To the heart of a musical

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American movies are just so [very] boring: just the way that youre fed this and fed that, and the fact that you see it coming, and the fact that youre like, Oh, okay hes going to die in a few minutes movies made by studios, you feel it.
Granted, this is not the usual thing you expect to hear while doing press interviews for a soon-to-be released major motion picture, but Glen Hansard, 37, is not your usual actor. In fact, with the exception of his performance in Fox Searchlights Once, Hansard is not an actor at all, but rather a singer/songwriter and front man for the renowned Irish band, The Frames.

Expanding into Washington, D.C. theaters this Memorial Day weekend, Once also stars musician and frequent Frames contributor Marketa Irglova, and is by all accounts the antithesis of the standard American studio film. Written and directed by John Carney, 35, Once details an intimate story about a busker (Hansard) and a Czech immigrant (Irglova), whose chance meeting on the streets of Dublin lead to a life changing, romance-tinged relationship that spans a week of frenzied music writing and recording.

Oh, and did I mention Once is also technically a musical?

Im loathe to describe it as such, but lets face it: it is. It is a modern day musical, said Carney, during the same junket interview; a hyperactive space of 30-minutes replete with intermittent e-mailing, cell phone checking and snack munching the exact kind of energy you would expect from a group of musicians.

Carney explained that unlike the fantastical golden age musicals, with over-the-top sing-song numbers, Once is more naturalistic and therefore requiring of little in the way of suspension of disbelief. The films music is built into the story and because the characters are musicians themselves, the fact that they express themselves through song seems natural, almost expected. Still, a foreign independent musical can be something of a hard marketing sell.

When [John] said to me originally its a musical, and when I hear him say it now, I just think, thats not the way to tell people thats not the way to get them into the cinema, said Hansard.

Irglova, 19, whose feisty confidence onscreen is more subdued in person, added that Carney did not even know the extent of the films music in the beginning. He had this idea and he hadnt had it all figured out: whats it going to look like at the end of it.

Hansard, who at first was just the films composer until Carney realized Hansard would be perfect for the lead, prefers to categorize Once another way.

A simple foreign film … a simple story, he said.  For me its got the qualities of all the foreign films I like: it concentrates on two people, it follows them around, theres a bit of music in it, but the music just seems to kind of go over you. Its there and you hear it, but its not like, Oh, here we go, [pantomiming as though he is onscreen] Im taking out my guitar and I think I have something to say to you, and I really would appreciate it if you listen to me now [laughs] it doesnt have that.

Successful run
But what Once does have is an intense fan following. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune saw Once during its successful run at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and described the audiences reaction as being a near euphoric word-of-mouth buzz, saying that the movie itself, may well be the best music film of any stripe since Stop Making Sense a generation ago, and yes, that includes Chicago and Dreamgirls.

Indeed, Sundance turned out to be very good to Once, which walked away from the festival with not just a studio distribution contract, but also with the Audience Award for favorite drama something that far exceeded the trios wildest hopes.
I think the reason, said Carney, that this film might do well, or has so far done well is because of this juxtaposition of watching an indie, art house, weird film shot in DV, and yet its a musical.

Carney, who says he is done trying to be a proper studio director, also believes much of the audiences connection to Once stems from the fact that they are able to feel the films authenticity, and therefore knows they are not being patronized. The three friends are passionate about arts and cinema, and their obvious sincerity originates with something rarely seen in film today: heart.
I dont care whether [Once] does well whether it is a hit, the point is Im proud of it. And it already has enough coverage to be a little ripple that goes on for ten or fifteen years, and maybe in forty years time people will say, that was the first of those naturalistic musicals That would be brilliant.

For more on Once, and a chance to become addicted to its incredible soundtrack, visit the www.foxsearchlight.com/once/

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