“Once” the film by John Carney

I saw the most amazing film last night called “Once.” It is the collaborative effort of director John Carney, and musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I don’t really know how to describe this film yet, I’m still letting it hit me. I just know that it was an emotional experience – saying I went to watch a film just doesn’t really seem to portray what it was really like. It’s a film but it’s a musical, though not like any musical I’ve ever seen before. It’s a story about love and life which is sort of told through music, but the music is the story – the medium is the message so to speak. It was all of this but never commercial and contrived. I guess the best way to describe it is that this was fine art, truly brilliant.

You can learn all about the film on wikipedia you can find lots of video of the artists singing together on youtube, but what you really ought to do is find an art house and watch the film. It’s a wonderful expression, a collage of postmodern art perfectly combining film, music and phenomenal writing.

I knew I was going to like the film just from the trailer I saw a month or so ago, but I just didn’t expect to have the visceral reaction that I did. I think I’ve been once again reminded of the power of creativity and art and the power of music toward making a real connection with another human being. In the struggle to find our way through the pain and sorrow of the human experience, our lives can sometimes take on such a solitary hue. But hardly any of us really wants it to be that way. So we fight through our own disfuction to try to make connections to other people – whether it’s love or pain, we just want to feel something and we fumble around trying to make it happen. Sometimes music can be the catalyst to a real connection with other human beings. In my life, there are just sometimes it’s the only connection I can get my hands around.

As someone who made their living writing songs, touring and making records for the better part of a decade, I think watching this film was a little more powerful for me than most. Part of the reason, at least the part I can articulate right now is that I feel like this movie portrays the power of a song. If you’ve ever been compelled to write a song, the words, the melody, the emotions & bittersweet moment that it all first spills out into the world…creation…this movie helps one feel all of it.

I’ve always felt that the most perfect performances of any song were the first time that the song comes into being. You write the melody and the chords, you structure it, tweak it a little, change it here and there – all of this is very disjointed – starting and stopping, writing & rehearsing. Then it starts to come together. Usually by yourself in a bedroom or studio somewhere you experience the song for the first time. It’s usually incredibly emotional for me – I usually end up in tears, continuing on through raw emotion and a crackling voice…beautiful, perfect. I can sing a song a thousand times again after that and it will never mean to me what it meant in that moment.

I will watch this movie again, no doubt. But I will never feel what I felt the first time I watched it and it caught me by surprise. I’m so glad that people such as Hansard, Carney & Irglova are out forcing film and music into honest expressions of life and love. Well done.

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  • stranger than fiction just rocked me like this.

    i had to watch it again, and yup, it’s amazing.

    the more records i work on the more i can’t deny the truly moving power of the “real-time arts”

    a painting can speak to you as a moment, you can view it whenever you want and recall it’s richness as a single image.

    film and music requires real-time. you must absorb these formats of art across a designated piece of time, which draws you into a different experience.

    remember “that” record you heard as a 16 year old kid for the first time. every time i hear “that” record i can smell the air of that spring day. i can feel that same sense of eternity i thought i had as a teenager. i can still see with those eyes.

    music is the most intoxicating drug there is. it’s all i know how to relate to, it’s all i think about, it’s the soundtrack to every thing i do.

    in “the magician’s nephew” CS Lewis describes the creation of narnia as a “familiar song”. it rolls over the landscape before there even is a landscape. and those listening find it oddly familiar, and fully enchanting. as if they know the words deep within their souls.

  • Great post, J. Stranger than fiction was pretty powerful as well. I remember thinking that the power of the narrative was well portrayed in that film. I also found myself moved by the fact that the main character fought for his life for the whole story, unable to see what was beautiful, artistic, moving and alive about the life he was living by the numbers. That is, until he was captivated by the story (think narrative) which the author had created. It was the story that made it possible for him to imagine his own death and not fear it. (There’s a lot more philosophy there as well).

  • eH

    i loved this movie also. the power of a song, the relationships formed over the writing and playing of a song, etc. all were powerful memories for me.

    what i liked the most, without giving too much away, is how both characters respect the relationships they are wrapped up in. both with a family and/or child and a love they are devoted to not out of obligation, but out of respect for something greater.

    it is the first movie i’ve seen that hasn’t just torn apart couples and families for ‘the sake of love’.

    fantastic film. i will certainly buy it on dvd.

  • It’s a really good point that you make. It’s interesting how much more power or weight the story takes on when it doesn’t run for the hollywood ending or go straight to the bedroom for something seedy. I’m with you, I want to own this film and try to let it work me over a little bit.

  • tim you are that brilliant talented guy to me in the movie ONCE. i have all your satellite soul music. your song “set me free”. did just that for me. thank you. it still causes me to seek and pray to God. I was truly moved by ONCE. Up the Irish !!! Scott

  • i finally had the chance to see the film two nights ago and yes, it was beautiful. i love the rawness and under produced-ness of it all. my background in film prevents me from enjoying the vast majority of films in theaters these days, but what a treat this one was. i myself do not claim to be a musician (though if karaoke counts, then i so am) but as a lover of music i loved being brought into the inner worlds of these artists. do we not all create soundtracks day in and day out with certain albums in certain seasons? i look forward to seeing it again and will enjoy the cd in the meantime.

  • I was glad to see Glen and Marketa win the Oscar for best song. I bought the DVD for my son last summer before he went away to college. He fancies himself as a musician and I thought he would like the story. Well he came home for holiday break and I finally got a chance to watch it for the first time last week. WOW! The power of art medium film and music combined is so great in Once. The relational dynamic between the two characters is so authentic. This one will stay with me for a while. Also, what a classy move by Jon Stewart to have Marketa come back and ‘enjoy your moment’. I heard about it and checked it out one YouTube. People don’t think that way anymore. I have a new found respect for the man.