“I wanted to turn it into a hit.”
Remember that beautiful scene in John Carneys’ Once that was just two lost souls in a music shop bonding over a piano? There was nothing else, just the people singing. Finding themselves in music, in the discovery of a relationship, playing a heartbreaking song. It was so simple it wrenched your heart. The voices were so strong, so pure and unproduced. There was no backing, just the piano and guitar. The camera was appropriately shaky, it wasn’t polished or perfect or digital. It looked real.
If you want a perfect image of how much the world has changed since we were privy to that beautiful moment in a Dublin music shop in 2007, you can’t go past Begin Again. A lot has changed since 2007. I didn’t even have an email account until the end of the year before. Facebook or MySpace or anything hadn’t even crossed my mind. What once was shaky and imperfect is now polished, what was once Ireland is now New York. It’s the globalisation of the world, opening up previously secluded corners and joining everyone together. Everyone is moving into the global sphere, getting social media, going to America, connecting across the world. They’re no longer in the music store in Dublin, they’re in the boats in Central Park.
Carney has, by and large, pretty much updated his no-budget, breakout hit. It’s again a fish-out-of-water story, a musician in a foreign country trying to find themselves amidst hardship. It’s about love, forgiveness, family, heartbreak, collaboration, and getting a new lease on life. We even have a very similar scene to that in the music shop which I previously mentioned, where people bond over a shared passion, we experience connections and relationships forming, intimate moments. Only, this time, it’s viewed through a laptop. This time there’s name actors, established stars. This time it’s shot on a proper cinema camera. It’s polished, colourful, summery. There’s full backing tracks, music production, full sound with no background noise, and it looks polished and perfect. This time it’s legally filmed. It may not look as authentic or realistic, but the heart pounding passion and exhilaration of the music and the thrill of the moment, the talent of the cast (particularly Keira Knightley. It’s always great to see her in something. And it’s awesome to see James Corden getting some work) that made Once so great, is still there.
I guess the biggest take away from Begin Again is that the connections aren’t gone. They’re still there, human connections are still raw and real. We’ve simply changed. We connect in different ways now. Sometimes they are comparatively better, sometimes worse. Who knows? All is know is that how we feel these threads, technology, money, the internet, how we get to know each other, has changed, but it’s still there, and still needs to be felt. It may be more ‘American’, more polished, and feel more the product of someone who is new to a place and still sees it as magical than a local; we may know from the outset that Violet (Hailee Steinfield) is in fact going to be a kickass guitar player despite what her mum and dad say in a hilarious scene. What was once a Hoover is now two sets of headphones and an iPod, a piano is now a voicemail. Characters now film the band playing on their phones. But it still stays true to its roots, like Carney has in the rather funny addition of plot points surrounding illegal filming and outside settings that integrate the sounds of New York into the music. The headphones aren’t Bluetooth, they’re held together with a good, old, reliable splitter. And, like Once, it’s the kind of film that just cuts through all the sadness, all the terrible people and events and second guessing the goodwill of the human race, and just wins you over. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but its so goddamn charming. It even didn’t do what I was hoping it wouldn’t!
We still need our communities. Those people that we record music in the subway and rooftops of buildings with, and playing amazing dancing games with. Why do we need to turn it into a hit? It may look different, but the heart is still there. It’s not about the end result, but the getting there, the sharing the experience that’s important. And that’s something Begin Again shows in spades.