Sunday, January 5, 2014


Road Movies

A friend of mine suggested I watch some Irish movies as homework before I say more on the subject. So for anyone interested here goes. My aim is a film maker's analysis rather than a review of any of the films. The difference is like that in all art and wine. Bad may still be worth consuming and give pleasure though in the end you're hardly better off.

Now, this will only make sense to those who have seen the film when I say that “I Went Down" was finally a disappointment. The main character was underplayed throughout, close on boring in fact while his accomplice was actually very funny and kind of grew on you. It's like the director or the writer or whoever could not make up their minds as to who the hero was meant to be . .  It rather reminded me of “Sideways” where for about a third of the film the hero’s travelling companion takes the central spot. It is subtle and you only realise it when you begin to feel more for the secondary character than the hero. Admittedly the film recovers but only with some heavy footed emotional pounding the hero gets from his ex-wife at his friend’s wedding.

The pivotal point in “I Went Down” when the cheerful accomplice saves the hero's life lacked focus. A shame as it was critical to the plot when from unwilling bed fellows they become friends of sorts. The drama was lessened again when the guy they had kidnapped to bring back to the bad boss revealed himself a far more interesting figure than our hero.

All in all, the plot was too complex to follow or care. The shoot-out scene at the end was slow in coming not to mention that the main villain was so unbelievable. He had the lines, he just about had the face but the body language was totally unconvincing. It made you think, this guy is scaring them? Really? Also, the love interest was underdeveloped to make much sense. As a character the ex-girlfriend was a non-entity. It seemed rather like a stab at padding out. At least she could have been a manipulative bitch who wants more than she deserves or gets. It may be unwarranted to put it all down to bad direction but clearly something's gone wrong.

The camera work was often clever without a good reason which is always a no-no. This is where American cinema excels. Never a self conscious shot. The camera is there to serve the storyline. It is a guide to bring us along and show us whatever it is that we are told. That said, it was still far more intelligent than in "The Eclipse" but that is another story

Friday, January 3, 2014



"Had the real Dublin crumbled . . "? Unfortunately in a very substantial sense the real Dublin has crumbled. Only a short hop to the An Taisce offices or The Georgian Society website will show you the extent of it. Though it is local mess, it continues to shape the nation's image of itself. This is tragic for there are good many people here - remember the thousands that demonstrated against the Wood Quay development? - but the prevailing political ethos is far below this country's best. The peculiar pandering to the lowest common denominator encapsulated so well in the "Sure, it'll do" mentality does no one any favours here.
The Irish who remember the Dublin of the 40ties are few in number and for the most part no longer care. In so many ways Ireland is an extraordinary country but as a community it lacks a sense that it is self governing and that for all it's woes no one else is to blame.

The annihilation of the Irish railway network or the destruction of Georgian Dublin are but two examples of how hell bent this country was on remaking itself. Unfortunately it went about self definition the Taliban way. But cultural identity and a sense of self comes from accepting one's past, from it's ownership, and the built environment is the very fabric in a very concrete form of that shared symbolic order, to use Peter Fuller's phrase.

The pride and spiritual pay off that comes from the care and reconstruction of the past - what the Poles have done in Warsaw for example - is invaluable. The rebuilding of national heritage, much of which was destroyed by acts of ideological vengeance, would help in no small measure to heal the common psyche, the collective unconscious if you will, and allow the Irish to own their past.

On a practical level, this policy would also re-invigorate the craftsmen artisan culture and be a boon to the tourist industry, needles to say. Again, the rebuilding of the Warsaw castle is a case in point.


Irish Film

Image and dialogue are mainly functional categories in film. Useful in direction and production though far less so in screen writing. In other words a film or a play are experienced as a series of actions. There's a great book on this, "Backwards and Forwards" by David Ball. I have a feeling that what some might mean by undue focus on image in Irish film is really quite a recent phenomenon in film in general that came with all the advances in image acquisition and processing technologies. It's only understandable. It was the same with CinemaScope as it is now with 3D. Just look at a Polish disaster of a 3D film "Battle for Warsaw 1920”. It will all pass. In the meantime here are a few thoughts on Irish film in general.

Lack of, a dearth of tragedy. Like everyone knows, the main thing about tragedy is that the hero struggles against all odds for what is believably presented to us as a laudable goal. In true tragedy (and these days very little of it about) the hero's suffering is inflicted upon her or him wantonly. It is a Greek invention. It asserts the basically unreasonable nature of the course of History. This is what makes the Hero's actions heroic, it is a fight for a (generally assumed) Lost Cause. The Hollywood Happy Ending is a clever adaptation of this by making, equally unreasonably, the Good and the Happy triumph. A good book in this context is "The Death of Tragedy" by George Steiner. An example of a film that should perhaps have grasped this tragic mantle is "What Richard Did". I admit I never read the book on which the film is based but if Richard is a hero then we do need to see him far more as an individual with a unique goal and which Gods (and why) decreed his tragic fate.

Local nature of Irish film is a common issue. Often a way out is to focus of the mechanics of the story, the plot itself, see the successful British  "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels". Another approach is to universalise the human condition eg. "The King's Speech". Another angle that has worked well in "Once" for example is to make the story cross cultural.