September 26, 2007

"Once"

My review from The American Conservative of the micro-budget Irish musical that might be still be playing:

Musicals won six Best Picture Oscars in the 1950s and 1960s, but only one since ("Chicago" in 2002). Why aren't movie musicals terribly popular anymore? Americans will often tell you that it's just not realistic for somebody standing on a street corner to burst into song, accompanied by 100 violins.

Common as this criticism is, it's a rather unpersuasive explanation because we're perfectly happy with many other implausible artistic conventions. We seldom scoff that a novel's omniscient third person narrator presumes a point of view that only God enjoys; that stage plays are ridiculous because normal people don't converse in complete sentences while all facing toward an invisible fourth wall; or that, unlike in sitcoms, families don't actually sit around in vast living rooms cracking wise.

If lack of realism truly is the cause of the musical's decline, then "Once," a tiny Irish musical written and directed by John Carney, should win box office success comparable to the enthusiasm it has inspired in critics. "Once" overcomes this common objection by giving its hero (played by an oversized red-headed teddy bear named Glen Hansard, the guitarist in the last Irish musical, 1991's "The Commitments") a practical reason to break into song on the sidewalk: he's a street musician who does indeed routinely pour out his heart, as battered as his old acoustic guitar, to the passing multitudes. So, the musical interludes in the film are perfectly plausible.

A flower girl (young Czech singer Markéta Irglová) tosses ten Euro cents into the busker's guitar case, in return for which she feels entitled to inquire about who this "you" is in all the singer-songwriter's lovelorn lyrics. Finding out that that his girlfriend has moved to London while he works in his Da's vacuum cleaner-repair shop, she shows up the next day dragging her malfunctioning Hoover like a cat being taken for a misguided walk. At the instrument store where a genial owner lets the girl play the piano, the two work on his songs.

Love blossoms, but gets sublimated into making music. (The film's R-rating is solely due to the inability of the modern Irish to utter a phrase without the word "fook" in it.) After a single rejected pass, his Irish sexual diffidence gets the better of him. And, being a folk rock-strumming beta male, he's a bit of a sap for this cute but unreadable girl who turns out to be a single mum. Or is her ex-husband in Prague even her ex at all? Anyway, on film, unconsummated relationships are the most romantic. "Once" is amply romantic.

The unanimously rapturous reviews that "Once" has garnered might stem more from how its minimalism is convenient for critics, who find it easy to write about stripped-down conceptual breakthroughs -- The old stage musical is reinvented as a busker musical! -- just as rock critics preferred the simplistic Ramones to grandiose Led Zeppelin. In truth, a great musical, such as "Singin' in the Rain," is overstuffed with delights, which "Once," as pleasing as it is, definitely is not.

I suspect the decline of the musical, though, was not really due to a sudden demand for naturalism among audiences (who had no problem enjoying absurdly surrealistic music videos in the 1980s), but because electric guitars, which aren't suited to musical theatre because they drown out lyrics, came to dominate radio from the 1960s onward. It takes a number of hearings to learn to appreciate new melodies, so without the chance to hear a show's tunes on the air beforehand, the musical came to be at a disadvantage.

"Once" gets around this problem by repeating each original song several times. Moreover, most of Hansard's compositions feature much the same sing-songy alternation of high and low notes, so the melodies all sound a lot alike. The "Once" soundtrack won't make anybody forget "Oklahoma," but it's a reasonably effective solution to the modern musical's lack of radio exposure.

"Once" is set among the marginally employed in prosperous contemporary Dublin, thronged by immigrants. It's gladdening to see long-suffering Ireland, which sent forth her hungry children to the ends of the earth, now wealthy enough to attract the poor of the world. And yet, watching Ireland hurrying toward a postmodern Euro-blandness in which it becomes so diverse that it's just like everywhere else in Europe, I fear we'll miss the Irish Ireland when we eventually realize its gone.

Rated R for language.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

11 comments:

David Davenport said...

... because electric guitars, which aren't suited to musical theatre because they drown out lyrics, came to dominate radio from the 1960s onward.

The volume doesn't have to be turned up to 10.

... Nor were musicals such as "Jesus Christ, Super Star" or pop acts from Elton John and on and on centered around electric guitars.

Anonymous said...

I'm not too convinced by the 'electric guitar' explanation. They don't have to drown out lyrics if mixed properly.

And popular movies like ' Grease' or 'Fame' had plenty of electric guitars, which didn't seem to hamper their effectivity.

Anonymous said...

...we're perfectly happy with many other implausible artistic conventions. We seldom scoff that a novel's omniscient third person narrator presumes a point of view that only God enjoys; that stage plays are ridiculous because normal people don't converse in complete sentences while all facing toward an invisible fourth wall; or that, unlike in sitcoms, families don't actually sit around in vast living rooms cracking wise.

That's very shrewd and well-put.

Mark Roesler said...

Why don't you review "Hairspray"?

Anonymous said...

Again with the Irish sexual diffidence! I think it's more appropriate to say that the Celts have an instinctive understanding of who does and doesn't belong in their sexual social clique and don't make much effort to get outside those boundaries of propriety. Despite the relatively low status among the "whites", an Irishman exhibits much sophistication in this matter and would never mistakenly believe that a woman who is willing to enter into verbal discourse with him also wants to see him naked.

This is in great contrast to the Brits who though cousins are nothing like their charming neighbors when it comes to sexual matters. The British sexual proclivities are much like their famous marrow peas - lumpy, tasteless, strange-looking and unfortunately green.

Cheers!

chrysoperil said...

I fear we'll miss the Irish Ireland when we eventually realize its gone.

So will the Irish. Certain people there watched the Race Relations Industry in the UK with much envy and admiration. Now they've got one of their own and their own country to play with. In other words: smash.

Anonymous said...

What Ireland really needs is a Jewish/Asian elite along with a large mestizo underclass. That is the only way Ireland can maintain its global competitiveness.

Anonymous said...

Steve -- isn't it just as likely that for guys, Musical = gay?

Hibernia Girl said...

And yet, watching Ireland hurrying toward a postmodern Euro-blandness in which it becomes so diverse that it's just like everywhere else in Europe, I fear we'll miss the Irish Ireland when we eventually realize its gone.

Me, too.

"Steve Sailer reviews 'Once'"

Anonymous said...

Hey, Steve, on a cinematic note: Check out the miniseries The War by Ken Burns on PBS if possible. My local channel is playing it twice per night. Tonight is the episode #4 of 7 total. The series pauses over the weekend and finishes up next week Sun, Mon, Tue nights I believe.

The political correct policing-of-history battle behind this series was extraordinary. Googling turns up long news stories about the minority lobbies pressuring Burns to change his work. Burns swore he would not alter the product to accommodate political interests. But from what I saw last night, Burns bowed down to the powers that be.

The battle behind Ken Burns' 'The War'

Each episode is two hours and last night's episode included at least 30 minutes of awkward anti-white guilt-tripping. Awkward because it clashed so hard with the warrior and battle sections. Actually, it was probably more like 40 minutes (out of 120) of demonization of whites on the homefront, clumsily interspersed with white heroics on the battlefield. It certainly looked and felt like a Soviet style political re-editing of the film.

The pre-Civil Rights Era anti-white sections are truly poisonous. Although the effect was surely unintended, I believe many white viewers will come away painfully aware that the impetus of our media is the demonization of whites at every opportunity. Even in white America's finest hour -- victory in WWII to save the world from tyranny: the apex of the Greatest Generation -- the spliced-in sections were a relentless heaping of scorn on white American society on the homefront.

I think this is just a taste of the "mixing" of art & politics & history to come. Frightening stuff.

Bring THE WAR into your classroom

Guess what the first "Lesson Plan" offered on the PBS website is?

It's the History Channel as run by the campus Whiteness Studies department.

http://www.pbs.org/thewar/

Sorry, this post is long and off-topic...

David Davenport said...

Despite the relatively low status among the "whites", an Irishman exhibits much sophistication in this matter

That's it: some Irismen have respectable IQ's, in spite of being Irish and therefore not quite white.

:0\ !!!