‘Begin Again’ Director John Carney Redubs Film Ritual

Ritual is an important part of brand narrative. Relating narratives is a ritual, and rituals are also embedded in the actual production and action of narratives.

Let me explain. Going to the movies is a ritual we have all enjoyed. But what we may not realize is, that the act and art of creating a film is also a ritual: filled with moments of joy and despair. (As anyone inside the film community knows, film production is hours of sheer boredom, interrupted by moments of sheer panic.)

Characters within the plot have rituals. Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘The Shining’ for example, acted out the ritual of writing a novel. ‘Game Of Thrones’ is filled with rituals, from sword practice and beheadings to sex romps.

In the new movie ‘Begin Again’ from director John Carney, Keira Knightley plays a young songwriter who, at least in this segment of the movie, is onstage performing her new song. As Carney points out in his narration over a pivotal scene when his two main characters meet for the first time (in a video provided by The New York Times), this scene is an oft-performed movie meme. In fact, Carney points to Judy Garland playing a similar scene in ‘A Star Is Born.’ Part of Carney’s challenge, he explains, is to give this tried-and-true scene a twist that makes the rite something new for his audience.

Actor Mark Ruffalo plays the record producer and A&R man who hears something in Knightley’s music that no one else in the bar can. This is a genre piece, which, by definition, must fit a genre: a cluster of easily consumable memes whose predictability both satisfy and annoy us.

Memes are patterns, icons and actions that make us comfortable. But that comfort embraces a predictability that frustrates our lust for unpredictability.

Hence New York Times’ reviewer A.O. Scott simultaneously likes and dislikes ‘Begin Again,’ without understanding why. “I’m trying to praise this movie with faint damnation,” he concludes. “It’s not very good, but it is kind of enjoyable, at times infectiously so.”

The crowd is a fickle audience. Carney’s new film is scheduled for limited release on July 2.