The Swell Season Captures the War of Fame, Art- and Love

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How it’s New York: the new documentary, The Swell Season, recently showed in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

How it’s Irish: Glen Hansard, the Irish musician, is one of the subjects of the documentary – his life with his ex-partner and fellow Oscar-winner, Marketa Irglová, during their 2007 tour.
Michelle Woods, back from Prague, responds to the documentary The Swell Season.  Half-Czech, half-Irish, Michelle is particularly able to get under the skin of the film, and finds that “the film reveals more than expected.”

Related posts:  Want to hear how it happened? Directors Nick August-Perna and Chris Dapkins (not Carlo Mirabella-Davis, the third director), talk about the film in this podcast.  Song of the week was from The Swell Season.

In my mini-review of the film when it was at Tribeca Film Festival, I gave it an A+, saying “it is hands down the best music movie about the toll of the touring life I’ve ever seen.”
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The Swell Season, a new documentary about Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglová, the
stars of the surprise hit indie movie, Once (for which they won an Oscar for Best Song) takes its title from Hansard’s favorite novel by the Czech author, Josef Skvorecky. The novel follows a hapless hero, Danny, in love with several women and trying to play jazz in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia (it’s also the name of Hansard and Irglová’s music ensemble).
From the documentary, you can see why the novel appeals to Hansard – he comes across as sweet, completely earnest about his music despite all odds and his joy in success. It was a long-time coming in his case – one roadie comments at the sudden reversal in fate, going from 40 people in a pub to Radio City Music Hall.
But at the same time, he’s writhing with demons. The film is ostensibly about his relationship with Irglová as that relationship unravels, not just because of the success, but because of the other relationship in the movie – that of Hansard and his parents. His father is interviewed in the film, complete with open burns from chip-pan fat, after the drunken munchies.

Cut to pictures of Dad as a young man, a boxer with real promise who threw it away. I couldda been a contender, indeed. Glen did it for me, he says, and Hansard’s mother proudly wants her son to be in the news every day, good, bad or ugly. The father doesn’t live through the end of the filming – the drink – and refuses to say what demons led him to it, afraid to inflict it on his family.

Hansard admires him for his silence, but the impact is devastating. In a café on a pretty square in the Czech Republic, Irglová walks out on him, as he verbally wanders through self-destruction and self-doubt.

Irglová hates the fame. Still a teenager when she won the Oscar, Irglová, naturally also sweet-natured and patient, throws a fit when she’s forced to meet fans. Not because she has to talk to them, but because they all want pictures. She can’t fundamentally understand the need to capture the famous – the greediness and pointlessness of the throw-away photo.

The film reveals more than  expected – it ends up being a meditation on the desires and poison of fame, and of the thing that strangely gets lost in celebrity – actual art. We don’t get enough of Irglová, or more than the brief glimpses of the Czech Republic, her home and a place that has become Hansard’s second home. I came away thinking that their lives would have been happier as respected musicians there, or playing those 40 people gigs.
I saw Hansard in the early 1990s fronting a gig with no more than 10 of us in the audience. It was a great gig, but I went home feeling sorry for the band. Maybe they felt sorry for themselves that night. We were all wrong not to see it for the brief beauty it was.

Check back on the Swell Season Movie site for screening times across the country and internationally, and for news of wide release, cable, DVD updates

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Copyright 2011 New York Irish Arts