Screaming Masterpiece

Screaming Masterpiece

Starring: Bjork, Sigur Ros, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, Steindor Andersen

Director: Ari Alexander Ergis Magnusson

The film: Screaming Masterpiece could be a very useful general survey of contemporary Icelandic music. For 85 minutes, director Ari Alexander Ergis Magnusson conjures performances and interviews from 28 acts, past and present. The documentary's initial sequence highlights the variety that is to follow, from Steindor Andersen unleashing his rimur - the chant of epic Icelandic poetry - to a barren landscape of glaciers, Sigur Ros performing in New York, and finally, punk-noise combo Minus letting loose at a small, sweaty joint in Reykjavik.

Despite many exciting performances, Screaming Masterpiece lacks the rigour to discern the social and cultural influences that might shape one of the world's most tightly knit and idiosyncratic communities.

Some of Magnusson's observations focus on the stifling seclusion of the country - according to the documentary, this is a place where the president would host a pop gig in his official residence - and in nearly every interview musicians bemoan how they work without expectations of reaching a wider audience.

Sadly, it takes Bjork (below) to provide some of the more insightful lines about the uniqueness of Icelandic music. Noting how the country achieved full independence only in 1944 - after more than five centuries of Danish colonial rule - she describes the music as 'screaming patriotism with heavy doses of adolescence'.

It's a scene that draws inspiration from sagas such as the Edda (which was adapted into Odin's Raven Magic, the collaboration between Andersen and Ros) as well as the arrival of punk in the late 1970s (spawning bands such as Purrkur Pillnik, as documented in Fridrik Thor Fridriksson's landmark 1981 documentary, Rokk i Reykjavik).

The extras: The extra hour of interviews is a pleasure on a disc that highlights Magnusson's penchant for breadth rather than depth. The web links also point aficionados to a different Iceland than the land of elves that has often been described in lifestyle magazines.

The verdict: A pleasant stroll into one of the world's most vibrant musical communities, Screaming Masterpiece offers a range of activities that could help debunk stereotypes about Iceland and its music.

It falls short in its attempts to establish a more solid link between such activities and its social and geo-political context.