Jon Leney Presents: Once & The Swell Season
By Jon Leney
Every so often we stumble across something that affects us deeply and profoundly; something special that sometimes, ironically, has been right under our nose. That was the case last year when my cousin told me to check out the 2007 indie music film Once. I’d walked past it on the video store shelves many times and never really bothered to take a closer look because, quite frankly, it didn’t look like it might be any good. Big mistake.
The film takes place in Dublin and is about an unnamed, street busking, son of a vacuum cleaner repairman who meets an also unnamed, immigrant odd-jobber, single mother piano player. Together, they collaborate on a demo which he wants to take to London in hopes of getting signed. Sounds lame, right? Wrong. The actors are portrayed by singer/guitarist Glen Hansard (remember The Commitments?) of the Irish band The Frames and Martina Irglova, a classically trained Czech piano player and vocalist. And both of them have serious musical chops. Hansard’s raw, emotionally charged singing and playing is offset by Irglova’s more demure and sometimes haunting piano and vocals. The result is a pairing of beautiful musical styles layered together to create a very moving and very natural soundtrack. And that’s why it’s so appealing. You feel like you’re witnessing something special and real unfolding in real time. And in a way you are, because with a budget of less than three hundred thousand dollars, there are no lavish sets, no expensive props, no elaborate lighting, and you likely own a better video camera than was available four years ago. It’s nothing but pure, unadulterated artistry and when it was over it had left me open-mouthed. It’s a conceptual and emotional experience that remains with me still.
Prior to their turns in ‘Once’, Hansard and Irglova had formed a band called The Swell Season after meeting in the Czech Republic in 2006. They became romantically involved during the making of the film, which has earned over 20 million dollars worldwide and went on to garner global attention and critical acclaim when the song ‘Falling Slowly’ (from their self-titled first album) won the 2008 Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. Hansard and Irglova have since called it quits romantically, but continue to write and perform as The Swell Season. In 2009 The Swell Season released the album ‘Strict Joy’, which Spin Magazine gave a four out of five star rating.