The Celtic Tiger ‘Unplugged’: DV realism, liveness, and sonic authenticity in Once (2007)

Nessa Johnston

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    Once (2007) is described by its director Carney as ‘a modern day musical’, eschewing the elaborately staged set-pieces associated with the film musical genre in favour of a more intimate style in which the songs arise ‘naturalistically’. Depicting the friendship between two musicians towards the end of ‘Celtic Tiger’-era Dublin, the film won critical acclaim and commercial success worldwide, confounding expectations of such a low-budget feature, shot cheaply on digital video. The commercial success of Once exemplifies the ‘rags-to-riches’ heroics of shoestring feature production in the millennial digital era. Yet the narrative of Once is paradoxically uneasy with digital technology and instead articulates what Philip Auslander (and others) term ‘rock authenticity’, fetishizing the ‘live’, the ‘lo-fi’ and the ‘acoustic’ in music. The overall approach to the sound of the film aspires towards ‘liveness’, as the use of location sound recording for the song sequences provides a particular textural quality that incorporates background noise and environmental reverberation, or ‘materializing sound indices’. This article uses analysis of the construction of sound space and sound-image relations in Once to demonstrate how this formal approach works with the narrative to communicate texturally a particular notion of ‘authenticity’ and ‘liveness’ of the film. This will be supplemented with analysis of discourses of authenticity used in the film’s publicity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)25-38
    Number of pages14
    JournalThe Soundtrack
    Issue number1
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Apr 2014


    • Ireland
    • digital video
    • indie
    • liveness
    • musicals


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