IMDB #242: Once

Editorial note: This was originally supposed to be about A Christmas Story, but not only has it since fallen out of the top 250, I have no desire to write about it. At all. Seriously- we've all seen it- it's like beige wallpaper at this point. I'm sure there's a long discussion about American consumerism and the corruption of the Holiday spirit in there somewhere, but again- not a single word is coming to me.

So new rule: when the above two conditions happen (off the list, I couldn't give a rat's ass), I get to replace it with something that has since appeared on the list. This way, hopefully, these entries are more engaging are thoughtful. Today's replacement entry? Once.

The Key Players:

John Carney, an independent Irish film and TV director, had the idea for a musical film (not a musical per se, but a film with lots of songs in) following the life of a busker, a street musician.

Carney was a member of the band The Frames in the early 90s, so he turned to Frames frontman Glen Hansard to write songs for the film, and provide notes about the life of a busker, which Hansard had been years before. After Cillian Murphy dropped out of the project, the decision was made to have Hansard star (he'd had a minor role in The Commitments in 1992).

Then they needed a Eastern European female piano player for the costarring role: Hansard just happened to have recorded an album with the daughter of a friend, Marketa Irglova (whose name has two accents, but Blogger is not being helpful to me in making that happen).

The Story:

Very simple. In Dublin, a busker meets an immigrant pianist. They play some music, share their respective heartbreak, and then she helps him record some songs before he leaves for London, but will they find comfort in each other? Carney says you can write the plot "on the back of postage stamp."

The Artisticness:

Wes Anderson, a very music centric filmmaker, draws inspiration from music before even writing a screenplay. Apparently he had the idea of someone getting off a bus, set to Nico's "These Days," and then just wrote The Royal Tenenbaums around that scene.

And although this film existed in some form before the music of Hansard and Irglova was incorporated, the songs are clearly the central nervous system- not only of story, but the characters as well.

The gravity of the songwriting doubles for acting as well. There's an early scene where Hansard is called upon to tell Irglova about his ex-girlfriend- apparently he stumbled over the lines so much that they made the decision to have his character take out his guitar and sing a goofy little song instead about getting cheated on. It's a great moment that seems natural for the character.

And the songs themselves are incredible. I may be cynical (too cynical to want to write about Christmas, anyway). But I will always, always be moved by music, especially set to film. The way the songs are worked into the setting is brilliant- as it's about musicians, it's not distracting when people burst into song. The only movie magic is perhaps in the way they always nail the first take, although there are a few parts emulating the creative process as we see songs being written.

The decision to use actual musicians was important for the naturalistic feel to the songwriting. And it probably helped that it was the musicians that wrote the songs. And that knew each other (more on this later). The featurette on the DVD (yeah, I watched all of the features, and the commentary. Boo-yah.) makes it clear that Carney changed dialogue and character history in the middle of filming scenes, from take to take, making it more of an off the cuff situation than a studio production.

That said, there's nothing visually remarkable achieved the $160,000 budget, but I'm not complaining. Apparently a bunch of people thought it was a documentary (really? In the words of Jack Nicholson: This ain't reality TV!).

Artistic decisions I loved: the two characters are nameless the entire film, just because it never comes up. And the film has no score beyond the songs, which bleed from one scene to the next, lending weight to montages more than some random violins.


So basically, they record some of the busker's songs, come close to making something happen, but ultimately he goes to London to win back his ex and her estranged husband (and baby daddy) comes over the channel to try and work things out. But he buys her a piano, and the music plays us off. Sigh.

Of course in real life, Hansard and Irglova actually got together either during or just after filming, and are now touring, winning Oscars for "Falling Slowly" from this movie, and living in house with a whole bunch of animals outside of Dublin. And despite an age difference comparable to the one I said was creepy in Roman Holiday, it's adorable because every other word Hansard says in the movie is "cool" like a little kid anyway.


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Can I tell you how much higher I think this should be than hovering right around 250 (currently somewhere below it)? It may well be in my top five of all time if I didn't get all High Fidelity nutso when trying to rank things as such.

So higher, clearly.

The Legacy:

Like I mentioned, after a brief controversy about when precisely it was written, the song "Falling Slowly" took home the Best Original Song Oscar in February in the highlight of the ceremony. And it won the Grammy equivalent of that, although I didn't know that until I read it just now (why is the "oh- a Grammy" clip from the Simpsons not on YouTube? Come on, internet, you can do better).

They've also since signed to Warner/Chappell records and have sold-out a US tour (or at least sold out their show in Milwaukee in two seconds).

Carney, for his part, is using his new higher profile to reshoot an abandoned project called Zonad. Kudos to that.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

All about the high note. If that note doesn't move you, your heart is made of stone and you probably hate things like puppies and sunshine.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • An underlying theme to this film that gets to me is the motivation that it takes to achieve something beautiful, something worthwhile. The struggle of the main character to get off his arse, as it were and put his music out there is as important as the relationship angle. The title apparently is a reference to this- although there's a song over the credits that's all "once I knew how to talk to you, but not anymore" Carney said in interviews that it's a reference to artists that say they'll make a serious go of it "once" they get this or that sorted out. Things I plan on doing once I sort my life out- writing a novel, becoming a standup comedian or a professional film critic, and maybe doing my dishes.

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