Talking Movies

May 20, 2014

Hill Street

New Irish documentary Hill Street is a fascinating look at the early years of the Irish skateboarding scene trying to legitimise itself as a sport in economically grim 1980s Ireland.

Hill Street 4

Director JJ Rolfe interweaves the evolution of skateboarding culture in Dublin since the 1980s with a parallel strand of talking heads from America explaining the sequential 1950s craze for DIY skateboarding, the use by surfers of drained swimming pools to get airborne, and Tony Hawk’s rise to fame. The initial driving force here was a BMX shop ‘Clive’s of Hill Street’ in the North inner city. Soon Clive Rowen’s BMX business was subsumed by skateboards, home-made ramps outside the shop, a practise room beside the shop, and eventually a temporary skate park in the Top Hat Ballroom in Dún Laoghaire. Eventually the Powell Peralta ‘Bones Brigade’ Team, including the legendary Tony Hawk, visited that skate park for a historic show. This tale is told thru interviews with all the original skaters, along with unseen footage of them in the 1980s.

Hill Street is a very enjoyable movie. Rolfe makes great use of the essentially cinematic nature of skateboarding from the opening sequence (tracking alongside a skateboarder tricking his way across the city and its bridges) onwards. The skateboarder’s view as he sails past people waiting to cross a street is rendered akin to the view of a tracking camera, and later we see how some of the 1980s footage was actually shot by people holding cameras on skateboards racing alongside other skateboards as they did tricks. Rolfe also presents sustained sequences of skateboards in action over ramps accompanied with a superb original score that renders everything dreamily hypnotic and conveys the artistry that Tony Hawk claims for the sport. Rolfe’s interviewees are all passionate and articulate, and footage from the 1980s and 1990s is a great time capsule of nostalgia.

There is one potentially interesting strand that is introduced but never really developed. Hill Street is so focused on celebrating the stubbornness and nonconformity of the skateboarders; these individuals who refused to play soccer or Gaelic like the vast majority of their peers; that it never addresses the hilarious paradox of them not being team players but defiantly being individuals – who then all needed a place to hang out together (being individuals en masse), which they found at Clive’s. Hill Street also never truly grapples with the realities of why security guards; at banks, offices, and colleges; would always chase away these loveable ragamuffin teenagers. The montage of spectacularly painful crashes over the credits suggests one line about ‘kids suing for injuries’ urgently needed to be a serious discussion, rather than being treated as a blooper reel of bone-crunching disasters…

Hill Street is a very well made and enjoyable documentary, especially if your only experience with skateboarders was their intimidation of UCD at weekends.


October 16, 2013

Castles, Candles and Kubrick

All Stanley Kubrick fans should move the dial to Newstalk this weekend for a documentary about the truncated Irish shoot of period epic Barry Lyndon.

Kubrick on set of Barry Lyndon

As part of the autumn season of documentary radio on Newstalk 106-108 Pavel Barter produces this look at the story behind the making of Stanley Kubrick’s period adaptation Barry Lyndon in Ireland 40 years ago.

In the summer of 1973, director Stanley Kubrick arrived in Ireland to make his latest film Barry Lyndon. Having run massively over-schedule and over-budget with his space epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick had followed that sci-fi folly up with a cheap and nasty quickie, A Clockwork Orange, which had proven massively controversial; its ultraviolence and rape coming in the same year as Dirty Harry and Straw Dogs. Now Kubrick was ready to take on Thackeray’s novel with the unlikely personage of Ryan O’Neal as the titular hero. All seemed to be going well as Kubrick shot in the Irish countryside with hundreds of costumed extras. But on an overcast night in January 1974, the director fled Ireland on a ferry from Dun Laoghaire. Within 48 hours the entire production had also abandoned their stations.

Castles, Candles and Kubrick tells, for the first time, the story behind the making of Barry Lyndon in Ireland, featuring interviews with cast and crew from the film. What role did Ireland play in the production of Barry Lyndon? Did Kubrick’s preceding film, Clockwork Orange, affect the production? It was widely rumoured he fled Ireland after a death threat which also caused him to withdraw A Clockwork Orange from circulation in Britain and Ireland until its posthumous re-release in 2000; a move that unjustly fostered its reputation as a great classic lost to censorship. It’s equally rumoured that he misinterpreted the death threat, which was from the IRA; enraged at the sight of hundreds of extras dressed as British soldiers in deepest Tipperary. Hopefully Barter’s documentary will get to the bottom of these urban legends.

Castles, Candles and Kubrick features contributions from Brian W. Cook (The Wicker Man, The Shining), Luke Quigley (Braveheart, In The Name of The Father), Terry Clegg (Gandhi, Out of Africa), Patti Podesta (Memento), and Gay Hamilton (The Duellists). They’ll shed light on working with the notorious perfectionist. Kubrick surpassed Hitchcock in the endless self-promotion stakes because he only directed 13 films, a fraction of Hitchcock’s output. Kubrick did endless takes without explaining what he wanted done differently, and shot every one of his few film with emotionless Ophuls glides, regardless of whether it suited that particular subject matter; yet his very reclusiveness and these eccentricities in shooting made him revered. Why is Barry Lyndon considered the greatest movie ever by fellow directors such as Martin Scorsese and Lars Von Trier? Tune in and find out.

Castles, Candles and Kubrick will air on Newstalk 106-108 on Saturday October 19th at 7:00am, with a repeat airing on Sunday October 20th at 6:00pm.

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