(The 2017 SXSW Film Festival opened on March 10 and ran all week until March 18. HtN has you covered and GUARANTEE more coverage than any other site! Check out this review of Pat Collins’ Song of Granite, beautifully drawn portrait of Irish folk singer Joe Heaney.)
It is hard to discern whether Pat Collins’ Song of Granite should be considered a biopic or documentary of Irish folk singer Joe Heaney (aka Seosamh Ó hÉanaí), but that hardly matters. No matter how you cut it, Song of Granite is a transcendent portrait of Heaney’s life. If one thing is for certain, Collins magnificently captures the environment that spawned Heaney. Presented in stark black and white, Collins reveals Heaney’s life as one that was perpetually surrounded by song, natural beauty and economic hardships.
Song of Granite begins with a fictional reimagining of Heaney’s childhood. Born in Carna, a village in County Galway, Heaney was immersed in an Irish-speaking culture that was prone to song. Situated on the west coast of Ireland, Carna offered a secluded and idyllic locale for the young Heaney (Colm Seoighe) to hone his pipes. Heaney was raised in the 1920s, which was a difficult time for the people of Carna, as resources were limited and life was quite simple. Despite the economic struggles, Richard Kendrick’s stunning cinematography presents Carna with halcyonic allure. This is essentially what we dream of life in Ireland to be like.
What is most remarkable about Song of Granite is Collins’ refusal to abide by cinematic conventions. There is little to no explanation as to what precisely is going on, and the film takes leaps in its timeline without any warning or acknowledgment. Collins also begins to periodically intersperse archival footage, which can only be differentiated from Collins’ footage by the film’s graininess.
Some of the film’s highlights take place in a local pub with various patrons performing traditional songs. Not only are the performances fantastic, but it once again represents what many people dream of life in Ireland to be like. Most importantly, it portrays Heaney (Michael O’Chonfhlaola) as an everyman – he is just another patron with a voice inside the pub.
The timing of the World Premiere of Song of Granite at South by Southwest not only coincides with St. Patrick’s Day, but also with the promising results of the Northern Ireland elections, which suggest that a united Ireland might not be very far away. Enda Kenny, the Prime Minister of Ireland, also just recently pointed out to President Trump that some of the most influential, powerful, and successful people in the United States are ancestors of Irish immigrants – which was not only a condemnation of Trump’s anti-immigration policies but also a reminder that Irish history is significant to the history of this country.
When it comes to the history of Irish song, Heaney is a perfect place to start. There are certain Irish songs that you have to get, and Heaney performs most (if not, all) of them. Despite what he might say, he sings them all quite well.
– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)