Released: 2009, Variance films
UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US is another documentary look at the fascinating world of Black Metal. A few years ago the film-makers, Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites moved to Norway to develop the concept and gather footage for this film. Now we have seen the results of their hard work.
Named after the second full-length Burzum album, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (roughly translated as Until The Light Takes Us, naturally) the film can be vaguely categorized as a ‘talking head’ documentary film, namely letting the interviews speak for themselves with inter-spliced bits of footage, photos and so on.
For those readers who have no frame of reference, the film attempts to chronicle the rise of a small (at the time) sub-genre of Heavy Metal, eventually dubbed Black Metal. The sub-genre originating in Norway in the very late 80s and early 90s, although small and insular, soon gained global notoriety based on the extreme, real-life actions of a few individuals. Some of these actions were criminal and some merely controversial, anti-social and misanthropic. Soon these actions, and a flood of face-painted imitators the world over, overshadowed the original spirit of the movement. The movie tells that story.
My feelings on the film are split. As a documentary the technical aspects, the shots, execution, and delivery are somewhat sub-standard. It was obviously on a very limited budget with very little editing. The pacing is slow, the history of the genre is not really linear, there are no effects, and the lighting and angles are just plain. Another major flaw is the soundtrack. The vast majority is ambient noise. Why bother making a documentary about Black Metal MUSIC if you are not going to feature THE MUSIC in the film? I don’t enjoy sitting through 93 minutes of ambient techno-garbage. Well, it’s not that bad but it could have been much, much better. I’m not a film critic and these minor things don’t really bother me. I was more interested in the topic and interviews than film-making.
On the positive side, the topic is extremely interesting and the interviews really demonstrate some of the underlying motives of the principle people who helped develop the genre. There are a number of interviews and clips but the three main (antagonists?) are Frost, Varg, and Fenriz. The film was shot before Varg was released from jail and most of his comments come from ‘the inside’. The film follows Fenriz around in very candid and intimate moments and in common settings, the pub, walking around town, shopping and so on.
The film-makers quite cleverly decided, or so it seems, to leave the participants to speak on their own. There is very little traditional North American ‘talk-show’ type dialogue with quick questions and answers from a host. In fact, we never get to really see the people behind the camera, unlike perhaps recent films by Canadian Sam Dunn who features prominently in his films. The participants are invited to speak, neither encouraged or discouraged, leaving a very, raw, unedited feeling.
The film doesn’t really discuss the early development of the genre so if the viewer doesn’t have a familiarity with the story or the musicians involved it would be very confusing. They also perhaps focus a bit too much on the limited controversial actions of a few people, instead of the music, but it doesn’t sensationalize the actions. It does show however, how Norwegian society especially the media DID sensationalize the sub-genre, dragging it kicking and screaming into the harsh, mainstream light, all the while completely missing the point behind the founding principles of the sub-genre.
It is certainly a minimalist film for fans and insiders. Despite all the minor flaws this is in my opinion the best of the five or six film documentaries on Black Metal that have come out in the past five years. It is a quite insightful, unnerving and candid look at a controversial sub-genre of Heavy Metal that is feared and misunderstood, and that’s by the people who actually like it and listen to it. UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US is a brilliant companion piece to Nocturno Culto’s 2007 documentary film, THE MISANTHROPE.