Talking Movies

June 23, 2015

Orson Welles: Posing as Polymath, Playing the Fool

Orson Welles is being feted anew for the centenary of his birth, and he even projected his personality from beyond the grave with the 2013 publication of My Lunches with Orson. Peter Biskind edited long-neglected tapes of Welles’ weekly LA lunches with fellow director Henry Jaglom to produce a book of rip-roaring table talk. But having Welles captured on tape gives rise to an unsettling thought about his late career… Here’s a teaser for my HeadStuff piece on Welles.

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Some academics are now stressing the performative aspect of interviews. When writers give interviews, what they say in them can’t be neatly filed with what they write in letters or diaries, because an interview is a public dialogue not a private monologue, and two self-conscious performances are colliding for the sake of publicity. Indeed Welles requested that Jaglom tape their conversations for posterity, so there is undoubtedly an added dimension of self-conscious showing off on his part. There is also the further understanding that a good raconteur is not hobbled unnecessarily by facts or consistency. So Humphrey Bogart is a coward who only starts fights in places where he knows the waiters will intervene in one story, and a man of true courage and admirable integrity in another story – for the sake of the story.

Click here to read the full article on how Welles’ areas of expertise multiply, how he indisputably talks nonsense about Verdi, and how this need to be feted as a renaissance man may have scuppered his chances of a HBO show.

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June 18, 2015

The Irish Dramatic Revival 1899-1939

I was lucky enough last night to attend the launch in the Abbey theatre of Professor Anthony Roche’s latest book The Irish Dramatic Revival 1899-1939.

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Professor Patrick Lonergan of NUIG, who edited the book for Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, gave a generous introductory speech; noting as an undergraduate in UCD in 1993 he had been struck by the way Roche presented his lectures as if he’d just rushed from a good play either in the Gate or in UCD Dramsoc’s LG theatre and was eager to tell his students about it so they could experience it too. Indeed Lonergan claimed that he remembered lectures Roche gave then more vividly than lectures he’d heard in the last month. Roche’s interest in, and support for, UCD Dramsoc was attested to by the presence of former students Caitriona Ennis, Caitriona Daly, and Eoghan Carrick, now rising stars of the Dublin theatre scene as the founding members of We Get High On This theatre company.

Fiach Mac Conghail, the artistic director of the Abbey, praised Roche for inscribing performance into the study of the Revival. Yeats may have prioritised a literary theatre, but he still needed actors to speak his words, and Mac Conghail noted that without the Fay brothers and the Allgood sisters the early Abbey would not have succeeded. He also noted that Roche had a telling eye for gossip in detailing the power struggles by which Yeats managed to subvert a democracy of actors and writers, and instead form a smaller unit; centred on himself; who decided what plays to perform and who to cast in them. Mac Conghail observed that questions of art and commerce as were laid bare in the book still beset the current Abbey board, and that the duality of the theatre was captured by the term ‘show-business’.

Mac Conghail also praised Roche for matching his prioritisation of the collaborative nature of the Abbey repertory players and the Abbey writer/directors with a reinstatement of the influence on the Abbey writers, particularly JM Synge and Sean O’Casey, of Henrik Ibsen; a reinstatement practised in the Abbey’s current season which deliberately followed a new version of Hedda Gabler with a revival of The Shadow of a Gunman. Mac Conghail also promised that Shaw would return to the Abbey at Christmas (Which Shaw? Wait and See), and praised the work done by Roche, as well as Frank McGuinness, in writing Shaw back into the narrative of the Revival; ‘The Absent Presence’ as Roche’s chapter dubs him. Roche launched the book officially by noting that Bloomsbury’s offer to write a book accessible to general audiences gave him a chance he’d been waiting for – to tell the long narrative of the theatrical Revival.

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Director Patrick Mason and Prof. Tony Roche

The Irish Dramatic Revival: 1899-1939 by Professor Anthony Roche is published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama.

The Gigli Concert on HeadStuff

The Gigli Concert is coming to the end of its run, so if you need any further encouragement to rush now to the Gate Theatre here’s a teaser for my review for HeadStuff.org.

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The play takes place entirely within the dingy office of JPW King (Declan Conlon), an Englishman who has washed up in Dublin as a ‘Dynamatologist’. King’s quackery has reduced him to sleeping on his office’s pull-out sofa, from where he is roused by a possible patient, the unnamed Irishman (Denis Conway). A property developer in the midst of a psychotic break, the Irishman has become transfixed by a vinyl record of the Italian tenor Gigli, and needs to sing like the great man. King realises he is out of his depth, and wants to refer this potentially dangerous man to a real psychiatrist, someone who will prescribe drugs instead of talking quasi-scientific motivational palaver about atomic realignment. But the Irishman insists King is the man for the job, and King becomes obsessed himself – with proving dynamatology can achieve the impossible.

Click here to read the full review on HeadStuff.

June 12, 2015

Let Us Prey

Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham is a mysterious figure causing chaos at the police station of a small Scottish town in this gory Scottish-Irish co-production.

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PC Rachel Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh) has transferred to a small Scottish town, where her tightly-wound reputation precedes her. She instantly arrests local hooligan Caesar Sargison (Brian Vernel), and is surprised by the casual brutality of her supposedly religious superior Sgt Macready (Douglas Russell) and his unashamed leering at the teenage Caesar changing into prison garb. Her crude fellow constables Mundie (Hanna Stanbridge) and Warnock (Bryan Larkin) seem little better, ignorant of the police’s own call-signs when she reports a hit-and-run. When the apparent victim is brought in things get truly peculiar. He knows the darkest secrets of wife-beating prisoner Beswick (Jonathan Watson) and respected doctor Hume (Niall Greig Fulton), has a notebook full of names crossed out, and speaks of the reckoning to come at midnight. He has no name, only his suggestive cell number identifies him – Six (Liam Cunningham)…

The script by Fiona Watson and David Cairns plays this set-up quite straight. There are shades of Supernatural at play. Let Us Prey recalls the demonic Rio Bravo episode where the Winchesters were assailed by hordes of Lilith’s minions in an isolated police station, but it comes closest to Supernatural’s orbit in Six’s motivation. Six approaches Eric Kripke’s rendering of Lucifer as someone who lost an argument and is still determined to prove he was right, when he insists that forgiveness is an act of condoning and that the guilty must be punished for their sins. In fact Watson and Cairns at times seem almost to be riffing on JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, but that the dark secrets are being ferreted out by an equally dark angel. Everybody has a secret. They have been gathered together, for a purpose.

Commercials director Brian O’Malley makes his feature debut and his directorial control is admirable, and evident from the startling first appearance of Six landing on the Scottish coast in the midst of a crashing wave. His cinematographer Piers McGrail (Kelly + Victor, Glassland, The Canal) helps achieve a very precisely measured horror film that largely teases its gore rather than splash it about the screen, until the finale. Production designer James Lapsley renders the police station’s subterranean holding cells repulsively grotty, but there too many establishing shots of the most deserted town in Scotland. Arguably the power of Six has emptied the streets and filled them with crows, but it’s almost impossible not to think about budget constraints; and it distracts from the duels for power between Rachel, Macready, Mundie, Warnock, and Six as midnight approaches and the body-count rises.

Let Us Prey becomes increasingly outré, but the masochistic imagery of the fiery witching hour finale is certainly very memorable, and the gore and character arcs amp up pleasingly.

3/5

June 9, 2015

IFI Open Day

The IFI is holding its annual Open Day on Saturday June 20th with an expanded line-up of free movies running from 1pm to 1am. As well as the free movies, and the customary barbecue in the courtyard and special discount on annual IFI membership, there are also some new attractions. Here’s a teaser of my preview for HeadStuff.org.

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The Tiernan McBride library will host a pop-up museum of cinema equipment, a pop-up picture house showing films from the vaults, and at 11.30, 14.30, and 16.30 tours of the vault. The tours have limited places, which can be booked at scorrigan@irishfilm.ie, as well as tours at 14.00, 15.00, 16.30, and 17.00 which bring you behind the theatre to see the projectionist at work; handling anything from digital, 16mm, and 35mm, up to 70mm – the IFI being the only cinema in the country that can run 70mm reels. And for younger cinephiles, at 12.00 artist Laura Healy will facilitate a ‘build your own time machine’ workshop. Places are limited, and must be pre-booked, and feature the option of family tickets for Back to the Future

But what are the free movies? Well, click here to read the guide to the 15 films being shown in Temple Bar.

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