Arcade Fire’s “Miroir Noir” Offers Beguiling Enigma

April 7, 2009 · Print This Article


by Luke Pimentel, Editor

April 7, 2009

For all the evangelical ardor surrounding Montreal superstars Arcade Fire, the band has been surprisingly reticent to release any official documentation of their inner workings or beloved live performances.  Contrary to the modern-day norm of constant and thunderous media saturation, it appears the band still prefers to cultivate a sense of mystery about itself and its music.

Appropriate, then, that Miroir Noir – an arty, obtuse, highly impressionistic collage project from French-Canadian director Vincent Morriset and Parisian filmmaker Vincent Moon – should serve as the band’s first serious foray into long-form visual media.

Shot during the recording of Neon Bible and the subsequent tours in support of that album, the film is decidedly short on motivation and long on lyricism, filled to the brim with exciting, chiaroscuro imagery, but non-linear enough as to be daunting for outsiders who are not already familiar with the band and its music.

Stylistically, Miroir Noir takes many of its cues from the 1998 Radiohead doc Meeting People is Easy, sharing that film’s love of off-the-cuff observations, multiple shooting formats, and abstract, fragmented editing.  But whereas Meeting People is Easy at least had a tangible narrative thread – the emotional breakdown of a band dealing with the rigors of sudden fame – Miroir Noir is pretty much entirely a game of free-association, with the viewer left to connect the dots themselves.


Of course, part of that may well be due to the fact that, compared to Radiohead, the members of A.F. come off as pretty normal in Miroir Noir. The title – French for “black mirror” – would imply a film full of dishy intrigue and backstage debauchery, but thankfully the final result serves up little of either.  There are flashes of mercurial behavior here and there – such as frontman Win Butler’s infamous busting of a television camera during a performance on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, seen briefly during a montage – but by and large, the footage would have us believe Arcade Fire has adjusted to stardom pretty darn well.

Consequently, Miroir Noir walks a tightrope between the larger-than-life and the amusingly mundane.  For every theatrical stunt that happens during performance – it should be noted the band really, really likes playing in elevators – there is a shot of someone goofing off in a Star Wars mask or quizzically peering over lawnmower instructions.  In one sequence, Win Butler scoops up deadpan bassist Tim Kingsbury and jokingly slowdances with him to the strains of “Ocean of Noise”; in another, Butler is chided by an unseen bandmate for “drinking hard lemonade in the Palisades.”  This is the kind of dorky humor you’d expect from college-age listeners of Arcade Fire rather than from Arcade Fire themselves, and the lack of pretension on display in the scenes is utterly refreshing.

Additionally, Moon and Morriset peer into nooks and crannies for flashes of the band’s creative process, such as Win Butler standing in the freezing cold outside the band’s converted church studio in Quebec, recording lyrics to “Keep the Car Running”, or Regine Chassagne clapping with joy after hearing a full orchestra perform for the first time on the majestic “Intervention”.

Occasionally, disembodied voices pop up on the soundtrack, acting as a kind of surrogate voice-over.  Culled from calls to a phone line the band set up as viral promotion for the Neon Bible release, the voices are a clever way of turning the mirror back on the fans, as the commentary they provide – ranging from esoteric to confessional to contemptuous – says much more about the people calling than it does the band.  The implication is that the band’s music is simply a sounding board through which people can relate their own anxieties about life… which, in a nutshell, sums up the reason for the band’s massive popularity.  (That, and the killer choruses.)

Still, the real highlight here is the spectacular concert footage, which does a bracingly thorough job of conveying the manic, feverish passion the band brings to its performances, and the cathartic glee that that passion elicits in fans.

Rather than bombard a single show with dozens of cameras, Morriset and Moon chose to shoot multiple nights with only a couple of cameras, changing up the angles each night; they then spliced all of the footage together in the editing room, adding in some of Moon’s signature “long takes” for good measure.  The result is a dizzying hodgepodge of grainy, super-saturated motion and fury, with outfits, locales and audiences changing from shot to shot; hardcore fans who were lucky enough to be at one of the filmed shows will no doubt spend hours combing through the footage, looking for memorable snippets from their particular gig.

Moon – who rose to prominence with his series of single-shot “Take-Away Shows” – has an uncanny knack for weaving his camera into seemingly impossible locations, be they directly behind Jeremy Gara’s forearms as he mangles his drum kit, or hanging one-handed off of forty-foot scaffolds to capture glimpses of a crowd far below.  Occasionally, the sound will slowly fade away to focus on a single element of the band – the warmth of Sarah Neufeld and Marika Anthony-Shaw’s violins, perhaps, or the mammoth fury of Richard Reed Parry and Will Butler as they utterly disembowel a pair of snare drums during the chaotic marching beat of “Haiti”.  For the towering climax of “Neighborhood 3 – Power Out” and “Rebellion/Lies”, the camera tracks across a sea of ecstatic, wide-eyed fans on the front rail, all of whom chant along with such reverence they look as though they could be receiving spirits at an old tent revival.

In a perfect world these amazing snapshots, in concert with the film’s disarming humor, would be enough to reel in those stubborn folks who still refuse to give the band a chance on grounds that they are bombastic, pretentious, diva-ish, or whatever else they’ve heard from the more churlish side of the blogosphere.  If not, then the film will certainly provide a wealth of goodies to entice the already converted.

“Miroir Noir” was made available online in December, and is available in stores as of April 7th. For more information, please visit,, or

For more information on Vincent Moon, please visit La Blogotheque here.  For more information on Vincent Morriset, please visit


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