Silence is Golden: The Assassination of Sia’s “Music” – The Review

A revised poster for the Movie by me, consider fair use yadda, yadda – fucking sue me. (Credit: Pixabay, Hanway Films and Pineapple Lasagne)

It shouldn’t take a political violence mastermind to tell you that when you are setting up an assassination attempt you need a ‘patsy’. Someone to take the fall for you so that you can get away with the ‘crime’ you are about to commit. Unless you want to set yourself up as a political martyr but I’m too fucking street-smart to do that.

I gave Sia’s controversial movie ‘Music’ the benefit of the doubt and watched it. I had heard through the grapevine that it was controversial and that was about the gist of what I knew. I did not know specifics, I didn’t need to – I ain’t about that life. Chasing every celebrity and culture controversy around the corner desperate to snatch any little piece of it in my slathering jaws and feeling satisfied. I’m not about that and this isn’t a zombie movie.

It’s a shame, I’ve seen zombie movies made on one-sixteenth the budget of Music that have entertained me more.

No, if I am to do a hatchet job, and do a hatchet job I surely will, I will give credit where credit is due. People who criticise things they do not participate in are fucking stupid. If you hate on this movie without doing the decent and respectful thing first – stealing it on Kickass Torrent so you can actually watch it without giving a rich person more money they don’t need to spend on vanity projects – Then shame on you. In order to criticise we must know and understand.

If someone wants to rope me up on that stake and torch me they’re free to try, they’ll find the fires of righteousness won’t even warm my toes. I’m right. It is something I have always believed, and something that has never stood me wrong.

We exist in a ‘cancel culture’ that refuses to remove art from artist, message from medium, that which is sent from that which is delivered and seems to assume a homogeny, a sameness, to all ideas, systems and communications that is just biologically, psychologically, anthropologically and…well just logically incorrect.

No, if we’re going to give something as many zeroes as possible on Rotten Tomatoes I want it to be because it is a rotten tomato, and not because a certain proportion of the population got an iffy tomato whilst others experienced it differently.  

So here is my synopsis of the movie Music, there may be spoilers;

Music is the redemption story of an abhorrent piece of shit named ‘Zu’ (who by the end of the movie you still won’t really care for) and how she falls in love with a Ghanaian man named Ebo (who may as well be Jesus) who lives next door to her grandmother (the single most compelling character in the whole plot) who is dead within ten minutes. The death of the grandmother leads to the return of ‘Zu’. I keep putting ‘Zu’ in inverted commas because her real name is apparently Kazu, but she prefers zoo, probably because she is closer to an animal than a buzzing-hummy musical instrument – not that you can tell from her dialogue.

‘Zu’ is trying to make a clean living by dealing drugs that she buys from an incredibly creepy but goodhearted wholesaler. I don’t want to hark on about the lack of reality in this  movie, I’m just saying if I was her drug wholesaler I’d be a lot less “kiss, kiss,” and a lot more bang-bang and that’s an allusion to murder not sex, people. You don’t want flighty former-addicts as your distributors, that’s how you end up in prison.

While all of this is going on ‘Zu’ has this accessory that keeps hanging around pulling weird faces and making noises called ‘Music’ who is actually not an accessory, but a human being and apparently is supposedly the central thread of this whole plot, being the titular character. You might not have realised it at this point because whenever there is plot the only thing she has to do with it is that she is a burden keeping ‘Zu’ from doing what she wants.

This isn’t just the final form of the manic-pixie-dreamgirl, though – actually I suppose, in a way, it fucking is, isn’t it?

No, Music is autistic. Autism is classed as a ‘developmental disorder’ that can affect communication skills and behavioural management, as we occasionally see when they wish to use Music as a literal metaphor for the turmoil of the other characters, or simply as a MacGuffin to create a plot point. She hits herself in the head, she shouts and screams, she does weird shit, and she lives to a highly structured routine. All fairly standard for autistic people.

Today people are diagnosed as having ASD, or autistic spectrum disorder, rather than ‘high functioning’, ‘low functioning’ or ‘Aspergers’ that are names certain autistic conditions have been known by in the past. For anyone wondering I was diagnosed last year, at the age of 32, as being on the spectrum. People write textbooks about this sort of shit. so go read them for more information.

What Music actually does throughout the movie is essentially acts an amplifier for the emotional struggles of the non-autistic people around her, while she sometimes hits herself in the head and makes noises, or gives the writer-director-ego in chief an excuse for an overblown song and dance number.

When Music’s outbursts get really bad then she has someone forcibly lay on top of her and “crush her with love” as Ebo, really creepily, puts it. The use of this sort of restraint worries me somewhat. I mean, it’s one thing when it is your 100lb strung-out sister, but what about when people call the cops on autistic people because they’re scared? That’s the kind of restraint that gets people killed.

Sadly I doubt we’d see the same kind of outcry against police brutality for the murder of a disabled kid through restraint as we see for a person of colour, especially when that kind of restraint is advocated for in mainstream media like this movie.

I should specify, and this is all to the best of my knowledge from trawling IMDB et. al. the neurotypical characters are played by neurotypical actors, the characters of colour are played by actors of colour, Asian characters are played by Asians but the Autistic lead is played by Sia’s close, neurotypical colleague Maddie Ziegler.

Frankly, in another era it’s a guaranteed Oscar nomination, but this ain’t 1994 and Music ain’t Forrest fucking Gump. The times they are a-changin’.

I do want to give Maddie Ziegler due credit, this would, for any actor or actress, not be an easy role to play and she is, at best, trying. Given her age and inexperience that’s pretty remarkable. But her screen time is limited, half the time she’s just happily wiggling away in the background while the ‘real’ people talk about ‘real’ shit and that’s the problem.

Autistic people usually find that others find us uncomfortable to be around. We have our ways, our patterns, our routines, our idiosyncratic movements known as ‘stims’, we’re weird, ‘normal’ people are uncomfortable with that. We don’t get to see any solid scenes where she is the centre, where we see this conflict between a very ‘othering’ disability and real life. The movie does not develop through her, but around her. The title of this movie is ‘Music’ and it’s named after the background, not the foreground.

There is another compelling character, a mute, fat Asian guy who gets scant development but who dies when his abusive dad or stepdad or something knocks him over and he takes a bump on the bonce. Now here is where, as a writer, I started to see things falling out of tedious mediocrity and into the just plain bad territory.

I’m interested in that story. Who the fuck was that guy? Why was that guy there? What’s his family story? It’s implied he used to be some big ballroom dancer at some point and then he moves to America and the dude wants him to do boxing and be a tough guy instead…If – and this is advice to anyone interested in writing – if you find yourself writing a sub-plot, a secondary-arc, a paragraph even, about a different tale more interesting than the one you are telling – STOP! Write that instead. It’ll be better.

Twenty minutes into the movie I have written in my notes “Music is little more than a MacGuffin, an accessory, like a BLM armband on a racist.” I desperately wanted that to change considering this movie is a painfully time-dilated 1hr and 47m long. At around 1hr 20m I noted “Music is still just an accessory – one hour later.”

Some critics are arguing that the musical interludes are some the best parts. Every now and then Maddie Ziegler, ostensibly a dancer, gets to prance around like she’s trying to start a hipster version of Ninja Warrior on a set built of Technicolor marshmallows. At one point Ebo has a supposedly heart-wrenching musical scene that just reminded me of Wallace and Gromit and the Wrong Trousers. Personally, I didn’t get it. It all just looked like adverts for perfume or cars or something.

This was when I understood the point of this movie.

I assume making a pretentious music video is expensive. Sets, actors, dancers and all the ephemera that come with – it’s emptying the bank.

Don’t tell anyone, I dropped this very early on in my academic career because of how good I was at it, but I used to be really fucking good at business studies, especially marketing…Shhh! Keep it quiet. Next thing you know people’ll want my marketing ideas and I won’t have a soul anymore.

The point is if, say, music video costs are in the region of a couple of hundred thousand to a couple of million to make – well, what if all the filming took place in one block? You use a couple of hackneyed plots, short stories, to tie it all together, call it a movie and then you’ve got your music videos and a movie? What’s more, you then have celebrities in your music videos and forget a soundtrack to the movie, it’s your new album. It all ties together.

That’s what’s known as ‘added-value’. The same concept can be said of a pig farmer who also has an abattoir. You don’t have to pay someone else to slaughter your pigs and other people bring their pigs to you and pay to have them slaughtered. Then you take it a step further, well instead of sending these hogs off to be turned into ham, why not cure your own – added-value.

Sia’s got her music videos ready-made, with all the income and revenue the music side is going to bring, but she also has a movie. She raised the pigs, killed them and made the ham herself. It’s extra value. Maybe the movie side of things costs you a few million more to make, there’s always extra cost to added-value, but you project to get a little bit more back from the end product because it is a more ‘premium’ product. Whether a lump sum from a streaming service or box-office receipts, you’ll factor it in.

Never mind getting into tax breaks. “Oh shit, I’ve over-earned by $10m this year, better find a vanity project to sink it into so I can have something to show for my loss.”

This movie reeks of music video production added-value and pseudo-philanthropic marketing. The whole autism angle feels very forced and a bandwagon jump to earn some lib-points.

Being a white Anglo-Aussie, Sia couldn’t touch BLM, and frankly feminism, sex and gender – that’s a messy smoothie to swallow and it has been done better, is being done better and will be done better. It’s like autistic kids was this little fish that could be easily hooked. Who can argue bringing attention to the plight of the little autistic kids? Most of them can’t speak so there won’t be a massive outcry or backlash, right?

…Erm…Well if reception is to be believed, unfortunately the incredibly vocal adult autistic community respectfully disagrees. Hi!

But I have written a whole ‘nother article about all that. So forget the drama about autism; then the best thing you can say about Music is it is at least a movie.

Sia, at one point, gets an obnoxious self-insert and it stinks of hubris, she’s allegedly buying a shit-load of pain meds to send off to Haiti so they can have access to drugs. Because of course you couldn’t team up with Medicine Sans Frontiers for an initiative like that, instead you buy your drugs from illegal drug dealers. It makes no sense.

At least when Prince made Purple Rain he had other people write it, about him, for him. They didn’t call it Purple Rainman, stick an abled person in a disabled role to be his fucking sidekick and use that as the philanthropic excuse for his own vanity. Oh and, Purple Rain – 70% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Music – 17%…Sia, ya ain’t Prince. I’d say rest his soul but if there’s an afterlife he’s released 12 albums there already. Talented git doesn’t want to rest.

This movie is not about autism, it is not about awareness or promotion of compassion or understanding. It explains next to nothing besides one idealised scene where Ebo is talking about how Music sees the world differently. Again I’ll go into more details when I pull the trigger on this assassination but it comes across more as autistic fetishism. If Sia wrote this it is as if she wishes she were autistic.

If this movie is an advert for anything, and I feel it is an hour forty-seven minute long advert, it is an advert for Sia’s music and Ziegler’s dancing. Again, credit where credit is due: as far as a ‘modern’ dance approach goes, Ziegler does some exceptional work. Sia, well I can’t see what the fuss is about and what she does that Imogen Heap hasn’t already done better.

The lyrics of the songs are painfully shallow, don’t try and dive deeper or you’ll break your fucking neck. Forget autism, the film seems to want to be more about dealing with drug and alcohol abuse. I’d wager Sia has a greater knowledge of that problem given how this film comes across, with Music merely being the sobriety MacGuffin.

Also, personally and artistically I hate, with a passion, tales of the constantly fucking-up commoner written by long-term successful people, born into relatively well-off families and related to people in the business they got their success in. They always ring hollow. They’re always fake.  

I get it, Bojack slayed it, no successful person can write the story about successful people fucking up their life with drugs and alcohol and trying to fix it and fucking up again and trying to fix it because Bojack killed it. That genre is dead until we invent new drugs that make celebrities fuck up in new ways.

But successful people writing about the real-life miseries that affect people across the world, earning money from it. When there are writers out there trying to write similar stories, still trapped in those positions, unheard, silent in the cultural void created by people the likes of Sia who want their project to be the one that gets the attention and have the marketing team to do it – that hurts me. Literally.

You can tell from one of the opening scenes, where Music is walking down the street, head weaving away, grunting with delight, headphones on – and people are treating her nicely giving her pictures of dogs they cut out from magazines and free slices of watermelon.

You know then this has been written by somebody who doesn’t know fucking reality.

I’ll talk more about reality, at least my reality – there are millions of others out there – in the follow up. I’ll keep this about the movie.

Music is a boring film about a recovering alcoholic drug abuser forming a romance with an HIV positive Ghanaian-American, which happens to incidentally feature an autistic character played by a neurotypical dancer.  It’s dull, and barely worth watching.

There’s nothing you haven’t seen before besides the hipster marshmallow musical interludes. I’ll give some opinion on that, too. If you want the flashy, wanky art videos go watch some Lady Gaga, she did that more, bigger and better. If you want weird electro-pop, genre-melting music go listen to Imogen Heap, she did that better.

This whole thing is a big-bag of mediocrity and I don’t want the reason it gets trashed to become some identity culture-war bullshit between autistics and neurotypicals (although that’s what it has become and I will make my side very fucking clear). I want this movie to be judged for what it is. A shit movie.

There’s your patsy. Now I am going to set it up in the School Book Depository while I sit back in mission control and make sure the bullet is fired.

Read the personal assassination here.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

2 thoughts on “Silence is Golden: The Assassination of Sia’s “Music” – The Review

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