at least in Sigur Ros' case, not dumbed down by MTV and modern rock radio).
So when the internationally popular, platinum-selling quartet decided to put together a concert film, it made sense to go home. In the summer of 2006, after Sigur Ros had toured the world for four years, the group came back to Iceland for two weeks to perform several of the biggest and smallest concerts of its 13-year career.
Shot by Oscar-nominated director Dean DeBlois ("Lilo & Stitch"), that movie, "Heima," was screened as part of the AFI Fest at Los Feliz's Vista Theater Thursday night. It will be released on DVD on Nov. 20 in conjunction with Sigur Ros' new double CD "Hvarf/Heima," out Tuesday. And tonight, the film will be screened as part of the festival again at UCLA, where the band will play a three-song acoustic set and conduct a brief question-and-answer session (although entrance is limited to students with a valid student ID).
"Rattle & Hum," it's not. "Heima" is more art-house movie than concert rockumentary, dedicating screen time to lingering shots of fiords and ink-black basalt deposits, not screaming guitar solos. Short interviews with band members and colorful locals -- such as the farmer who turns rhubarb into musical instruments -- provide moments of comic relief.
Moreover, the film's meditative evocation of Iceland's people and terrain -- "Heima," after all, is Icelandic for "home" or "homeland" -- leaves little doubt about how Sigur Ros came to be a product of its environment, a place where quiet is the new loud.
"We decided [to shoot] in places that were hard to go to," lead singer Jonsi Birgisson said by phone from Australia earlier this week. "Small villages, abandoned fish factories, farm houses. Places bands don't usually go."
One standout for the normally press-shy Birgisson was Iceland's western coastal town of Djupavik, population: 3. "There's nothing around," he said, "just a few houses and steep, steep cliffs. You feel like you're driving into the ocean."
On Thursday, the four band members loped onto a low stage set up in front of the Vista's screen for a short unplugged set, performing two elegiac new songs, "Agaetis Byrjun" and "Heima," as well as 2005's "Njosnavelin." Sigur Ros barely registered the enthusiastic applause, rarely looking up from its instruments. And none of them flinched when someone in the crowd seized a quiet moment to break the sepulchral mood by shouting: "Free Bird!"