Song of Granite
Directed by Pat Collins
The life story of traditional Irish folk singer Joe Heaney, who is estimated to have recorded in excess of 500 traditional Irish sean nós ('old style') songs. Heaney moved from Ireland to the UK, and then on to New York City, where he settled shortly after performing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
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★★★★½ review by Philip Bagnall on Letterboxd
This retelling of the life of sean-nós singer Joe Heaney pisses on biopic convention from the heighest height. Cinematography, editing and music reflect Collins’ methodology: all pristine, but never exploited or overused. A film about the little moments between possible dramas, told with confidence and absolute control.
The finest Irish film this century? B’fhéidir
★★★½ review by johnm1978 on Letterboxd
Pat Collins' Song Of Granite is an oblique and often visually ravishing look at the life of Irish folk singer Joe Heaney, a artist known for following a tradition of storytelling crooners who work without instrumentation. The film, which uses three different actors for the central role, is a poetic and sometimes entrancing look at a dying culture and, while biographical details are scant, prior knowledge of the artist's work is not necessary. The beautiful black and white imagery alone provides provides plenty of reason to watch even when what we're supposed to glean is difficult to comprehend. Collins's film is sometimes a great many things, including a catalogue of melancholy moods and a survey of the landscapes, but it's not anything like a standard history lesson despite it's docudrama stylings. It must be noted that there are a number of authentic, uninterrupted performances staggered throughout, making it an unorthodox musical on top of everything else.
★★★★★ review by barlayne fletcher on Letterboxd
Viewed at SXSW
An intimate yet distant portrait of a dying culture. Beauty reflected not through knowledge, but through emotions. Mythology and reality intimately dance with one another in a slow, sure waltz. A black and white world, where truth is scarce and isolation is always in stock. Cinematography is the best I've seen all year, with long takes reminiscent of Haneke or P. T. Anderson, bringing levels of authenticity and atmosphere that's unparalleled by anything else I've seen all year. The editing is phenomenal as well, weaving a seamless tapestry of a man's journey through the world. Everything is so well made, so well put together, yet still so emotionally resonant that it seems like a vision from another world. Truly magical.
★★★½ review by Luis_989 on Letterboxd
Even if you're like me who knows absolutely nothing about Joe Heaney this is a very interesting and entertaining ride.
★★★★½ review by Naoise MacGabhann on Letterboxd
'Song of Granite' is an absolute triumph of modern Irish cinema. From a country who's cultural emphasis seems to be almost entirely dedicated to showing how bad the Brits are, and occasionally paying tribute to a dead language, Pat Collins' has revitalized the spirit of Éire in only 104mins.
On the face of it a black & white biopic about the 1950s seanós singer Joe Heaney doesn't exactly sound all that fresh. Added on the fact that it is as Gaeilge. Yet Collins actually uses this to his advantage. The film is a heart on its sleeve loveletter to Ireland. It's dripping in spirit and that unique Irish authenticity. The Irish culture found here runs rings around the half attempts you'll see in Cáca Milis and other Irish productions.
The film is not only a fascinating portrait of the broken soul Joe Heaney, it's an investigation on what it means to be an artist. The seanós hero was arguably a prick; leaving his family and becoming an alcoholic, yet in Song of Granite I deeply sympathize with him. The film dives into the great conflict all true artists go through; choosing the real empirical world of society, or the lonely spiritual world of self expression.
In one awe-inspiring scene, Heaney, performed wholeheartedly by O'Chonfhlaola, vividly describes the utter loneliness he feels while singing. The scene epitomizing the psychological focus that the film hones in so well. Countless shots demonstrate this isolation, purely visually. Slotting Heaney in distinct frames in the natural background of the film. Usually lost in an endless pastoral landscape.
Collins, in making a powerful Irish classic, has looked deep inside himself for this. Not only analyzing Ireland's vanishing culture, but also what it is to bring it back. Through its symbolic cinematography, earnest performances and bona fide direction, Song of Granite is a glorious work reminding us of the raw authenticity that only our Hibernia can offer. It is undoubtedly my favourite film of the year.
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