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.