Thursday, August 7, 2008

#41: Once


Directed by John Carney
Written by John Carney
Released March 22, 2007


You must know something about me: I hate musicals. Save for a few exceptions (Fiddler on the Roof, Hair, the kinda silly Jesus Christ Superstar for example), the genre is my Kryptonite. Honestly, if you gave me the choice between a swift kick to the nuts or a viewing of Mamma Mia, there's no question I would take the kick. It would be over in less than two hours, and at no point would I have to hear Pierce Brosnan singing, no matter how hard you kicked.

One of the biggest problems I have with musicals is the jarring transitions when characters go from dialogue into song. I realize that I'm supposed to be suspending some sense of. . . I dunno, not really "disbelief," but some sense of reality so that it can be completely logical for people to spontaneously break into song and dance routines. Sorry, folks, I ain't the one.

Once is the perfect musical for doubters like myself. Calling it a musical really does it a disservice in a way, because it's completely natural for these characters to break into song. Why? Because they are musicians. Is it really "breaking into song" for me to play you something I've been working on, or explaining my relationship with someone by grabbing a guitar and plucking out an autobiographical tune?

Once is much more than a musical; it's a movie about how music gets made. How someone can inspire another person to write a song. How adding other people into your world, musically or otherwise, can create new textures and harmonies that you hadn't heard before.

Forgive me for getting all autobiographical here, but this movie just touches on a nerve that I think any musician, amateur or not, can identify with. I used to be in a band, and have recorded music with several of my friends in the past. Whether we were using a handheld tape recorder, a 4-track or actually working in a studio, there is a certain complexity to that collaborative relationship that Once absolutely nails.

If you've ever written a song and then had the opportunity to play it with someone else who might be musically inclined, you're well aware of the strange kind of "magic" (yes, it's corny, but there's virtually no other word to describe it) that hearing another person's input can have on the song. There's a delicate, beautiful scene in Once where the guy and the girl (played by The Frames' Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová in two of the most preternatural performances by non-actors ever put to film) play a song (the Oscar winning "Falling Slowly") together in a piano shop that encapsulates all that is transcendent about making music.

Sure, there's a love story here as well, and a very realistic and bittersweet one, at that. The fact that Hansard and Irglová are actually a couple in real life, and that the song they wrote together went on to beat out more traditional (read: "boring and obvious") music for that Oscar, is icing on the cake.

But the fact remains that Once is more than that love story, more than the music in the film. It's far more than the sum of its parts.

It's goddamn pitch perfect.

Note: I found, on first viewing, it might be a good idea to watch this movie with the English subtitles on. There are a few thick accents that you may find hard to understand at first.

For more on Once:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia. Again, be forewarned that the Wikipedia entry summarizes the entire movie.
- Listen to the soundtrack, watch fans cover the movie's songs, and all kinds of other fun at the official site.
- Buy the DVD.
- The official site for Hansard's band The Frames
- Glen and Marketa's The Swell Season

The video for "Falling Slowly" (watch the actual performance scene from the movie here:

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