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Movie Review

Severed Ways: The Norse Discover America

With a synth-rock score, Vikings will be Vikings

Tony Stone is the blond Viking stranded in the New World in “Severed Ways.’’ Tony Stone is the blond Viking stranded in the New World in “Severed Ways.’’ (Magnet Releasing
)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / November 6, 2009

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Doesn’t “Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America’’ sound like the driest piece of History Channel docu-tainment? And while most of the scenes in Tony Stone’s peculiar Middle Ages art project look like a homemade educational reenactment, the film is actually more involving than it should be. “Severed Ways’’ shrinks the line separating seriousness from keeping a straight face.

Two Vikings, stranded in the New World of 1007 AD, hunt, gather, cook, and laze around a fire. What they or anyone else says is obviously dubbed from some language into Old Norse (or the other way around) with English subtitles. Not that it matters; they say about 15 words to each other.

Maybe these two are trying to find their way back to Scandinavia. Maybe they’re trying to find the after-party. Meanwhile, the electro symphony on the soundtrack frequently whispers a disco promise: “Giorgio Moroder is coming.’’ It’s actually a collection of previously released songs by Brian Eno, Queens of the Stone Age, Judas Priest, and the Kraut-rock outfit Popol Vuh.

Part Werner Herzog wilderness trial, part epic music video, part religious commentary, part jest, the movie expands a whiff of an idea into a full-blown mood piece. I laughed at the faux medievalism and the feeling that certain pop bands have a project like this up their sleeve. But there’s a level of competence that saves the movie from being merely some rich art student’s prank. Stone has a refreshingly open eye and knows how to fill the frame. The HD video camera swoops and lopes and circles. It pulls in crisply, absurdly close, and can find angles so low it might as well be buried alive.

Stone wrote, directed, and edited “Severed Ways’’ (he also plays the blond Viking), and as much as it’s like so many other works of pop and cinema, it’s also unlike anything else. Stone tries to duplicate Herzog’s vision of man’s inability to conquer nature. But, really, he’s going for a less rigorous kind of romanticism. Stone’s Vikings ax their own chickens, spear their own fish, and kill and set fires at will. The manliness is absurd but irresistible. (For what it’s worth, Popol Vuh also scored some of Herzog’s greatest films.)

The first time we hear the metal portion of the score, the blond half of this hairy duo rocks out on a tree, his hair swinging like the frontman of the band of your choice. (You might want to search this image for the cord to his iPod.) Later, one Viking cops a woodland squat, using a few leaves as his Charmin, while the other accepts an oddly sensual same-sex lakeside foot bath from a wandering monk.

Set to all this synth and guitar, “Severed Ways’’ is like the visual approximation of prog rock. Songs frame a suite of scenes meant more to convey the idea of a theme (the punishing Norse come to America) than serious exploration of that theme. Stone’s movie is long, immersive, textural, ambient, and, in its enjoyably ridiculous way, not kidding. I can’t wait to see what he’d do with the Pilgrims.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

SEVERED WAYS: The Norse Discovery of America

Written and directed by:

Tony Stone

Starring: Stone and

Nathan Corbin

At: Museum of Fine Arts

Running time: 108 minutes

In Greenlandic and Nordic,

with subtitles

Unrated

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