Not much to comment on about the Oscars Sunday night. Without question, Cate Blanchett should have won the supporting actress award for playing Bob Dylan in I’m Not There.
And No Country for Old Men, rightly, won for best picture, director(s), adapted screenplay and supporting actor and should have won for its cinematography, which was by far the best I’ve seen in as long as I can remember. (There Will Be Blood, which won, looked great too, to be fair.)
The one thing that made me glad I watched was the duo of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from Once. They performed “Falling Slowly,” which was nominated for best song, and soon thereafter won.
Both were so happy, and Hansard’s acceptace speech was the definition of gratitude. Irglova got cut off by the music leading to a commercial, but Jon Stewart, in a truly classy move, brought her back out after the break and gave her all the time she wanted.
No Country and Once were my two favorite films of 2007, one dark and bleak, the other hopeful and real.
Here’s my June 6, 2007 column for the Baltimore Examiner written a day or two after I saw Once:
The John Carney film Once begins with a Dublin street musician — or “busker” as the natives say — at work. He’s making his way through “And the Healing Has Begun,” one of Van Morrison’s most intimate songs. While the singer gently tries to cajole a woman to let him come inside her apartment, the crowd continues to rush past, oblivious to the beautiful sounds right in front of them.
Finally someone notices, a young Czech immigrant — played by Markéta Irglová — who sells flowers along the same busy street. She catches the busker — played by Glen Hansard, who in real life is a singer-songwriter with The Frames – singing one of his own songs. It’s good, she says, so why does he spend most of his time singing other people’s music?
You have to give people what they want to hear, he explains, if you want to make any money. It’s a neat summation of every artist’s dilemma, but it also applies to life. Merely doing what’s expected of you is the best way to get by, but it’s also the best way to get stuck.
As the Czech girl prods the busker — we’re never given their names — out of his rut, Once slowly opens into a truly beautiful film. With rough, simple camera work you might find in a low-budget documentary, Carney shows his two characters reveal themselves to each other, more through music than words.
The busker is taken with the Czech girl, but his eyes, full of suspicious joy throughout most of the film, tell us he can’t understand what she sees in him.
The Czech girl plays piano, often spending her lunch break in a music shop. She brings the busker by the shop one day and insists he teach her one of his songs, which he does, reluctantly.
A scene like this, with the actors fumbling over the song at first before arriving at perfect harmony, would typically make a film seem less real. But Carney and his actors sidestep cliche, creating a moment both magical and authentic.
Much of that magic comes from the scene’s song, a Hansard composition called “Falling Slowly.” The end of each melody line in its chorus goes up where we expect it do go down, making the sound of how it must feel like when two people really connect to one another.
The girl eventually convinces the busker to record some of his songs, then take them over to London in search of a record deal. We don’t find out if he succeeds, but we know he never would have tried without her gentle insistence.
Their romance develops as others do in real life, with each party’s emotions complicated by a recent love, and neither party entirely sure about what they want.
But as much as it is a well-crafted romance, Once is also a love letter to music. The busker and the girl connect through music, but before they meet each other, they use it to connect to themselves to escape drab lives.
Hansard, either solo or with The Frames, makes music that’s perfect for that, but no one is better than Van Morrison, a hero to both Hansard and his character.
Morrison just released his third “best of” collection, a two-disc set featuring duets with Ray Charles, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Junior Wells, Georgie Fame, Lonnie Donegan, B.B. King, the Chieftains and Tom Jones.
There’s not a better bunch of music to connect with this summer.
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