Freeze Frame #132, #133: Once

A man stands at a street corner with his guitar, singing. During the day, when people pass by and are likely to drop a coin or two into his box, he sings popular numbers that they may have heard. It is after dark that he starts singing his own stuff. Whether or not his music is to your taste is, I think, immaterial — it is impossible to ignore the way his intensity goes up a few notches when he is singing his own compositions.

A woman approaches him. “Where is she?” she asks after a modicum of preliminaries about why he doesn’t sing stuff like this during the day. “She’s gone,” he replies. It is clear that music like this cannot come out of anything other than personal loss. She doesn’t know him, nor he her. This is a pretty personal conversation for two strangers to be having.

It turns out eventually that she is a musician as well. And that, I think, is all you need to understand. Once is a movie about two people who fall in love while they make music together. But it is not so much about their “romance” as about the sense of camaraderie and respect that two people share when they find common ground in a particular activity. In that sense, it has much in common with Girl with a Pearl Earring, that little gem of a movie about Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting.

Two scenes really stand out for me. The first is the one where they play together for the first time. It is at a store that sells musical instruments, where she has a deal with the owner to come in and play the piano for an hour. She brings him along, and they play a song he wrote called Falling Slowly. He gives her a rough idea of the music, starts off slowly and lets her join in. They play tentatively at first, slowly getting used to another person sharing their space. And as they grow in confidence, the music begins to soar. As a scene that shows the developing bond between them, it is nothing short of perfect.

It also serves to set up a later solo where he is in his room, singing a song about his breakup with his girlfriend. Home video clippings of them together plays in the background. It is clear that he hasn’t still gotten over her. But as he sings, you hear her (the girl, not the ex-girlfriend) voice slowly coming in, providing the harmony to his lead vocals. A part of you recognizes this and says, “Yes, this feels about right.”

These days, there is at least one big budget Hollywood musical coming out every year. Most of the time, the music is just an excuse to stage a big production number. But every once in a while, a movie comes along to remind you that the music doesn’t need the help.

ps: This post is an entry to the Reel-Life Bloggers contest organized by and


6 thoughts on “Freeze Frame #132, #133: Once

  1. Facing the µ (Sic!) says:

    (We all know what follows Lambda, don’t we? Or, “phasing the music” like when things gets too heady. And God knows I can’t stand cats, especially the curious kind, so there — Three ways of looking at this one phrase!) 🙂

    “music doesn’t need the help” — That’s such an interesting sound bite. And it’s so true. I guess When music chooses to “move” you, imbue your life with meaning (or manic depression!), there’s no stopping that tour de force teleportation (at warp-speed, if you are “Star Trek”-struck, or CE3K-struck for that matter) to wherever it is that your better senses warn you against venturing.

    Though it may not seem like it at the outset, some of us are lucky to be bit by the music bug (or mangled by the music monster) rather late in life.

    Take, for instance, my tryst with rock music (the classic kind). I’m guessing the only way I so successfully dodged being so much as drenched by this phenomenon-of-the-times that practically drowned everyone-else-with-even-a-wee-bit-of-an-ear-for-music in its delightfully deadly downpour — or punched (black?)holes thru every college-goer’s consciousness, if you’re the sadomasochistic kind or cosmologically inclined) — was by pulling a tarp taut over either tympanum! (But seriously, didn’t the copiously talented clubbers on our campus do whatever it took to ensure that each one of us did “arrive”? But somehow, it seems, that collective “click” thing rarely translates to transformed (musical) taste buds, individually speaking.

    As for me, it wasn’t until I heard — a year or so back, for the first time — songs like Ian Anderson’s wistful “Bends Like a Willow” or the ethereal, not-entirely-environmental “Heavy Water” that I felt the tectonic plates inside of me shifting (talk about being rocked to the core!).

    It’s not that I’ve morphed overnight into this rock junkie so much as a born-again Anderson acolyte. It’s endlessly fascinating to wonder how on earth did it become possible for someone like me, who’s never cared for the form in any big way to begin with, to suddenly stoop to worship one of its foremost icons. I never imagined that a rock-band biography would wind its way to the top of my summer reading list (comprising all of THREE books). But yeah, “stranger things have happened.”

    Scott Allen Nollen painstakingly chronicles three decades of Tull history as only a rabid fan can, while folks like me leap right past (what feels like) a laundry list of album trivia, statistics, rankings and so forth (simply because we have no mental
    yardstick with which to gauge what it all means, having never really paid conscious attention to the music of the times), just so we can soak up all the anecdotes Anderson has to share — he’s as deadpan a humorist as they come and, seemingly, the rarest of rare breeds of “Rock Gods” who are incredibly grounded despite their daring originality.

    Nollen culls this Anderson quote about music, from the 22 July 1971 issue of Rolling Stone: “I don’t think music should be easy to listen to. I think music of all kinds should require an effort from everyone involved. Both musicians and audience should be struggling toward something, even if it’s not necessarily the same thing.”

    How antithetical to the premise I begin this comment with! I know…Such is life. Chockfull of contradictions. But the best part is, of course, facing the music! 😀

  2. Facing the Mew S(ht)ick says:

    Said I can’t stand cats, did I? Guess every loathing has its notable exceptions.

    Check out Garfield’s week-long sadomasochistic saga starting Monday, and tell me there’s a way to somehow NOT stand this cat! 😀 (By God, does he make us look at “Oh what a tangled web we weave” in new light.)

  3. (meta)Musical Warp says:

    I’m not really that into book reviews. I do manage to read the NYT ones that wend their way to the local paper’s Sunday section, though — such as this April 12 review of The Song Is You featured in today’s that instantly reminded of the last line of this post (yet again!).

    The book supposedly draws its title from a Keeley Smith song I haven’t heard (or heard of), written/composed by O. Hammerstein/J Kern. Its premise seemed tortuously interesting: Muse and Music are in the same room, making Magic, without so much as sniffing one another’s hair, let alone touch!

    And, surreal as it may sound, just as I read this piece, that Dan Hill number (yes, from the sweet 70s sandwiched between the
    soaring 60s and the stupendous 80s…or did I get that all mixed up?) came on the radio, and its irony was not at all lost on me!

    But hey, isn’t there a way to “touch,” to transform, in a non-literal sense, called metaphormosis or something? 😀

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