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Today the word is Once

March 5, 2008

Today the word is Once

Things have been very tight for time lately. Really, time isn’t as much the issue as just feeling like you’ve been hit below the belt too many times, and every time it’s that much harder to get back up. I’ve been keeping my head above the waterline as much as I can.

Every time I look up, someone I care about is getting it across the jaw harder than I am. I know life is hardly ever fair, but come on…space it out a little. From runaway fires (and runaway cars) to cancer scares, operations at 3 in the morning, deaths in the family, lost jobs and the loss of family that comes with it…I just can’t get to normal.

There has been some sunshine in what seems like a winter that started in 2006 and hasn’t let up: many folk are having children (congrats to you!), old jobs give way to better opportunities, and we’re all flexing new muscles and skills. So, maybe normal isn’t quite the way to go, anyways.

So, what does this have to do with a Irish musical? I’m glad you asked.

I have a love/hate going with the Oscars. I get incredibly emotional, largely cuz all the stuff I want to win never does. Annie Hall over Star Wars for Best Picture 1977??? WE WUZ ROBBED, MAN!!

This year was really no different…Julie Christie handed in a brilliant, understated performance in Away From Her, along with Gordon Pinsent (probably the role of his career). Christie losing, Pinsent not even getting nominated, and Sarah Polley losing for Best Adapted Screenplay was a complete rob. You can say all you want about the Coen Brothers…I know they’re good, and I know they deserved it for No Country, but Away From Her will touch your soul. It was one of the best films of the year.

One of the highlights was Diablo Cody winning Best Screenplay for Juno. This is the first Oscar to ever go to a former stripper, and that is soooo freaking cool it’s beyond words.

But Once…ahhh Once. Here was another of the best film experiences of the year, with only a single nomination: Best Original Song, going up against unbelievable odds (one film had 3 nominations in that category). Every other Original Song performance that night was over-the-top theatrics. Huge stage productions with dozens of musicians singing their lungs out, in expensive gowns and stage costumes. Living the Hollywood dream.

And then out walked Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Beautiful but subdued gown and a plain black suit. One simple piano and a battered, torn-up six-string acoustic. They might as well have been alone in the music shop back in Dublin where they performed the song in the film.

And they sang.

And they won.

Damn straight they won.

Once is one of those films that I call ‘Chasing Amy moments’. Everything seems to come together out of thin air, with no money, no fanfare, or Hollywood professionals. They steamroll through audiences and box offices without even trying or caring. They are true labors of love that we have the privilege of peeking into over the shoulders of their creators, and we’re blessed and charmed by the experience.

Both Once and Chasing Amy (both now ranking on my official ‘top 5 most romantic movies of all freaking time’ list) were made for about the same amount of money (roughly $250,000 US), cast and crew worked for practically nothing and most weren’t professionals, were shot on a very compressed schedule (Once: 3 weeks, Chasing Amy: 2 months), and were furnished out of the personal experiences of the filmmakers (Once was written and directed by John Carney, Hansard’s former bass player in his band The Frames, Chasing Amy was about Smith’s breakup with star Joey Lauren Adams). And although both films have a bumbling, neurotic, romantically challenged male lead, both films are categorically about their incredibly strong, mature, and complex female leads.

The soundtracks to each film couldn’t be more different, but both focus on the same issues: love, loss, hope and understanding the most mysterious thing you’ll ever come across: another human being.

I think the one thing I loved about Once more than anything else is that both Hansard and Irglová seem to stumble through the movie of their accord, with no respect for plot, being normal, society or reality in general. They’re both protected and nurtured by musical bubbles that surround them. Ultimately, it’s their complete disregard for the normal rules they ought to be following that charms everyone they come into contact with: from the bank manager with broken dreams, the music store owner, the bored sound engineer, their parents, and the session players they take with them into the studio.

The movie is really an intimate portrait of two people and a moment in their lives when they connected to each other and something larger than each of them, and how it changes everything and everyone privy to it.

And the charm even extended to the Oscars, when Jon Stewart (who demonstrated a lot of class) brought Irglová back out to finish her speech after being cut off.

Stewart: “They were backstage playing with their Oscars, and Hansard said, ‘Let’s have them kiss’. And she said, ‘But they’re both guys…’ And he said, ‘But it’s Hollywood…'” Classic.

If you get the chance, see this movie. It’s title says it all. Once.

Once in your life.

Once in a moment.

Once in a dream.

Once. Only once.

But maybe once is all we really need.

We are all Falling Slowly.

“Well you have suffered enough
At war with yourself
It’s time that you won

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We’ve still got time
Falling slowly, sing your melody
I’ll sing along”

~Falling Slowly, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

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