Sunday, January 30, 2011

Don't Make a Scene (Sing-Along Month Edition): Once

The Story: Harmony (noun): 1.  agreement; accord; harmonious relations. 2. the simultaneous combination of tones, esp. when blended into chords pleasing to the ear; chordal structure, as distinguished from melody and rhythm.

One of the things missing in most modern movies these days (possibly because audiences might find it "corny") is "the sing-along," where a group of characters participate in a collective musical performance that shows they can work together as a group to a common purpose.  Corny?  Maybe.  But it's a great audio-visual short-hand for communicating a dramatic idea—the resolving of differences.  Just as an orchestra can combine rhythm, brass, and strings to a unified whole, so, too, can disparate personalities and talents come together to create a sum greater than the parts.  We see this work in music groups  all the time, and there's no more obvious example in the movies than the Beatles documentary Let It Be, where the four writer-musicians bicker and back-bite, but manage to put it all together in their final concert on the Apple Studio roof-top, a meshing performance that shows just how good they could be.

This month, in our "Don't Make a Scene" section, we'll present four sing-alongs from movies that display dramatically, through music, the putting-aside of differences in the creation of a unified effort—harmony.
And as music is the important element here, and really doesn't work one note at a time, we will temporarily dispense with the usual frame-by-frame breakdowns, and present the scenes in their full 24 frames per second vitality.

This one is the simplest of all.  Two people, just met, one a busker (Glen Hansard), the other, a street flower-seller (Markéta Irglová), both musicians, each interested in the other's music.  She's heard him play on the street and likes his songs.  He follows her, intrigued, when she says she plays piano, but only has the opportunity to at a local music shop.

So, hearing her play, and impressed, he wants to see what she can add to a song of his he likes.  It, "Falling Slowly," eventually won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Song.  But the scene, before you hear the song that would eventually become familiar, evolves.  She gets the music, he explains the chords (to which she replies, matter-of-factly, looking at his fingers on the guitar neck, "I can see"—my favorite line of the film), and they begin.  Simply quietly, following the chords first, but, eventually, together, exploring the song's possibilities on their own.

It is vulnerable, tentative, then courageous and beautiful.  They get swept up in it, both a little surprised at what they can accomplish together, on something and an arrangement so new.  It's the start of an unspoken love affair—not completely unspoken, the only declaration is in Czech, which he doesn't understand (and as it isn't sub-titled, neither do we—nice touch, that)—that will have an ending, but will not resolve.  It will be a brief moment in time, when things are special, and everything is good, like a good song performed, in memory an echo.

It is part and parcel of a nearly perfect little movie, with a single-word title that reflects the melancholy, transitory nature of the encounter, its uniqueness in time, and the special pleasure—and pain—of its pastness: Once.



The Mad Hatter said...

I'll never forget sitting in the theatre with tears in my eyes as this scene's just that beautiful in its simplicity.

Great analysis of one of the decade's truly great scenes.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Thank you, Tetch. High praise coming from the Hatter.

My best to Lady Hatter.