Talking Movies

February 12, 2018

ADIFF: Cedric Gibbons

ADIFF is putting a spotlight on the most successful art director in the history of cinema, Dublin-born Cedric Gibbons (1890-1960). Working for MGM from the 1920s, he shaped the sets, props, and costumes for more than a thousand films, and contributed greatly to the studio’s reputation as Hollywood’s number one ‘dream factory.’

He conceived the colossal sets of Ben-Hur (1925); the technicolour realm of The Wizard of Oz (1939); Van Gogh’s world in Lust for Life (1956); and the futuristic setting of Forbidden Planet (1956). And Gibbons’ enthusiasm for abstract art and art deco interiors in the 1930s probably did more to promote modern design than the Bauhaus. Gibbons won eleven Oscars for his art direction, receiving the famous statuette that he himself had designed. Four films showcasing Gibbons’ art direction will be shown as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival at the IFI – The Big Parade (1925) on Mon 26th Feb, 13.30; Dinner at Eight (1933) on Tues 27th Feb, 13.30; Grand Hotel (1932) on Wed 28th Feb, 13.30; and An American in Paris (1951) on Fri 2nd March, 13.30. Tickets are available from www.diff.ie

Reflecting on his own design for Grand Hotel, Gibbons said ‘motion picture settings usually serve the purpose of providing a background for the action of the picture. Here, however, the sets take the role of an actor, becoming one of the central figures in the story’. Gibbons’ influence extended beyond the film set – he designed a white inner office and a Santa Monica beach house for Louis B. Mayer. His own California home is a masterpiece of Art Deco design and the subject of many myths. The young Errol Flynn is reported to have been discovered during an archery session on the grounds of Gibbons’ dream villa. Married to two of the most glamorous movie stars of the era, Dolores del Río and Hazel Brooks, Gibbons was also a Hollywood celebrity.

And yet, he remains an enigmatic character. Proud of his Irish heritage, he claimed Dublin as his birthplace, though others claim he was born in Brooklyn. And how his massive studio – employing dozens of set designers, and costume and prop makers – operated remains a mystery. To explore his life and career, and to unpick these riddles, the Audi Dublin International Film Festival has combined with the MA in Design History and Material Culture at National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in organising a Cedric Gibbons exhibition and conference in NCAD’s gallery in Thomas Street.

The exhibition in the gallery’s foyer features photographs from the American Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences’ archive (weekdays 2-12 March 2018). The conference at NCAD on 2nd March 2018 includes talks on the past, present and future of design in film. Speakers include cultural historian Luke Gibbons, Finn Halligan, chief film critic of Screen International, and professional film designers working today including Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh – the programme appears at www.ncad.ie

Tickets for the Cedric Gibbons Season in the Audi Dublin International Film Festival are available from www.diff.ie. Tickets for the Cedric Gibbons Conference at NCAD on the 2nd March are available at www.ncad.ie/

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January 24, 2018

ADIFF 2018

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 7:41 pm
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The full ADIFF 2018 programme has finally been revealed and Bill Pullman, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Schrader, Cillian Murphy, Barry Keoghan, Lance Daly, Nora Twomey, Paddy Considine, Sandy Powell, and Lynne Ramsay will all be coming to Dublin.  There will be seven World Premieres and a total of over 100 features screened, nearly all receiving their Irish Premiere. Tickets are released for sale at www.diff.ie from 7 pm today and the Box Office is open at 12 East Essex Street (+353 (0) 1 6877974) from 10 am 25thJan.


Gráinne Humphreys, Festival Director, says “This year’s ADIFF programme is a line-up of films that are rich, exciting and wonderful. They reflect the truly global culture of film-making as well as celebrating the strength and depth of Irish film talent. It’s a selection that aims to inspire and entertain film lovers of every age and taste, including the youngest at Fantastic Flix. Our special guests include some of the finest performers and film-makers in the world and I’m particularly delighted to be welcoming our Volta Award recipients, Paul Schrader and Vanessa Redgrave to Dublin. Alongside the very best of new Irish and international cinema, there are echoes of film history in our silent film presentations and Cedric Gibbons Season, and an amazing glimpse of the future at the Immersive Stories: Conference and Exhibition, which brings the pioneers of virtual and augmented reality creation to Dublin.”

Some strands of the programme have already been covered in previous posts so let’s concentrate on what’s new.

Galas and Special Presentations
The Opening Gala will be the Irish Premiere of Black 47, the most hotly-anticipated Irish film of the year. Lance Daly directs this gripping thriller set during the Famine. Lance Daly and a selection of the cast including James Frecheville, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, and Stephen Rea will attend. One of Hollywood’s finest, Bill Pullman, attends the festival for the Irish Premiere of his new Western The Ballad of Lefty Brown, a superb addition to his distinguished body of cinematic work stretching back three decades. Amongst cinema’s most distinctive filmmakers, Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Morvern Callar) visits for the Special Presentation of her Cannes prize-winning thriller You Were Never Really Here. Irish-Spanish co-production, Muse, is a seductive supernatural thriller that was both set and shot in Dublin and will screen as a Special Presentation. Irish director Nora Twomey will attend the long-awaited Irish Premiere Special Presentation of her animated drama The Breadwinner, which has been Oscar-nominated in the Best Animated Feature category for 2018. From Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon, this is a powerful story of an Afghan girl passing as a boy to work to help her family survive. Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave will receive one of the two 2018 ADIFF Volta Awards, the festival’s most prestigious award, for her lifetime of achievement in cinema at the Irish Premiere of her passionate new documentary on the refugee crisis, Sea Sorrow. Her co-director and son Carlo Nero will also attend. Paul Schrader will also receive a Volta Award and is honoured for his extensive work as a director and screenwriter. Schrader’s acclaimed new film First Reformed starring Ethan Hawke will receive its Gala Irish Premiere at the festival. Schrader will also give an in-depth Public Talk and, as this year’s Guest Curator, will introduce three classic films that have inspired his work. Rounding off the festival with the ultimate in escapist cinema, ADIFF 2018’s Closing Gala is C’est La Vie. This funny, irreverent and charming French film is Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s follow-up to their box-office sensation The Intouchables and will leave festival audiences smiling until 2019.

Guest Highlights
The World Premiere of The Delinquent Season sees one of Ireland’s finest playwrights, Mark O’Rowe, make his debut as film director with a tale of two seemingly successful Dublin couples facing unexpected challenges. The stellar Irish cast includes Cillian Murphy and Eva Birthistle, both of whom will attend the premiere. Stacy Cochran will attend the World Premiere of her new film Write When You Get Work, a witty, knowing tale of success and excess on the Upper East Side, shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood). Three-time Oscar-winning Costume Designer Sandy Powell will visit for two new films that showcase her talents. She will take part in a Q&A after Todd Hayne’s Wonderstruck and introduce John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties. One of Ireland’s most provocative and challenging film artists, director Alan Gilsenan attends the World Premiere of his visceral and highly-charged new film, The Meeting. Actor/Director Paddy Considine visits the festival for the screening of his second feature as director Journeyman, a raw, powerful boxing drama in which Considine delivers an unforgettable performance. Canadian director Kathleen Hepburn attends the festival for her intimate portrait of grief and independence Never Steady, Never Still. Director Marc Meyers will attend the screening of My Friend Dahmer, a chilling look at the youth of real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Irish Film and Talent
ADIFF 2018 is packed with Irish talent, with more homegrown highlights with directors in attendance including Irish Premieres of Aoife McArdle’s incendiary debut, Kissing Candice, and Good Favour, the third feature from Rebecca Daly which sees a religious community give shelter to an enigmatic outsider. Director David Freyne will attend the Irish Premiere of his fiendishly clever take on the zombie film, The Cured. Andrew Quirke’s hilarious Dublin double-act hits the big screen with the World Premiere of Damo & Ivor: The Movie.

Crime and Law
French actor-turned-director Xavier Legrand will attend his dazzling debut, Custody, about a court decision that tears a family apart.  Director/co-writer Yves Hinant and his co-writer Jean Libon will attend the screening of So Help Me God, a documentary following the unconventional and sometimes outrageous Belgian judge Anne Gruwez. Warwick Thornton follows his critically-acclaimed Samson & Delilah with an outback Western, Sweet Country. Director Jean-François Hensgens and armed robber-turned-filmmaker François Troukens attend the festival with their slick heist thriller Tueurs/Above the Law. Matthias Heeder attends the screening of Pre-Crime, a documentary exploring ‘protective policing’, a sci-fi staple that is becoming all too real. John McBratney, retired Senior Counsel will chair a special panel discussion on the Crime and Law strand, which also includes The Ciambra, Racer and the Jailbird, The Line, The Meeting and Have a Nice Day.

International Programme
French-language films include Xavier Beauvois’ The Guardians, Laurent Cantet’s The Workshop, Xavier Giannoli’s Apparition and Coralie Fargaet’s Revenge. The wider international selection includes representation from Japan (The Third Murder), Australia (Sweet Country), Indonesia (Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts), Israel (Foxtrot), Ecuador (Yasuni Man), Germany (Casting, In the Fade),Romania (Ana, Mon Amour), Norway (What Will People Say), Argentina (Zama), and Iran (Israfil). The contemporary cinema of Hong Kong is explored in a five-film season, with the support of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office Belgium, that includes a visit from Angie Chen, director of I’ve Got the Blues. The season will also feature intimate war drama Our Time Will Come, the mysterious crime drama Somewhere Beyond the Mist, the offbeat and tranquil coming-of-age drama The White Girl, and dynamic action thriller Paradox. Actress Anna Krotoska will attend the screening of Polish character-driven psychological thriller Tower: A Bright Day. Selected to celebrate the centenary of Polish Independence, there is a rare chance to see Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s 1977 award-winning Death of the President. Highlights from across the Atlantic include sneak previews of Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow, Wes Anderson’s new animation Isle of Dogs, and Liam Neeson in Watergate drama Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House. British selections include Sebastían Lelio’s Disobedience with Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz; Sheila Hancock in Simon Hunter’s Edie; and Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy in Isabel Coixet’s The Bookshop. Irish rising star Jessie Buckley gives a breakthrough film performance in writer/director Michael Pearce’s dark and delicious new British film Beast. English-language international documentaries include an intimate look at Leon Vitali’s life as Stanley Kubrick’s right hand man in Film-worker, the unexpected treat of a second visit to the Beales of Grey Gardens in That Summer, the swinging sixties narrated by Michael Caine in That Generation, and a magical time capsule of found footage in Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time.

Cedric Gibbons
Dublin-born Cedric Gibbons was the most successful art director in the history of cinema, responsible for MGM’s reputation as Hollywood’s number one ‘dream factory’. ADIFF 2018 celebrates his work with the Cedric Gibbons Retrospective featuring The Big Parade, Dinner at Eight, Grand Hotel, and An American in Paris, as well as a one-day conference at NCAD Gallery from 2nd March. An exhibition will run at the NCAD Gallery 2nd-31st March.

Awards
Film-goers themselves will select their favourite film of the Festival with the AUDI-ence award. The winning film-makers will be flown to the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019 where they will enjoy a true VIP Audi experience. This year’s ADIFF Discovery Award nominees are a testament to the strength of and depth of the new generation of film talent making their mark in a competitive but thriving industry. The nominees are actors Ryan Lincoln (Kissing Candice), Jessie Buckley (Beast), Rory Fleck Byrne (Inbox), Actors/Directors/Writers TJ O’Grady Peyton (Wave) and Liz Quinn (The Date), Director/Cinematographers Rua Meegan & Trevor Whelan (both Bardalo II: A Life of Waste); directors Mia Mullarkey (Mother & Baby), Louise Bagnall (Late Afternoon); and producer Sharon Cronin (Acorn).

Special Events, Shorts and the Surprise Film
One of the most popular and revered slots in the programme, the identity of the Just Eat Surprise Film is a tightly-guarded secret known only to the Festival Director but it always rewards the bold and the brave. The festival has expanded its ADIFF Shorts selections to four programmes of the best short films from Ireland and around the world, featuring both established talent and the next generation of film-makers cutting their teeth. The meeting point between audiences, critics, talent and industry that the festival provides extends far beyond the cinema screen in the ADIFF Special Events. This year’s events will include a Writers’ Masterclass with Laurence Coriat and an Audiences Panel with Ben Luxford, Head of UK Audiences at the British Film Institute. After the success of last year’s exhibition capturing Irish talent, ADIFF will present the second exhibition by Hugh O’Conor featuring intimate portraits of his colleagues in the Irish film industry.

Check out the new ADIFF Podcast at http://bit.ly/2DzwFt3

So, here’s the full ADIFF 2018 schedule, notably lacking any shows in the Savoy; with the Odeon Point and Cineworld 17 stepping into the vacuum left by Savoy 1’s dismemberment – of which more soon.

Wednesday 21st February
21.00 Black 47   Cineworld 17
Opening Gala

Thursday 22nd February
Fantastic Flix -11.00 My Neighbour Totoro   Lighthouse 1
14.00 Yasuni Man   Lighthouse 3
18.00 First Reformed  Cineworld 9 
Paul Schrader in attendance
18.00 Our Time Will Come   Lighthouse 3
18.30 Death of the President   Lighthouse 1
20.00 The Breadwinner   Cineworld 17
Featuring Q&A with Nora Twomey
20.30 Somewhere Beyond The Mist   Lighthouse 3
20.45 Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House   Cineworld 9

Friday 23rd February
14.00 Pickpocket   Lighthouse 1
Introduction by Paul Schrader
16.00 Performance   Lighthouse 1
Introduction by Paul Schrader
16.00 The White Girl   Lighthouse 3
18.15 Beast   Cineworld 9
18.15 Never Steady, Never Still   Lighthouse 1
In attendance: Kathleen Hepburn
18.30 I’ve Got the Blues   Lighthouse 3
In attendance: Angie Chen
20.45 In the Fade   Lighthouse 1
21.00 Paradox   Lighthouse 3
22.45 Revenge   Lighthouse 1

Saturday 24th February
09.00 Immersive Stories Conference   Round Room, Mansion House
11.00 Dawson City: Frozen Time   Lighthouse 1
12.00 Film Festivals Programmers Speed Dating & Networking Session   Lighthouse Bar
14.00 ADIFF Shorts 1   Lighthouse 3
14.00 An Autumn Afternoon   Lighthouse 1
Introduction by Paul Schrader
16.15 Sweet Country   Lighthouse 1
16.30 That Summer   Lighthouse 3
16.30 The Divine Order   Cineworld 9
18.00 Immersive Stories Exhibition   Round Room, Mansion House
18.15 The Line   Lighthouse 3
18.30 The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid   Lighthouse 1
Film-maker in attendance
18.45 The Guardians   Cineworld 9
20.00 Immersive Stories Exhibition   Round Room, Mansion House
20.00 The Ballad of Lefty Brown Cineworld 17
In attendance: Bill Pullman
20.30 The Ciambra   Lighthouse 3
20.30 Tueurs / Above the Law   Lighthouse 1
In attendance: François Troukens, Jean-François Hensgens
20.50 Write When You Get Work   Cineworld 9
Stacy Cochran in attendance

Sunday 25th February
09.00 Immersive Stories Conference   Round Room, Mansion House
11.00 Filmworker   Lighthouse 1
13.00 ADIFF Shorts 2   Lighthouse 1
14.00 Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle   Lighthouse 3
14.00 The Bookshop   Cineworld 9
15.30 What Will People Say   Lighthouse 1
16.15 Wonderful Losers: A Different World   Lighthouse 3
Film-maker in attendance
18.00 Immersive Stories Exhibition   Round Room, Mansion House
18.00 Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts   Cineworld 9
18.00 Thirst Street   Lighthouse 3
In attendance: Nathan Silver
18.30 Behind the Door   Lighthouse 1
Musical accompaniment: Stephen Horne
20.00 Immersive Stories Exhibition   Round Room, Mansion House
20.10 The Workshop   Lighthouse 2
20.15 The Cured   Lighthouse 1
David Freyne in attendance

Monday 26th February
13.30 The Big Parade   IFI
17.00 Casting   Pavilion Theatre
18.10 Madame   Cineworld 9
18.15 Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts   Lighthouse 3
18.15 The Rider   Lighthouse 1
18.30 The Science of Ghosts   IFI
Film-maker in attendance
20.00 The Divine Order   Pavilion Theatre
20.30 ADIFF Shorts 3   Lighthouse 3
20.30 Tower: A Bright Day   Cineworld 9
20.30 You Were Never Really Here   Lighthouse 1
In attendance: Lynne Ramsay

Tuesday 27th February
13.30 Dinner At Eight   IFI
18.10 The Summit   Lighthouse 1
18.15 My Generation   Cineworld 9
18.30 Pre-Crime   Lighthouse 3
In attendance: Matthias Heeder
18.30 Phantom Islands   IFI
Film-maker in attendance
20.30 Good Favour   Lighthouse 1
Filmmaker in attendance
20.45 Israfil   Lighthouse 3

Wednesday 28th February
13.30 Grand Hotel   IFI
16.00 ADIFF Shorts 4   Lighthouse 2
Featuring ADIFF Awards presentation
17.50 Twilight   Lighthouse 2
In attendance: Pat Collins
Fantastic Flix – 18.15 Lean On Pete   Cineworld 9
18.30 Custody   Lighthouse 1
In attendance: Xavier Legrand
18.30 Isle of Dogs   Cineworld 17
18.45 While You Live, Shine   Lighthouse 2
In attendance: Paul Duane
20.30 Red Sparrow   Cineworld 17
20.45 Muse   Lighthouse 1
20.45 Zama   Lighthouse 3
20.45 Thoroughbreds   Cineworld 9

Thursday 1st March
French Producer’s Summit   The Digital Hub
10.00 Careers Day   IFI
Fantastic Flix – 10.00 Cloudboy   Omniplex Rathmines
Fantastic Flix – 13.00 At Eye Level   Movies@Dundrum
16.00 Catch the Wind   Lighthouse 1
18.10 Wonderstruck   Cineworld 9
Film-maker in attendance
18.15 Disobedience   Lighthouse 1
18.15 The Image You Missed   Lighthouse 2
In attendance: Donal Foreman
20.30 Ana, Mon Amour   Lighthouse 3
20.30 Foxtrot   Lighthouse 1
20.45 Apparition / L’Apparition   Cineworld 9

Friday 2nd March
Fantastic Flix – 10.00 Vampirina   Lighthouse 3
Film-maker in attendance
Fantastic Flix – 11.00 Rum 213    Omniplex Rathmines
In attendance: Wilma Lundgren
Fantastic Flix – 11.30 Cloudboy   Lighthouse 3
Fantastic Flix – 12.30 Liyana   Movies@Dundrum
13.30 An American in Paris   IFI
14.00 Writers’ Workshop Laurence Coriat   Brooks Hotel Cinema
18.10 Damo & Ivor: The Movie   Cineworld 17
Film-maker in attendance
In attendance: Rob Burke, Ronan Burke & Cast
18.10 The Other Side of Everything   Lighthouse 3
18.15 The Camino Voyage   IFI
In attendance: Dónal Ó Céilleachair
18.15 Hannah   Light House 1
20.30 Have a Nice Day   Lighthouse 3
20.30 The Third Murder   Cineworld 9
20.45 Kissing Candice   Lighthouse 1
In attendance: Aoife McArdle

Saturday 3rd March
Fantastic Flix -11.00 Fantastic Flix Shorts Omniplex   Rathmines / Lighthouse 3
Fantastic Flix -11.00 Mary and the Witch’s Flower   Lighthouse 1
12.00 Judicial Review: Law on Film
13.15 So Help Me God   Lighthouse 1
In attendance: Yves Hinant, Jean Libon
13.50 Casting   Lighthouse 3
14.00 Catalyst Case Study – Kissing Candice   Bow St Academy
15.45 The Meeting   Lighthouse 1
16.00 Sea Sorrow   Cineworld 17
In attendance: Vanessa Redgrave and Carlo Nero

16.00 How to Talk to Girls At Parties   Lighthouse 3
Sandy Powell in attendance
18.10 Sicilian Ghost Story   Cineworld 9
18.15 A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot   Lighthouse 1
In attendance: Sinéad O’Shea
18.30 Journeyman   Lighthouse 2
Film-maker in attendance
20.30 The Delinquent Season   Lighthouse 1
Mark O’Rowe, Cillian Murphy, and Eva Birthistle in attendance
20.45 A Prayer Before Dawn   Cineworld 9

Sunday 4th March
Fantastic Flix -11.00 The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales   Light House 1
In attendance: Patrick Imbert
12.00 Edie   Light House 3
12.00 Vanessa Redgrave Volta Presentation   The Gate
13.30 Racer and the Jailbird   Cineworld 9
14.00 The Italian Straw Hat (The Horse Ate the Hat)   Light House 1
Musical accompaniment: Günter A. Buchwald, Matthew Jacobson, Nick Roth, Derek Whyte
16.10 My Friend Dahmer   Cineworld 9
16.15 A Gentle Creature   Light House 1
17.00 Just Eat Surprise Film   Odeon Point
Featuring special presentation
19.00 Under the Tree   Light House 1
20.00 C’est La Vie   Cineworld 17
Closing Gala

Exhibitions:
Wednesday 21st February – Sunday 4th March
Celebrating Irish Talent Exhibition   Powerscourt Town Centre

Friday 2nd March – Saturday 31st March
Cedric Gibbons Exhibition   NCAD Galway

Wednesday 21st February – Sunday 4th March
Exhibition: Brown Bag Films Behind the Scenes   Lighthouse

Wednesday 21st February – Sunday 4th March
NCAD Exhibition   Lighthouse

November 19, 2014

Any Other Business: Part IX

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a ninth portmanteau post on television of course!

john-finn-copy

Celtic Noir

It seems I wasn’t hallucinating at the cinema a few weeks ago when I saw a teaser for An Bronntanas; in which a severed arm floated past with dead fish on a conveyor belt, a reveal I’d been expecting from the music and cinematography of the sequence; and immediately thought that was something that belonged in a Nordic Noir. TG4’s Deputy CEO, Pádhraic Ó Ciardha, says the series has broken new ground for the channel by establishing a new genre: Celtic Noir. “The direct audience feedback on social media, as well as in media commentary and reviews at home and abroad, confirms to us that An Bronntanas has hit the spot,” he said. “Regular viewers of our channel confirm that it delivers on their requirement for a súil eile approach to drama. Others remark on the innovative visual style and unique dramatic atmosphere – the Celtic Noir that has grabbed their attention in ways not unlike some recent Scandinavian TV crime drama”. TG4 has, as usual, gazumped RTE in showing the likes of Borgen and The Bridge, so it’s unsurprising that its audience noticed the family resemblance. Series Producer Ciarán Ó Cofaigh says, “We believe that we have delivered a drama series that can compete on a world stage. Personally, it is particularly satisfying to achieve this through the Irish language.” TG4 commissioned Fios Físe, a viewer panel solely comprising fluent Irish speakers, and found An Bronntanas being watched by over 60% of the panel, with approval ratings over 90%. Official TAM Ireland figures show the contemporary thriller has been seen by 340,000 people during the opening four episodes, making it one of TG4’s most popular original drama series ever. The show developed by Galway production company ROSG and Derry’s De Facto Films, cannily cast Cold Case star John Finn (famously unexpectedly fluent in Irish) alongside Dara Devaney (Na Cloigne), Owen McDonnell (Single Handed), Janusz Sheagall, and Charlotte Bradley; and added an impeccable sheen through cinematographer Cian de Buitléir capturing Connemara for director Tom Collins (Kings). The series finale of An Bronntanas airs tomorrow, Thursday 20th November, at 9.30pm on TG4. Check it out – its ambition stands in stark contrast to the drivel being perpetrated by RTE2 these days.

YMuJGu5

 

Bright Lights, Tendentious Theses

I’ve been stewing in annoyance at Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities for some months now; and perhaps it’s the fact that rival art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon has lately completed the second of two far superior BBC 4 shows (Art of China, The Art of Gothic) which has finally brought my ire with Dr James Fox’ series to the boil. Fox set out to show that the 20th Century had been shaped by events in three cities in three particular years: Vienna 1908, Paris 1928, New York 1951. So far, so interesting. Fox, however, frequently seemed to be less interested in presenting a coherent argument than in maintaining his snappy title’s cachet. Jack Kerouac, probably the worst case, was shoehorned into New York 1951 by dint of the fact that he wrote On the Road in 1951. On the Road was published in 1957. How can a work be influencing the zeitgeist if it’s not been published? It doesn’t matter when it was written. For all we know JD Salinger wrote the Great American Novel in 1985 but it’s lost in a steam-trunk in his old shed. But if it was published now it would be coming it devilishly high to talk about it as a critical intervention in the culture of Reagan’s America. Kerouac was the worst but by no means only example of Fox’s tendencies: Brando’s 1951 film performance in A Streetcar Named Desire was hailed, and the fact that he’d originated that part on Broadway in 1947 ignored; Lee Strasberg and his Method were hailed, and the fact that his pupil James Dean didn’t become a star till 1955 ignored; the Method was hailed in vague terms, but any in-depth analysis was eschewed – especially the cult-like tendencies of its adoption in America. The Sun Also Rises was too early for Paris 1928, so instead A Farewell to Arms was praised to the skies; despite being verily self-parody, and featuring a heroine rightly dismissed by Richard Yates in writing workshops. Gershwin’s An American in Paris was rendered more important in the scheme of things than Rhapsody in Blue because it fit Fox’s thesis; and to hell with any internal logic between shows as having bowed down to Schoenberg’s atonal serialism in the previous episode Gershwin’s melodicism was now equally valid – what is ‘modern’ is always wonderful, even if it contradicts what was ‘modern’ last Tuesday (which is no longer modern and therefore no longer valid). Fox is absorbing when he talks about art, but when he ventures into other fields he should take Andrew Graham-Dixon’s lead and, instead of creating titles that act as prisons, embrace wide-ranging titles that allow you to link between a few but carefully selected ideas in service of a convincing argument.

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