A quiet and artistic observation on the life of Joe Heaney, Song of Granite (2017), directed by Pat Collins (Silence, 2012), is a piece that may exclude some audiences due to its lack of narrative, but will certainly provide an interesting experience to those that commit until the very end.
Led by three actors portraying the traditional Irish singer Joe Heaney at three chapters of his mysterious life, showing him at various ages in his life. As this isn’t a biopic – due to its lack of detail and the director’s disinterest in filling the gaps of his elusive life with fictitious elevation – each chapter involves more of a fly-on-the-wall approach in a world with minimal dialogue and plenty of song.
In the first chapter we follow Joe as a boy, played by Colm Seoighe (Black 47, 2018), in the small county of Carna in Galway, Ireland, as he spends time by himself in the beautiful countryside and alongside his father – his introduction to sean-nós singing. We see Joe praised by those around him for his singing, most importantly by his father. Life in the village is slow and secluded for Joe until he’s introduced to the outside world and their interest in sean-nós singing, causing his horizons to broaden.
The piece transitions to Joe in his 40s portrayed by Michael O’Chonfhlaola, and it’s where you can find more of the meat. Here we are further drenched in the tradition of folk music in Ireland, with live performances of various artists including Michael himself – a man untrained in acting but a brilliant sean-nós singer. We also witness Joe’s decision to venture out of Galway and explore the world beyond the rocks and the fields.
The final chapter leaves us with Joe in his 60s played by Macdara Ó Fátharta while living in America and reflecting on his past. He’s now a man worn down, but with strength in his words that sustains the viewer’s desire to know more about him. These three quiet chapters provide the viewer the space to breathe and observe a life without losing themselves in the dazzle of plot and dramatic effect. Remaining outside of Joe’s head keeps this piece interesting and gives life to Joe Heaney – a man complex but like the rest of us.
Although the film has three actors playing the role of Joe at different ages, it feels fluent as the piece transitions from one age to another, with the next age the viewer can feel the weight of the previous age on his back.
A black and white film with striking imagery thanks to the eye of Richard Kendrick (Barbarians Rising, 2016), which allows the viewer to sink themselves deeper into this world Joe exists within. The visuals also provide stimulant during the quiet moments devoid of song or the words of Joe.
A stoic piece by Pat Collins, a director best known for his documentary pieces which has certainly bled into this piece due to its observational angle and handheld style of film making – simply letting the singers sing and the musicians play. Given that we remain outside of Joe’s head throughout it leaves the viewer, if interested, with much to learn about Joe.
Song of Granite is a stunning piece that pays homage to not only a well established sean-nós singer but an Irish tradition altogether that most would’ve missed. This crystallises the film as a fossil, a time capsule, waiting to be discovered and explored. Although, whether or not most would be elated at the finding is best to leave up to discussion.
Dir: Pat Collins
Scr: Pat Collins, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde & Sharon Whooley
Cast: Colm Seoighe, Macdara Ó Fátharta & Michael O’Chonfhlaola
Prd: Alan Maher, Jessie Fisk, Keith Potter
DOP: Richard Kendrick
Running Time: 1h 44min
Song of Granite will be available to purchase between March – June 2018