Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Once Again

by Jason Pyles

Forgive this semi-personal indulgence, but I was also a swooning and brooding singer-songwriter … once. And I guess I still am. This was my second viewing of “Once,” and once again it stirred those feelings within me.

When I experience Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (who are simply cast as “Guy” and “Girl” in the credits, even though I swear I can hear him call her “Irseth”) putting together their duet of “Falling Slowly” in the music store, I cry every time. It literally moves me to tears.

Sorry, but “Once” not only hits all the right notes, it also strikes a chord — and is, therefore, required viewing for musicians, particularly songwriters.

With its documentary-like veracity, “Once” captures the world of aspiring musicians, a claim I can make for having lived in said world.

From the way the film illustrates the initial awkwardness and uncomfortable business aspects of the studio; to the way musicians have to compliment other musicians’ songs graciously but credibly; to the way a musician has to play that transparent game of false modesty and require mild begging before performing a song — which is exactly what the musician wants all along, more than anything; “Once” accurately captures these peculiarities associated with musicianship.

Also, when Glen writes “Lies” while drawing inspiration from old home-video footage of his ex-girlfriend, I could relate: I once wrote a song conjuring my muse with that same method.

And how about this oddly familiar exchange:
Street musician referring to Glen’s music: Is it any good?
Markéta: It’s great!
Glen: … Is it?

Yep, that’s exactly how we musicians are — in constant need of reassurance and validation.

Oh, and best of all, when she sneaks away in the studio and plays piano in the dark for Glen, Markéta performs a song she wrote called “The Hill,” a song written for her husband that he didn’t like. Glen dismisses him as an idiot. Indeed. But I can top her story:

Once I wrote a song for my girlfriend (not my wife) who had a terrible family life at home. It was a tender, “I’ll save you”-type song. When I finished playing it for her, she asked in a whiny, frustrated voice, “Why don’t you ever write any songs about how pretty I am?”

The opening sequence of “Once” could stand alone as an award-winning short film. Yes, award-winning. Those brief moments reveal to us just about everything we need to know about Glen: He’s a “streetlife serenader” who’s not only a passionate musician, he’s also a good guy.

And the scene where Markéta wanders the streets with the portable DVD player, “writing” the lyrics to “If You Want Me,” has an unmistakable music-video flavor a la Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.”

“Once” is so good, it almost makes me want to return to that struggle of trying to make it as a professional musician — almost. Even so, I’m sure part of me loves this film so much because it makes me grateful I tried. Nothing would be worse than always wondering what would have happened had I not given it a shot.


Barrett Hilton said...

I think he says, "is herself at home?" Great post about this beautiful little movie. Yes, I'm still checking in, just finding it hard to make time to write.

Jason Pyles, Movie Critic said...

Oh, good. It was bothering me (needlessly) that I thought he called her a specific name.

Thanks for the comment. Take your time; write when you can.


Jason Pyles, Movie Critic said...

Sorry. One more thing: The more I think about it, though, it doesn't make sense that he would ask "is herself at home?" Do they use pronouns like that in Ireland?

Maybe. I've heard Lucky say "I've lost me Lucky Charms" ...

Barrett Hilton said...

I can't claim to know if they would say that in Ireland or not, but I think we wanted to know what he said too and put the subtitles on when we were watching the DVD. Irish got some crazy slang.