Monday, November 13, 2017

Pat Collins' SONG OF GRANITE gives us -- very elliptically -- the story of Joe Heaney and traditional Irish singing

Filmed with the kind of breathtaking black-and-white cinematography that will have aficionados drooling, this year's Irish entry into the Best Foreign Language Film sweepstakes is a movie entitled SONG OF GRANITE, directed and co-written by Pat Collins, a documentary filmmaker who in 2012 gave us his first narrative movie, Silence, and has now come up with this new one, which traces the life, parental history and career of a man named Joe Heaney, of whom TrustMovies had never heard but who was evidently known as a great singer of traditional Irish songs.

Mr. Collins, pictured at right, possesses a highly poetic sensibility, and he and his cinematographer (Richard Kendrick) have contrived a movie so steeped in gorgeous images -- there's one, of a father and son sitting in front of a stone wall and doorway, that I could look at, I think, maybe forever -- that you don't want to look away from the screen for even a moment.

The poetry goes beyond mere images, as Collins also tells his tale by moving back and forth in time and and also by interspersing archival images with those he and Kendrick has more recently created. At film's end he even joins the older Heaney man with his younger self across both time and a lovely outdoor landscape.

If only Song of Granite's aural qualities were anywhere near its visual ones.

Granted, I am not the best person to judge this, since I knew next to nothing about traditional Irish singing going into the movie (if I've ever hear much of it previously, I most likely and immediately tuned it out).

Coming out of this film, I am most definitely not a fan. I find this particular musical genre consistently dour, repetitive and an absolute drudge to hear.

I would estimate that there is at least as much song here as there is dialog (maybe twice as much, unless I am letting my distaste for the genre get the better of me). At times I felt like turning off the sound completely, but then I'd have missed some of the English dialog (much of the film's is spoken in Irish/Gaelic, I am guessing, with accompanying English subtitles).

Eventually I had to content myself with those visuals and with the interesting performances of the cast Collins has assembled, beginning with that of Colm Seoighe, above, as the youngest of the Joes, and especially that of Michael O'Chonfhlaola (three photos up, at microphone) as the adult-to-middle-aged Joe, who has a beautifully sculpted face that seems designed to please the camera.

Because Collins jumps around so much, but does so poetically, while we don't always get the details, we can follow both the story and the emotions it and its characters convey. If you've a taste for traditional Irish singing, by all means see this film. If you're a novice to the genre, Song of Granite is certainly one place to start learning. And if you're not a fan, well then, you know what you're in for.

From Oscilloscope Laboratories and running 104 minutes, the movie opens in New York City at Film Forum this Wednesday, November 15; in Los Angeles on December 8 at Laemmle's Monica Film Center; and in Santa Fe on December 29 at the Jean Cocteau Cinema.

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