I recently viewed two types of music-orientated films that were typical of the current approach to the music-film continuum, yet they both attempted to progress beyond the normal boundaries of current cinema. Once, the little Irish film with a big heart, and U23D, the big film with a little Irishman.
The first film I saw, Once, has been the recipient of a wave of admiration. The film is a fresh approach to the musical, avoiding the traps that have distanced conventional viewers from musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and more recently, Chicago. Where decadence, elaborate art direction and fully composed songs clutter an otherwise interesting film format, Once strips all that away and therefore becomes more “real”. I use quotations because let’s face it, nothing is real and one person’s vision of romance is as good as another’s. The real I am referring to alludes to the realism that injected itself into cinema in the forties by the Italians, emphasizing the emotions of the everyday person instead of the whimsical inventions of Hollywood stalwarts. The lead protagonist is a vacuum-repair man in Ireland, moonlighting as a heartbroken busker living life on the fringe and one step away from complete collapse. Like many modern men, he wears his heart on his sleeve, but only when he thinks no one is looking. He performs sing-a-long standards to tourists during the day to ensure a healthy influx of pocket change makes it into his guitar case then transforms into a Damien Rice-like character at night when he feels no one is concerned with his moaning. But, someone is concerned and she is equally as damaged and working class as he. They reluctantly begin a friendship that is painful to watch and the songs he writes allow the viewer to hear all the things he wish he could say to the woman who broke his heart and to the new infatuation in his life.
Impressively, the two almost-lovers agree to lay down a few tracks at a real recording studio in an act that proves the two existed together at least once. They never officially become anything other than friends, but they both reconnect with past loves due to the healing process that comes with the cathartic song-writing process. It makes you understand why bands reluctantly play songs that represent damaging periods in their lives. I mean, who wants to relive such a hurtful process in front of hundreds of people? More importantly, you get the feeling that the purpose of musical dialogue is a more fanciful way of interjecting inner thought than the traditional methods of voice over or insightful conversations with side-kicks. It is worthy to note that because of this there are no “supporting” characters, just other people, sort of like our narcissistic society, or lonely society depending upon which end of the romantic-cynical playground you skip around in. But, as far as adding to the canon of important cinema, this film is as important to the musical genre as it is to neo-realism, yet it must be taken with a grain of romantic salt given the progression of Italian cinema into absurdist and surreal camps. No allusion can be taken independently, yet we must re-examine the role of the modern individual in cinema given the implications it has as a reflection of the human condition. I am curious if anyone has any insights into the motivations of the protagonist of Once and his mediocre decision to appease both women in his life. Can he give himself to both? Is it fair?
The next film I saw was U2-3D at the Imax at Navy Pier. I haven’t been there since the Michael Jordan film and I was once again astonished at the size of the screen. I am not sure if Bono needs this increase in size, but if any band can equal the enormity of the Navy Pier Imax, it’s U2. I read in various film magazines that the new trend is to revisit the 3D genre with the new film technology seen in Beowolf. Each major studio has a 3D movie in the works as a means to get people to see movies in a theater again. You can’t watch a bootleg of a 3D movie, so it seems like an effective ploy even if it makes half the population vomit or spin uncontrollably. Plus, the glasses are really fun even if they are covered in popcorn butter or human liquid, which I do not care to elaborate on.
This is a great way to experience your favorite band or a band that is of some interest to you and has a decently recognizable catalogue to choose from, which U2 certainly does. I would never pay to go to a U2 concert for a few reasons, but fifteen bucks seemed okay to me. Among those reasons I add a new one: rabid U2 fans. Wow, this one really shocked me, but every person there sang all the lyrics and bounced in unison like the Korn crowd at Woodstock ’99, but in a peaceful, destroy-artificial-boundaries kind of way instead of an I-can’t-wait-to-kill-someone kind of way. And every woman that came with a man was on his shoulders the entire time like a trophy, which would bother me if I came alone or paid the money to fund the gigantic display that was the backdrop for the band’s performance.
As for the format, I think it was enticing, but they could have done more. Besides watching a 3D version of U2, the only extra was for one song the lyrics were spelled out and thrown at the audience line by line. I had to take my glasses off for this segment because I feared I would projectile vomit on the guy in front of me who kept reaching for The Edge. If there were some design incorporated into the film that took advantage of the 3D format, then I would have been impressed, but as it were the film was just a 3D version of a band I only sort of like. And, to my dismay, they did not include the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. If you are a band as progressive in its political agenda as U2 is and you have a song like this that you leave out of a film that is so cutting edge and will be seen around the globe I feel as though the wrong message is being sent. The euphoria that the crowd and band showed was like a utopian village, but as great as a concert can be, there still is suffering and you should leave a Bono-fronted U2 show feeling optimistic, but not satisfied. That song is the perfect song to end on in our modern world and leaving it out is a detriment to the film and the perception of the band.
If anyone has ever seen U2 live (which I have not) clue me in on some of the details of their shows and let me know if leaving “Still Haven’t Found…” out is a regular thing.