Adding this title to this list came with a small debate. A big portion of it is a psychological thriller; its also about an artist making a personal break-through into a different area of their craft. Someone else might call me a dufass saying I missed the point entirely — and maybe I did, but the film is also subjective. To me, it had something to say about working within an art form that has an exacting/purist community surrounding it and breaking through … and that for me is the greatest point of the film.
If you’re an independent artist of any type, you’ll want to see this. At the beginning of the piece the film-maker states his point to project & what he wanted to explore — and over the course of the film I don’t feel that his interviewees proved, represented or developed his point … at all. However, the interviewees speak a lot about the passion behind their work and doing it successfully their way regardless of what “The Industry” indicates.
NOTE – The full title of this film is DIY or DIE: How To Survive as an Independent Artist (AKA DIY or DIE: Burn This DVD)
I found out about “Once” while watching extras to the film Begin Again. Once was written & directed by the same director — John Carney — and stars Irish musician/actor Glen Hansard and Czech musician/actress Markéta Irglová.
Usually when I make note of a music-related film it’s because I strongly related to it relative to music — it struck a chord (no pun intended) in me, it spoke to me about the experience and the inexpiable thing that is music … this one is hard to write about. More than anything I think for me this film speaks to me because of the busking and because of the from-the-core music of the male lead, played by Irish musician/actor Glen Hansard.
Frankly, it’s difficult to write about because I missed about 15 minutes of the film about 1 hour in — the DVD sketched out, which is a typical problem with films I get from the library. From what I could tell visually I predict that there were important elements to the story line, especially having to do with the ending. It was very disappointing and I’d like to get my hands on a non-blemished copy so I can get the full story. I liked that the film was shot hand-held — it made it feel human, that you were with the guy & gal leads having their experience. Which is another thing … I didn’t realize until I saw the credits that they never have names in the film — as listed in the credits, they are “guy” & “girl”.
Maybe the two areas where this particularly spoke to me …
- One, it was shot on the streets of Dublin. I’ve barely spent four days there, but places were familiar. I particularly recognized parts around the Temple Bar area, and know that a lot of famous performers out of Ireland have come from there. Despite aspects that didn’t register well with me — that it’s a tourist town with too many poor mannered American college kids, and there are a lot of immigrants and it was hard to find Irish people in Dublin/Ireland — I no less came away knowing that I wanted to return and see more of not just the city but the country.
- Two, I identified with this film from the standpoint of being a broke musician — dealing with the challenges that come with trying to survive, trying to live your passion (music), and trying to keep your music supported financially when you are struggling to pay rent and for food.
Also, similar to what I got out of Begin Again, I think this film spoke to me about going for it with your music — being venerable with your art and releasing every inhibition to touch the depth of each emotion present in a tune, in a song, and playing it despite judgment, despite an audience, and regardless of what stage you’re on.
Ultimately, about this film, I can’t put my finger on why I’m writing about this one or its importance why a musician or non-musician should see it — but there is something about it that I can’t let it go without note, it touches something inexpiable which is a huge part of music itself. This film is not just a story, it’s not just a vignette of drama, it does not fall into the ranks of ‘just a music film’ as it is music itself.
I think it’s fair to say that there are some common threads that go through this film that also go through Begin Again, and given how I responded to Begin Again maybe that’s why I respond to its predecessor Once.
PS – I essentially just watched the film a second time. Without giving anything away, there is an element to the ending – perhaps a few, but one in particular – that to me is beautiful, it is subtle yet it is powerful, it is joy and it is balance. You might & you might not see it; it may be a musician thing. If you don’t see it, that’s okay.
Cut to the chase — in fact, it makes sense for me me to start on that given how this film struck me. The story is good, but it wasn’t the important thing to me, but it supported what I saw as the bigger point to the film … which maybe comes out to a musician viewing the film as opposed to a non-musician. So maybe now you’re saying I haven’t cut to the chase, but you’d be wrong — I’m coming off as cryptic because I haven’t written the rest of my point supporting my what would be cryptic.
Right, so, let’s get on with it.
So here’s the basis of the story …
A British song-writer breaks-up with her rising-pop-star boyfriend and gets noticed for one of her songs by an out-of-work record producer when she performs at an open-mic in NYC the night before she was going to return to England. The music producer convinces her to stay and record an album with him but they don’t have money or other support to make it. Through portable gear and musicians of varying abilities they take her songs to the streets and record live around New York. The first track gets recorded in an alley, another in Central Park, one on a train platform, the last on the roof of a building.
Here’s my thing from this film …
To date I have more than 30 concepts for albums that I want to record. To date I have done a lot of work toward five or twelve of these and haven’t recorded a single note maybe beyond a few demos. Five or so years ago I got myself into a playing-skill space over a three-day weekend. I was back in school at the time — busy — I felt that if I could keep working during the coming school week that I could belt out recording my part the following weekend. Well, I returned to school, was busy with school work (remember, ‘busy’), and didn’t continue to practice hence I didn’t make the recording. But what if I had? What if I just made the recording, even if I wasn’t that little blip further along in my ability. I thought of it then, figuring that I’d be better off to do it, to make it, — to have a recording to work with it if I didn’t get to push for that little bit better playing ability.
Why not record? Why not record every performance, record every time you’re close to the idea you want to record? I’m not talking about studio recording – I can’t record that, many musicians can’t. I’m talking about personal gear. These days you can get good equipment that’s pretty easy to use, really for not much money. At a guess, I’ve spent about a thousand dollars on music gear — about half new and half used. I’ve read a little how to use it, I’ve experimented with it, I’ve asked advise of folks who are in the know, and I’ve captured recordings that sound at least pretty good – recordings that can be worked with. Likely, had I recorded and later recorded the other musicians, got the album finished, let’s face it … it wouldn’t have been the last time I played those numbers … and I could have recorded them again. I could have taken the album and booked myself for small performances, maybe had something special happen on some night, and recorded that too.
I’m not saying playing bad is good or making a garbage recording is acceptable. Play well and make a good recording, but neither have to be some ideal of ‘perfection’. It’d be better to play, perform, and record as opposed to never doing any. The Grateful Dead recorded their songs, released, and once touring always played exactly as they did on their albums? NO! Their recordings were a foundation to work from, to create upon. Record – get the playing, get the moment, do it instead of don’t, you may get something unique.
I didn’t cut to the chase, did I?
By the way … if you like Begin Again — which was directed by John Carney — I urge you to watch Once (2007), which Mr. Carney both wrote & directed.
I appreciated that the band has always made their music their way rather regardless of industry trends. For them the creativity and pushing their skill is what is most important.
Using and transitioning between different time signatures has always been an important element to their music — and they do so seamlessly. With this a musician who understands time signatures follows along and is impressed by their work and yet with the seamless transitions someone who is not musically inclined follows their music and also experiences the energy of their work. While this makes them a musician’s band they have always also been the people’s band.