Song of Granite
Director: Pat Collins
Talent: Joe Heaney
Released: 8 December
This biopic (of sorts) focusing on Sean-nós singer Joe Heaney starts strong with some beautiful, monochrome shots of unspoilt vistas in Carn, Galway. Here we meet Heaney as a young introverted boy, blessed with a golden voice, but too retiring in nature to showcase his talents. We observe Heaney’s austere, yet tight-knit community as they go about eking out a living. We see how the artist is formed by his people: Heaney looks on in fascination as his father sings a song into an early recording device a song collector has brought to town. When asked to record one also, young Heaney tells the man he only sings when he is alone. Later, Heaney, grown-up and in exile, tells someone in a bar that when he performs his verses, he truly is alone. The film looks set to be an interesting meditation on aloneness vs community.
A pity then things veer off into meandering obscurity, oscillating between elliptical shots of Heaney working as a doorman in Canada and archival footage of the actual man singing at Newport 66 – a scintillating performer right enough. Once we see the real man, it feels like we’re being shortchanged returning to the actor. The film falls between two stools: it’s never quite a biopic, nor a documentary. The film is even more adrift than Heaney.
And what of the man himself? The film completely demurs from tackling the fact Heaney was an absentee father. We never see any scenes with the family he’s left behind (save for an interview voiceover with his son), so we’re completely in the dark about why he’s sacrificed family for solitude. The films more interested in his paralysis: watch Heaney as he surlily eats lunch with a colleague, take him in as he stares glumly into space. Seeing as all Heaney does is mope and look regretful in his exile, the viewer too starts to get homesick for the open plains of Heaney’s youth.
A hard sell for the uninitiated.
Words: Rory Kiberd