Archive for April, 2013

Analysis: Carney’s “Once”

April 21, 2013

Unlike the way we usually select a movie for study, this time we wanted to choose something made by actors and by a writer and director completely unknown to us. We picked Once based on the artwork on the DVD case—reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album cover (1963)—and on our intuition that this would be something fresh and yet familiar, something completely different yet archetypal. To say that we were not disappointed is an enormous understatement. 

Archetypal stories are the ones writers keep reworking because people connect with them on a deep unconscious level as well as within the context of their daily lives. The story being read, or heard, or watched is projected into our firsthand experiencing as we concurrently feel projected into the story. The effect is inadequately called “gripping.” But Once is not just a gripping tale; it is a unique experience because, unlike most movies today, which grapple for control of our lower chakras, this one grabs the viewer by the spirit. And, unlike other films that do that and carry the viewer up into a higher-than-human realm, this one has an unexpected grounding effect—in a good way, the way great art becomes indelible. 

Set in Ireland, Once is meant to illustrate the idea that sometimes a person only gets one chance to follow a dream—one shot at success. For me—partly because I don’t accept that theory—the title better fits with fable-telling that begins: Once upon a time… because this story flows like fantasy although it feels as real as a recent lifetime. That it had that effect on me from early on in the first viewing may have something to do with my great-grandmother (Mattie) Slattery’s wholly Irish genes, but the story resonates with the Dutch, English, French, and other facets of me as well. As an archetypal story, Once is a once-and-forevermore story, yet one of a kind—a blue swan—a hero’s journey into the endless expansion of his uncommon talent. 

The feel of genuineness that writer-director John Carney delivers is not achieved through big budget artifices and world-renowned personalities but, instead, through his masterfully orchestrated use of vibrant people who are not career actors (they are professional songwriter-musicians in real life), like subjects painted by Vermeer. That Carney is himself a professional musician as well as a writer and director helps explain the overall richness of this cinematic product. This “painterly” masterwork was made resourcefully on a micro-budget of only $160,000, proving that harshly limiting factors can prove to be great blessings in disguise both within a work and in its production. 

Once has been called “a modern-day musical” and “the best music film of our generation,” but the larger truth is that this is a love story, a different kind of love story, a story about a man and woman who love making music and who make love to each other through making the music they love. Once is a creative work about creative work and about living and relating creatively into perpetuity. The relationship that blooms between the “guy” (Glen Hansard) and “girl” (Markéta Irglová) is not just larger than life; it is too large for life, something a given mortal might encounter briefly, once upon a time, and remember forever after.

From the time of its release in 2007, critics have given this film the positive recognition it deserves. Not surprisingly, Hansard and Irglová’s song “Falling Slowly” won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original Song (see YouTube performance). If we ever establish a PluribusOne™ Film Award, this one will be a retrospective winner on all counts.