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(For its 31st edition, the SXSW Film & TV Festival will host nine days of screenings from March 8-16, 2024. Check out Bears Rebecca Fonté’s Mogwai: If the Stars Had a Sound movie review. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

There’s the old adage in musical theater that when emotion becomes too much you can no longer speak about it, you have to sing about it. Because all pop music is essentially singing about emotion, I like to think that if emotion becomes too much to sing about, it sounds like Mogwai. The Scottish band, sometimes labeled as post rock, sometimes noise rock, sometimes prog rock, and sometimes just Mogwai since no one else sounds like Mogwai, have creeped into the musical consciousness since the late 1990s like a subtle chord pattern that loops over and over again each time increasing in complexity and intensity. As they set to record their latest album, the plan came about to audition much of the music live through small concerts across their homeland, all filmed for posterity’s sake. Then, of course, COVID happened. Instead, the band huddled together in their hometown with all their emotion, and made an album that somehow went to the top of the British charts.

For film director Antony Crook, the project became something very different than what he had signed up for. How do you tell the story of music which is 90% instrumental and 100% dense — even in their lightest moments, Mogwai require an acute attention rarely paid to modern music. In its place, he focuses, just like the band does, on the emotion. Even the small bit of history we get from the interviews with the label and from the band on their early days, focuses on the emotional experience of discovering the band and what it brought about inside people. Producers and sound engineers speak about the power of the music they know better than anyone and the bands can’t really quantify how they create their sound landscapes which often rely far more on instinct then conscious structure.

What is the most moving about Mogwai: If the Stars Had a Sound are the interviews with fans who discuss what the music meant to them, especially during the difficult time of lockdown, which was a much more difficult experience in the UK than here in the USA. One man, driving to the concert, is brought to tears discussing his lost brother who introduced him to the band and how listening to Mogwai is the best way he knows how to reconnect with him. Fan after fan discuss what the music has meant to them and how it makes them feel, each one bringing their own past an individual experience to a collective listening process.

From a story perspective, there’s not a whole lot in this film. If you don’t know anything about the band, I’m not even sure you’ve learned that much about them. But you do get to experience their music, and to know Mogwai’s music is to know Mogwai. The film selects music not just from their latest album, arguably their most accessible, as well as every other album in their catalog. If a soundtrack was pressed, it would be a great primer for the band. The film is also perfectly mixed and to see it in a theater really captures the majesty of the band. I don’t know if stars do have a sound, but Mogwai is certainly one of the stars of sound themselves.

– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)

2024 SXSW Film Festival; Antony Crook; Mogwai: If the Stars Had a Sound
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Bears Rebecca Fonté is a transgender filmmaker, festival programmer, and journalist. She founded Other Worlds Film Festival after two years as the Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival. Her SciFi shorts ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE, PRENATAL, and THE SECRET KEEPER have played 150+ festivals including Fantasia, SciFi London, Boston SciFi, FilmQuest, Austin Film Festival and Dances With Films. Her LGBTQIA Horror short CONVERSION THERAPIST made its world premiere at Inside Out in Toronto and US Premiere at aGLIFF. Her feature thriller iCRIME, which she wrote and directed, was released on DVD, VOD and streaming by Breaking Glass/Vicious Circle Films in 2011. Bears Rebecca also was one of the producers on the Sundance Jury-Award Winning short THE PROCEDURE. In 2021, after five years on the Board of Directors she was made Artistic Director of aGLIFF, the oldest Queer film festival in the Southwest.

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