i have a question...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


The movie Once has been dubbed a modern-day musical, but I stand by the fact that it’s just a movie about musicians…so of course there’s music in it. I fear that spoilers may lie within the review because the music is basically the plot of the movie, which makes it even more beautiful.

In the film, the magic of the first playing of “Falling Slowly” can’t be separated from the song itself. It is a seriously stunning scene, illustrating spontaneous harmony, in more ways than one. It starts with just guitar and piano, the instruments of Guy (Glen Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova) in the movie (pointedly, they remain unnamed) and explodes into one of the most beautiful choruses I’ve ever heard. The song gains momentum and strings, but the electricity of it is that in the film, it’s the first time these musicians are playing together, and it foretells an intense, prolific relationship.

What is particularly striking about the music in this movie is that not only are entire songs played (not just snippets) but the way they are unveiled within the plot seems completely organic. They materialize out of the natural occurrence of the film—like I said, the music is the plot. “If You Want Me” is one of Irglova’s solos. Within the plot, Guy has given her the gift of writing lyrics to one of his songs. The characters call it romantic, but it’s strikingly sad. The wonderful mystery of these songs is that you can’t quite ever tell who they’re singing about. We find out that both characters, though obviously drawn intensely to each other, are also pulled to their own previous spouses—for her, it’s a husband, for him, it’s his ex-girlfriend whom he plans to win back. But on first listen, “if you want me, satisfy me” seems to be a yearning plea to Guy. This song also features a drum machine and Hansard on backing vocals, which makes it an anomaly on the soundtrack.

One of the turning points of the movie revolves around Guy arranging to record some of his music. He recruits Girl and some fellow buskers to play with him, and “When Your Mind’s Made Up” is the first track they record. It features bass and drums and Irglova playing piano that could only have been inspired by the Amelie composer, whimsical and melancholy, as well as Hansard’s intense, emotional screams that crescendo and then just keep going. There’s no resolution, which is perfect at this point in the movie.

As Guy sings “Lies,” he watches an old video of his ex (we find out early on that she “screwed some guy she knew”) and it seems that she and this have inspired most of his music. It’s about the unraveling of his relationship—“the little cracks that escalated.” Hansard’s wispy falsetto brings Jeff Buckley to mind, and the Irish fiddles shudder along with him.

At one point in the movie, Guy and Girl go to dinner at a pub where it seems like the only requirement for dining there is that you sing. “Gold” is a song that Guy sings with his cronies, all guitar players. The sound of this song is so full, many guitars, many voices, and sweet, melancholy lyrics like “And if your laugh was gold/how long do you think you’d stay livin?” I think that may be my new philosophy in life.

During the recording session, the emotional climax of the film occurs when Girl sings “The Hill” to Guy. It is just her voice and her piano playing, sounding a bit like a melodramatic movie and singing slightly trite lyrics: “Walkin up the hill tonight/And you have closed your eyes/I wish I didn’t have to make all those mistakes and be wise.” (In the movie, she admits the lyrics need work.) Still, as she sings about her husband, obviously just a young girl trying to figure out how to be a wife and mother, she breaks down to Guy and they really touch for the first time, finally concretely admitting their connection. It’s a potent moment, despite the immaturity of the song.

The crux of the movie lies within the above songs. The others don’t sit with as much weight in terms of the entire movie, although “Trying to Pull Myself Away” is the obvious radio single of the album, with Hansard sounding an awful lot like Ben Harper, featuring a broad chorus and intricate descending strings. Further, “All the Way Down” is a sleeper favorite of mine.

The song “Once,” which runs under the end credits is a duet between Hansard and Irglova (who are a couple in real life, after this movie) about the fleeting moment of recognition they’ve shared: “Once, once/I knew how to look for you/Once, once/But that was before/Once, once/I would have laid down to die for you/Once, once/But not anymore.” It should be mentioned here that Hansard’s falsetto is stunning.

I find it fascinating and poignant that the last song on the album is “Say it to Me Now.” The guitar here is reminiscent of a Beatles song I can’t identify. It begins with a benign enough verse and erupts into Hansard’s wrenching scream. The poignancy lies in the fact that, in the film, this is the song Guy sings right before he meets Girl. It actually starts the whole romantic, hopeful and sad story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Also, Guy is really dreamy...