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Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando

Once/Interviews with John Carney and Glen Hansard

John Carney and Glen Hansard used to play together in an Irish band known as The Frames. Hansard stayed with the band but Carney decided to try his hand at filmmaking. Now the two are working together again in a new film called Once (opening May 26 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas). KPBS film critic Beth Accomando spoke with the two men as well as musician actress Marketa Irglova. Glen Hansard, John Carney and Marketa Irglova on the set of Once

When John Carney began working on the film Once , he was supposed to have a pair of stars in the lead roles, a healthy budget and music by his friend Glen Hansard. Then he had an idea. Rather than hiring actors who could pretend to sing, he decided to hire musicians who could act. But without stars his backers pulled out. So Carney went to the Irish Film Board for bare bones funding. Big budgets, he says, are overrated.

JOHN CARNEY: "Your'e more constrained when you're wealthy. Or when you're making a bigger film and people complain about no budgets but having a small amount of money to make a film means you're at your absolute freest to express yourself as an artist."


The lack of funds forced them to be creative says Glen Hansard.

GLEN HANSARD: "It basically gave the film a lot of constraints that were really good for the project. There was a sense of ownership, where no one was telling us what to do, that we hadn't covered our scenes we were basically in control of it. There was a sense that if this thing is a success in any way it would be ours and if it was a failure it would be ours."

Hansard, of the Irish band The Frames, had been composing the music for the film when Carney called on him to take the lead role. Hansard plays a man simply referred to as the Guy. This Guy works for his dad in a vacuum repair shop. He plays his music on street corners for petty cash. Then he meets a girl.

Glen Hansard in Once

GIRL: [clapping] "This song you just played, you wrote it?


GUY: Working on it.

GIRL: Why don't you play during the day, I see you every day.

GUY: People during the day want to hear songs they know that they recognize otherwise I wouldn't make any money. I play these songs at night, They wouldn't listen.

GIRL: I listen."

The girl is an Eastern European immigrant who harbors musical aspirations of her own. Their chance meeting leads to a musical collaboration and a potentially brighter future for each. Filmmaker John Carney wanted to riff on the old Hollywood musicals that he loved. The result is something he calls a visual album.

JOHN CARNEY: "What it is really is a series of songs and a little dramatic story that knits them together. It's a kind of modern day musical but done in a way that's acceptable to a younger and newer audience. I think young people are missing out on those great films because of the amount of disbelief they have to suspend in order to get into them so the idea for me was to do something that you didn't have to suspend your disbelief in order to listen to the songs, the songs were part of the dialogue this was a film about musical people so it was natural for them to sing."

So there's one song played in a music shop as two try an impromptu collaboration. Another song plays on the girl's walkman as she tries to compose lyrics. Then the batteries die and the girl has to head out in the middle of the night for new ones. Marketa Irglova, who plays the girl, describes the scene.

MARKETA IRGLOVA: "She's buying batteries and she's walking up the street with the walkman in her ears listening to the tune and she's working out the lyrics for it."

Song If You Want Me begins to play.

John Carney's Once

MARKETA IRGLOVA: "So it was a day that we had a crane available and we wanted to get the most out of it so we used it in two scenes and one was me walking down the street. But it was great because it was the end of the day and it was January but for some reason it felt very warm, maybe it was because I was wearing three pairs of stockings and pajamas over it. It felt almost like shooting a video for a song and all I had to do was walk up the street and pretend I was listening to a song."

Hansard recalls how the local kids became a part of the scene as well.

GLEN HANSARD: "Yeah they looked great and the thing is its their neighborhood. So obviously you couldn't ask them to step out of shot because that's their shop and that's their street. It was lovely though, especially that moment when Mar walks away and the bass, the beat kicks in the and the girls just start skating from behind and it just looks really beautiful. For me, thats certainly my favorite scene where everything poetic just sort of came in."

It's a magical moment. It somehow manages to pay homage to the old Hollywood musicals as it reinvents them. It's a film that rooted in the real world yet also manages to transcend it.

GLEN HANSARD: "To me it sort of reminds me of a small French film that takes place, the kind of idea that a camera follows two characters around for a week and then they just disappear."

Catch Once before it disappears from theaters. It's a lovely slice of musical life.

Listen to Film Club of the Air Wednesday May 30 at 10 am when Once will be one of the new releases up for discussion.

Companion viewing: The Commitments, On the Edge

July 25, 2007 at 10:09 PM
The soundtrack makes this movie what it is -- deeply human, romantic, and real. -----

Mary West
July 29, 2007 at 07:39 PM
I saw "Once" last night and I thought it was fantastic. I did not know anything about the film, but my friend told me it was Irish, and that it was filmed in Dublin. That was enough onfo for me! I see everything that comes out of Ireland. In addition to the love for everything Irish, I have a son who is a struggling musician. His band has just finished up their first professionally recorded CD. The "Guy" could be my son, Cullen. My son has played on the streets to earn extra money. I felt like Hanserd was my son. His looks, his demeanor, and everything about him just pulled at my heart strings. The young woman was lovely, and romnatic, and soulful, independent, yet fragile at the same time. The two were wonderful together. Their intimacy was so "beyond" the Hollywood idea of love and intimacy, and it was so satisfying to see. The cast, all of them, were special and their roles were meaningful whether they spoke, sang, or did nothing but stand on the street. The scene where the girl walks down the street was indeed "brilliant" as was just about aspect of the film. I laughed, and I cried, and I yearned to be in Ireland again. For me, a person who sometimes feels somewhat on the fringes of what might be called a "normal" life, this film validates the way that I have experienced Dublin when I have been there. I recognized almost every place, and again, I felt a tug at my heart. I watched the film, mesmerized, just feeling the love for the music, the people and the place. I found myself humming the song that "Guy" hummed to "Girl" long after I left the theater. All in all, this was a poignant, real, in the best sense of the word, film. I have the urge to return to the theater tonight. I probably will go see it again, and I know that I will see even more the second time. Now I must look up the "Frames" to see if I can hear them. I have to find the music somewhere, even if I have to get my Irish friend, Seamus, to send it to me. By the way, I am a 57 year old woman who never seems to age as long as I can see a film like "Once". I am sure that my boys, ages 17 and 27 will see the film as well. Wow, it just blew my mind when I read that this film was made for $130,000 dollars. I have felt that the money Hollywood puts into film and actors is "obscene", especially when so many of the films are so mediocre that no one will remember them. "Once" will be remembered by those who see it, and recognize its "pure" beauty.

Laura Moreno
September 15, 2007 at 11:56 PM
I have a crush on the movie Once and i can't seem to shake it. I saw it a week ago and havn't stoped thinking about it. i didn't buy the soundtrack after i saw the film 'cause i'm broke but i couldn't get the songs out of my mind. Finally i had to to order it online, it's worth the very modest price of $13.00. I waited every day checking the mail which i usually ignor, finally it came and I can't stop playing it, driving my husband nuts who did not see the movie with me. I usually love going to the movies alone getting a break from the drugery of every day life but this time I wish I had someone to share the exeperience with. I sit and listen to the soundtrack and envision the film and cry! I'm a wreck, i may have to seek counciling to work out my relationship with Once. OH and the scene with Marlena (I think that's her real name) is beyond brillant and so moving. It illustrates so much; the artisitc process, creation and the beauty of one's passion. GO SEE THIS MOVIE>

Beth Accomando
September 16, 2007 at 01:58 AM
Laura, I certainly hope you won't need to seek counseling but it's great to hear that a film can move someone to such a degree. The film should be out on DVD soon so maybe that's a way to share it with your husband and have someone to share the film with. Best of luck!

Eric Lallana
October 11, 2007 at 08:24 PM
Wow, all Summer I forgot to post my thoughts on the movie "Once". So far its one of my favorite movies all year. So much so that I saw it "twice". The music is absolutely incredible and of course I bought the soundtrack. I actually felt a little sad when "Once" ended its run at the Hillcrest Cinemas on October 4th. "Once" ran for nineteen weeks at Hillcrest.

julieta d. gibbons
November 08, 2007 at 01:49 PM
I saw 'Once' with my best friend yesterday at the Showcase Cinema in Newcastle. Alas, it was the last day of screening; I would see it again, if I could. I agree with all the comments above. The movie is so beautiful in its unpretentiousness, the actors so excellent in their portrayals of the characters. So endearing, they transcend the creative levels of the cinematic narrative. Suspension of disbelief is effected so seamlessly, one takes them for real--are taken to heart. And their longings become one's longing; their passions, one's passion; their dreams, one's dreams; their sorrows, one's sorrow; their hopes, one's hope. Of course there are other elements/qualities that make this film a triumph. One, is the music performed by the artist who wrote it, and sang with Marketa is so tender and heartfelt. Another, is the wonderful sense of time and place that are so real and intimate; so successfully emoted by the simplicity and faithfulness of the cinematography. I felt sad when the film finished. I did not want to let go of the music, the romance, and the place. It brought me back from a long time ago when I was young.

Beth Accomando
November 08, 2007 at 05:11 PM
Julieta, What a beautiful post. Thanks for your comments. It's great to know that films can sometimes do more than just entertain, they can genuinely touch people.

Mary Beth
December 12, 2007 at 04:30 AM
I know this is late, but I just stumbled across this site. I saw Once 5 times while it was on in Chicago - fortunately it was at a theatre within walking distance of my home. Then when I was in Paris in November, it was on there! So I got to see it again. I'm so anxious for the DVD to come out. I have 7 copies on order. I noted down the songs in the order they occur in the movie so I could rearrange the sound track that way. This was so I could re-imagine the movie while listening to the music. I've been lucky enough to see Glen and Marketa perform live twice this year. I've probably become a little obsessed with the music and the movie, but what's wrong with that?

Beth Accomando
December 12, 2007 at 06:58 PM
Mary Beth, It's never too late to comment on films you love. As for being a little obsessed... that can be a good thing. It's always great to find people who fall in love with a movie.