Talking Movies

May 15, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

SAVE BBC FOUR!

It was alarming to hear yesterday that Lucy Worsley and Janina Ramirez were starting a campaign to try and save BBC FOUR, after word leaked that the BBC was planning to let it disappear at the end of 2020 to save money. The BBC doesn’t need to save said money of course, it’s just the Tories maliciously toying with them in the way US Republicans toy with the US Postal Service. They object to it in principle and then set arbitrary and impossible targets to justify eliminating it in practice. Rather akin to Bogie in The Big Sleep complaining a goon will knock his teeth out and then gut-punch him for mumbling. And the real kicker is that losing BBC FOUR in 2021 means losing BBC FOUR from 2013 to 2020 too. Having lost JFK, Apocalypse Now, Die Hard, The Dark Knight and season 1 of Person of Interest to the difference between RTE 2 and RTE2 I know that all my recordings of the channel will disappear with it. And that’s a lot of recordings… To watch any of these recordings is to time-travel back to watching them with Dad since 2013.  Andrew Graham Dixon’s Art of China, several series and specials by Michael Scott on Ancient Greece, Hew Strachan’s The First World War, Robin Lane Fox’s special on the archaeological origins of Greek myths, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s appearance on Jazz 625 in the 1960s, and a colossal amount of recordings from the BBC Proms including performances of Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and Isle of the Dead, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, Mark Simpson playing Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, Jeremy Denk playing Bartok’s 2nd Piano Concerto, and Yo-Yo Ma playing all six Bach Cello Suites. To watch any of these recordings is to remember watching them with my Dad and also to recall the well nigh parodic amounts of workplace conversations I have been part of that began with somebody saying “I was watching BBC FOUR the other night, and there was this programme on—” I struggle to think of a greater act of wilful capricious cultural vandalism and intellectual hamstringing that could be perpetrated by a British government than the shuttering of BBC FOUR as a broadcast station. How has it offended? Telling the truth about the world, informing people? Boris ‘Bullsh-t and Bluster’ Johnson is of the party that has had enough of experts; it seems that the mere existence of objective truth now offends him, and must be plucked out. BBC FOUR exists largely because BBC 2 has abdicated its original mission. Coverage of the Proms, as Clemency Burton-Hill rightly lamented, is now largely a BBC FOUR affair. Even the venerable Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for children have been booted to BBC FOUR. If you deride and discard expertise, you end up with buffoonery bungling a plague.

That joke isn’t funny anymore

The Engineer, just before Christmas, muttered that some day he would watch The West Wing. Just probably not while Trump was President, as that would amount to self-inflicted torture… I opined that it might be better to watch it sooner rather than later, Trump or no Trump, because it took its cues from the world as it was at the peak of human civilisation in 1999 in a way that was becoming increasingly unrecognisable. Deals being made in Congress. Deals?! Deals being made across party lines? People being friends across party lines?! Conservative Democrats and Liberal Republicans? This was soon all going to be every bit as far-fetched as the need for three corroborating sources before publication in All the President’s Men. And then as I cycled again thru TG4’s re-runs I hit the ‘Stirred’ episode of season three. Oh boy… There had been a potentially a radioactive spill in a tunnel in Idaho. Bartlet jokes to Leo before taking a phone call from Boise that the Governor of Idaho wants to know what the radiation levels are, and he’ll say that he’ll tell him – but first give me all your electoral votes in the fall. Well, that joke doesn’t seem farfetched anymore given that Trump is deliberately sending more ventilators and PPE per capita to states with Republican governors that need them less than states with Democratic governors, boasting about ordering VP Pence not to call ‘the woman in Michigan’ and then lying about his own boast, and making it plain that unless governors flatter his insatiable ego they will not get the materiel they need to stop their citizens dying. Trump Delenda Est.

Objectivity for … some students!

Well, now. So Fine Gael having happily presided over the degradation of the Junior Cert on the arbitrary assertion of Ruari Quinn, a complaint hereabouts over the last four years, is abruptly unwilling to stand over the same procedure being applied to the Leaving Cert. Odd that. Remember the cutesy animation that ran in cinemas explaining why Ruari Quinn’s nonsense ‘reforms’ of the Junior Cert could only be opposed by heartless monsters equally opposed to learning and out of touch with the real world? It takes mere seconds to articulate the counter-argument against Ruari Quinn’s pet project. If you and your teacher are engaged in a profoundly active balance of terror do you really want that person marking all your work for three years, or would you prefer that your work be in the final analysis independently judged by somebody else, anonymously, and far away from the grudges of your school? Quinn’s folly was based on the syllogism that the Junior Cert needed reform, this was a reform, therefore it needed this reform; without ever articulating why the Junior Cert needed reform. Now it seems Fine Gael has belatedly realised predictive grading for the Leaving Cert would replace a system of blind meritocracy with an all too personal one obviously open to abuse, from both sides; teachers and parents. What finally made the penny drop? The threat of lawsuits from well-connected students expecting places in medicine and law? Or was it the many comedy sketches about vindictive teachers victimising their most unruly pupils? And so we have students promised exams that will be marked objectively.

Gaslighting and Masks

Well. I don’t know quite what to make of this. According to Beauregarde Hinkelmeister-Schmitt, a source usually as reliable as his name is not, it is an open secret among certain journalists that the Government ordered 100,000,000 cotton face masks some time ago and is waiting for them to arrive, hence their glacial progress towards officially admitting face masks are useful. The logic apparently being there’s no point demanding people wear them before we have enough – there’d only be panic and irritation as the shops emptied out. Also, they’re probably more useful as we relax the lockdown. However, the experience of face masks elsewhere suggests they’re useful from the very beginning. Hinkelmeister-Schmitt has perhaps been spinning a party line, in finding all sorts of ways to disparage the example of every country using masks in that fashion; the connecting logic being a fatuous —It wouldn’t work here. Well, cotton masks aren’t N95 PPE. Any old paisley bandanna will do the job. For all of Status Burgundy I wrapped a merino scarf around my face before I went on the dreaded late night shopping sortie. What makes me doubt that this can be true is that I just find incredible the idea that the ‘experts’ would denigrate mask wearing for 2 months and more, and then turn around and say — actually they are da bomb, and there’s one for everyone in the audience. Actually there’re 20 for everyone in the audience. Why would anyone ever again believe anything from the mouths of people who lied to them consistently while planning all the while to do the opposite of what they were saying? How you could possibly impose a second lockdown for a second wave in the autumn after such a breach of trust? I don’t think gaslighting the nation can ever be in the interest of the nation.

April 29, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LI

As the title suggests, so forth.

“It’s mandatory advisory, but it’s not compulsory”

And we’re back to this unloved Fine Gael gibberish again. Leo Varadkar, who’d like to remind you a few more times that he’s a medical doctor, thinks the science is uncertain when it comes to masks. It is not. The Atlantic tried to disentangle the miasma of confusion and scepticism around wearing a face mask. For some baffling reason it’s being led by the WHO, one hopes not simply for political reasons to avoid agreeing with Taiwan. There are two distinct concepts here that are endlessly conflated – ingress and egress. To prevent oneself getting infected you need medical-grade PPE, but to stop oneself infecting everyone else you simply need a cotton bandanna. A cotton mask will reduce virus particles emitted from your mouth by 99%, quite obviously reducing your chances of infecting anyone. “Models show that if 80% of people wear masks that are 60% effective, easily achievable with cloth, we can get to an effective R0 of less than one. That’s enough to halt the spread of the disease”. Sure, there are other factors at play, like social distancing and demographics, but “in every region that has adopted widespread mask-wearing, case and death rates have been reduced within a few weeks”. So the science here is uncertain in the same sense that George Bush Jr used to insist the science was uncertain on global warming. But whatever, just advise people to wear masks, and then watch so many Mike Pences float about the place boasting “I’m not infected”, oblivious to the fact that you can be infected after taking a test clearing you, the virus takes days to manifest, and you can be asymptomatic.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time

We are now well into the fifth week of Status Burgundy lockdown. It is clear that the ‘caretaker’ government is softening us up by leak after leak for an extension for another 2 weeks, and adding insult to injury by blaming it on our complacency over social distancing rather than their strategic blindness over nursing homes being an obvious locus for COVID-19. But given the hysteria over policing this Bank Holiday does anyone seriously think that we will not be in lockdown for the June Bank Holiday too? Come Friday, Varadkar and Harris will trot out and regretfully inform us that because we got complacent, and our lax social distancing (inexplicably) caused a spike in transmission in nursing homes, that we will have to do penance for another two weeks. When those two weeks are nearly up, they will appear again, and announce another two week extension to take the June Bank Holiday out of play, lest all our good work be undone by dispersal to the seaside, and make this seem like a moment of buoyant optimism – this is how we beat COVID-19, can’t you see it? can’t you see it? One might think simply making it mandatory that everybody wear a mask at all times might allow us out of this national house arrest of not being allowed stray further than 2km on foot. One might equally think that a government clearly rejected by the people should not be making such consequential decisions for those people, all the while calling for national unity while openly disdaining 1/4 of voters. One would apparently be wrong on both fronts.

April 13, 2020

Any Other Business: Part L

As the title suggests, so forth.

Modern Family goes big

11 years is a long time for a sitcom to run, Cheers and MASH did it, but they didn’t have child actors built into the premise of the show like Modern Family did. Modern Family is the only American network sitcom that I would stand beside Arrested Development, and for much the same reasons. The faux docu-format, the lack of a soundtrack, and the delight in absurdity made it stand out in a world befouled by Chuck Lorre crudities. What made Modern Family so great for so long was the sheer variety of comedy in play: cross purposes, mistaken identity, sight gags, slapstick, word play, parody. Its weakest moments came in seasons that wobbled towards parody in the way that the final Naked Gun movie seemed to run out of comic invention and leaned too heavily into parody and ex nihilo zaniness. The triumph of the show is that it managed to course correct, perhaps as the maturing of the child actors into adults opened up new realms for the writers to explore. As a result this final season, now airing on Sky One, has had episodes; in particular ‘The Prescott’; that have been dizzying in the sheer number of plates kept spinning for twenty minutes, while the ‘Paris’ special feels like a North by Northwest moment as the writers grabbed one last big chance to do stuff they’d always wanted to but never got to.

Supernatural returns

E4 have finally got round to airing season 14 of Supernatural, two years after season 13. Since then RTE2 have shown the second revival of The X-Files, which seemed at times to be directly pitting itself against its spiritual descendant. Supernatural is not the show it was back in 2005, not least because someone turned on the lights in season 6 after creator Eric Kripke left and they’ve never been turned off again since, which has changed the goriness and mood of the show. But starting season 14 now is an odd moment, because you can’t but be aware that season 15 is coming to an end in America, and its final episode will be the finale for the entire series. Supernatural began in 2005, first aired in Ireland on TV3 in summer 2006, and will likely finish its run on E4 in 2021 or 2022 depending on their dilatoriness. That is an incredible amount of time to have spent with the characters of Dean and Sam Winchester, and their treasured Chevy Impala – which as we know from Chuck turned out to be the most important object in the history of the universe.

The democratic revolution continues

Today is the first day of a further three week period of what feels rather like martial law, imposed by a government rejected by the people but which has refused to leave office – and nobody in the media seems to want make a fuss about that. Far from all being in this together the Garda Commissioner has been actively encouraging people to inform on their neighbours. That feels a bit too much like Soviet Russia for my liking, and, it should be noted, comes just months after Drew Harris wanted access to everyone’s business on their phone ‘to fight serious crime’. That was before the pandemic. As the idea of testing and tracing for a relaxation of lockdown in Germany involves accessing data on phones it’s not hard to see Drew’s snooping being double downed as ‘for the sake of public health’. And yet… a temporary crisis is always a perfect moment for doing away with civil liberties on a permanent basis. By all means lockdown the country for public health, but let’s have more discussion. And if a national crisis needs national unity then form a national government. The refusal to do so should be seen for what it is, and discussed for what it is, a shameful attempt by Fine Gael to profit politically from a pandemic. Their failed election campaign centred on scaremongering that only they could handle the crisis of Brexit. And now they cling stubbornly to power to … make their point that only they can handle a crisis…? Remember Varadkar blustering he wanted to go into opposition? What exactly does it take for Fine Gael to leave government when they lose an election? Must we send the entire Cabinet abroad for St Patrick’s Day and change all the ministerial locks?

March 28, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Status … Burgundy

Drip, drip, drip… It seems best to describe where we are now as Status Burgundy. We can still leave our homes without a printed and signed permission slip so it’s not quite Status Red. Yet. But as with the drip, drip, drip feed of restrictions tightening like a vise there’s a lot of ‘yet’ in the air too. Why did we not move to this crisis status immediately on March 13th? Why the sustained refusal to admit that schools would not re-open on the 30th? Fears of ‘behavioural fatigue’? It’s not like we don’t know from the experience of countries preceding us in these dominoes how this works; if you are responding to the numbers as they spike you are already too late. Uncertainty is not something stock markets or citizens appreciate. Varadkar unbelievably decided to paraphrase Terminator 2 last night following his Churchill plagiarism last week, refused to call this a lockdown when being told to ‘stay at home’ (even emblazoned under the RTE logo today onscreen) is patently a lockdown, and unwittingly combined the worst elements of Trump and Modi’s addresses. We were given three hours notice not to stray more than 2km from the house or else. But Leo, outside of Dublin it might be more than 2km to the nearest food store. And so today, presumably after howls from outside the Pale, we have a ‘clarification’ that 2km is the straying radius for exercise, you can stray 5km to get yourself a burger.

SEAL Team: Havoc has Fallen

Jessica Pare’s burnt CIA analyst Mandy has been notably underused in season 3 so it was nice to see her unexpectedly get tactical alongside Blackburn and Davis as Havoc fell the other night on Sky One and impose herself on the action in her guilt-ridden determination to rescue her kidnapped asset. Her work the problem drive and firefight skills also gave new hope to shippers that Mandy and Jason should get together, despite the awesome kismet that exists in Emily Swallow as Jason’s partner Natalie; uniting as it does Supernatural‘s Amara with Buffy’s Angel. The use of drone photography on SEAL Team has been outstanding but season 3, especially the opening episodes in Serbia, has taken it to new heights. The fact that this story of Bravo getting roughed up in Venezuela has now revealed itself as a three-parter makes one compare this trio of episodes very favourably to most action films out there. I for one would take the thrilling and legible choreography of the action in these three episodes against the choppy nonsense of Mile 22 any day.

March 23, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVII

As the title suggests, so forth.

What You Waiting For?

Why aren’t we already on lockdown? What are we waiting for? Surely it is time to stop pretending social distancing is going to get the job done. A lockdown is inevitable, just tell us when it’s going to be! Did we need permission from the example of the British doing it, because they allegedly have top experts working on the notion of behavioural fatigue? Today we had the nonsense that Government policy is not responsive to what’s Trending on Twitter, after Ministers have spent a fortnight calling out people based on videos that have been posted on Twitter. The Government will make a decision tomorrow, probably, based on the advice of the medical experts. As with so much else in the last 9 years Fine Gael hides behind someone else when they want to do something they want to do but want to pretend it’s being foisted on them. It is beyond time for Status Red. This is as ludicrous as the airlines having to decide in the absence of the State making any judgement call that it was probably a bad idea to be flying in and out to Italy 4 times a day. For once stop hiding behind other people, make the call yourself Varadkar, and do it already.

Time Tunnel Revisited

Well now, this has been rewarding. After 4 episodes of The Time Tunnel I am happy that, unlike when Beauregarde Hinkelmeister-Schmitt ruined my childhood by showing me The Equaliser, Irwin Allen’s sci-fi show has been entertaining damn near 30 years after watching it. A particular joy being the writers clearly revelling in the time-travel paradoxes of an episode where a character in the present watches on in horror at his ruthless behaviour in the future. And, in a demented touch involving a comet not quite hitting the earth because of the tunnel’s interference, the writers both aim to be a bit trippy and insist that their time travelling is a closed loop – everything has already happened the way it happened because of their interference before they even start interfering.

April 26, 2018

Politik: Part VI

It has been, mercifully, over a year since this blog last strayed in the direction of politics; and yet now, very regrettably, it’s happening again.

The Whig Interpretation of History

Herbert Butterfield influentially examined the notion of always progressing from a less progressive past towards a more progressive present and an even more progressive future, usually when the party supported by the historian was in power. That Whig view of Britain inevitably driving towards constitutional monarchy and a democracy liberal enough to sensibly put the Whigs in power carries over in its generalities most everywhere, even as an unspoken assumption. And sometimes you find piquant examples to explode the notion, like this contrast between ringing patriotism and hesitant excuse delivered like Bertie Ahern’s evasions.

“No longer shall our children, like our cattle, be brought up for export” – Taoiseach Eamon DeValera, 1934, speech to Dail Eireann.

“Em, it’s always been the case to buy a house, ah, you need to, eh, raise a deposit. People do it in lots of different ways. Ehh, you know, sometimes peep-people people people go abroad for a period and they get money” – Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, 2018, speech to Dail Eireann.

 

Project 2040

Sitting in cinemas recently and suffering through the unskippable cutesy animation/propaganda reel the Government had spent our money on to publicise its Project 2040, I simmered with multiple feelings of déjà vu. I flashed back to my suffering through a previous cutesy animation explaining why Ruari Quinn’s nonsense ‘reforms’ of the Junior Cert could only be opposed by heartless monsters equally opposed to learning and out of touch with the real world. I flashed back to Bertie Ahern’s National Spatial Strategy in 2002 which would guide the next 20 years of Ireland’s regional development, based on the presence in key towns of … junior ministers. Plus ca change, we have Project 2040 advertisements referring to junior minister Boxer Moran as the King of the Midlands… It’s galling this advertisement is placed in cinemas to catch a captive youth audience and indoctrinate them by repetition of amiable propaganda. It’s galling there’s a spin doctor unit funded by our money working overtime to make Leo Varadkar appear to be a caring competent man of vision with a plan to do the country proud by 2040: he was willing to collapse the government just before Christmas supporting his Justice Minister on what could be described as a Nixonian point of principle – If I see wrongdoing, and I’m told it’s none of my business, that means that it’s none of my business. And it’s galling to know that there isn’t a damn thing we can do to stop Fine Gael using our money to lie to us about their awesomeness, strategically placing advertisements boosting their candidates for the next election. I will believe we have a plan drawn up impartially by experts working from objective data when the government hears it when we do. If we hear a horrified gasp from the back, “But there’s not even a f****** junior minister in Carrick-on-Shannon!”, then we’ll know this is a good plan.

Fair and Balanced, in all things

Sometimes two stories will pop up pages apart in a newspaper and their juxtaposition will beggar belief. I was reading the Irish Independent one day in March and found the NCH regrettably bowing to pressure for some sort of official gender policy to ensure that more music composed by women is performed. It doesn’t need to be good music, mind, just composed by women. Meanwhile a few pages over the BAI cheerfully announced print and broadcast media needed to know that they didn’t have to ask people from both sides to appear on a rigid 50/50 basis. There were other ways to achieve balance in the abortion referendum they suggested, like asking ‘hard questions’ of the Yes campaigners. So, there you have it, quotas are absolutely necessary to ensure fairness, except when they’re not.

He who pays the piper calls the tune or Most news is fake news

The Irish Times recently published their opinion poll announcing 47% of people supported repealing the 8th as a reasonable compromise that reasonable people would reasonably take on abortion to be reasonable. But then, they would say that, wouldn’t they? This is not news, though it may be mistaken by some for it. Opinion polls can cause certain people to act in disastrous ways, cf. the heave against Enda Kenny, and then they create actual news. Opinion polls are not news; they are not reporting on events that have occurred, they are creating headlines to control the news cycle, push an agenda, and make a newspaper seem important. Opinion polls can be manipulated with contemptuous ease by the framing of the questions, as Sir Humphrey memorably demonstrated by getting Bernard to assent and dissent within a minute to the same question. Can you recall any newspaper trumpeting on its front page an opinion poll announcing most people thought said newspaper’s political agenda was nonsense? He who pays the piper calls the tune… Expect the Irish Times to release another opinion poll the week of the referendum announcing Repeal is over the 50% mark, and therefore a majority of reasonable people reasonably agree with reasonable abortion, and anyone who demurs is a misogynist religious bigot with a yen for torturing suffering women. But it won’t be too far over the 50% mark, because they wouldn’t want to depress the Yes turnout by suggesting it was a foregone conclusion…

March 21, 2016

Politik: Part IV

It has been, mercifully, nearly two years since this blog last strayed in the direction of politics; and yet now, very regrettably, it’s happening again.

sinn-fein-ard-fheis-10-630x422

“What’s his angle?”

JK Galbraith once memorably quipped that every time an Old Guard Republican leaned over to nudge a compadre and muttered “What’s his angle?” while they listened to some liberal do-gooder proposing something fiscally irresponsible if not downright treasonous, there, in the heart of McCarthyland, you could justifiably claim spoke a true red Marxist, rummaging through fine words for the base economic motive. Whenever I hear someone from Fine Gael’s caretaker Cabinet proclaiming “We will not cling to power at any price” I hear “We will not cling to ministerial salaries, ministerial pensions, ministerial cars and drivers, ministerial prestige, patronage to reward our friends, the apparatus of the state to harass our enemies, and free travel to far-flung destinations on St Patrick’s Day power at any price.” And it sort of changes how seriously I take their sentiment.

 

50+1+3+7+2+6+5+…

Hunter S Thompson once mischievously wrote that Ted Kennedy was not President because he never learned to drive properly. One might say we are still without a government because a deplorable number of TDs never learned to add properly. The magic number is 79. There is a party with 50 and a party with 44. This is not that hard. But instead the country is being cast in the role of an increasingly exasperated parent trying not to step in and solve the problem while its child tries to mash all the small numbers together first to come up with less than 79 over and over again before looking at the actual obvious solution of putting two big numbers together. But it gets worse.

 

Shunning S(h)inners

The magic number, 79, is actually quite easily reached. Fine Gael (50) + Labour (7) + Sinn Fein (22) = 79. Hey! How about that? Only Fine Gael have decided that Sinn Fein cannot be in government. But then across the aisle Fianna Fail are letting I dare not wait upon I would for the ‘end of Civil War grand coalition’ because they have decided that Sinn Fein cannot be in opposition. Surely this is approaching insanity. Are we seriously to have another election because Sinn Fein cannot be allowed in government or in opposition? Perhaps the simplest solution at this point is to simply proscribe Sinn Fein. If people will insist on voting for them then surely it’s moot whether it’s more anti-democratic to not allow them vote for Sinn Fein than to disregard their votes afterwards.

February 25, 2016

Austerity and the Arts

The Journal has compiled a handy guide to various political pledges on arts funding. But take all with the caveat of Pat Rabbitte’s infamous slip on farcically utopian bait-and-switches, “Sure isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?”

Reh-image-eight-800x533

Brian Eno’s John Peel lecture at the British Library last year excoriated politicians, especially the Tories, for wanting to bask in the reflected glamour of cultural icons, and boast about the money such activity makes for Britain, both in its own right and in attracting tourists via a sheen of national creativity, without ever wanting to invest in it. According to him these people believed artists magically appear, and start providing a return without requiring any initial capital outlay; an impressive economic conjuring trick to be sure. Whereas, he pointed out, Roxy Music would not have come about without a previous generation establishing a whole gamut of public investment in the future: the NHS, Arts Schools, libraries, galleries, museums, and the dole. According to the Social Democrats there has been a 55% cut in arts funding since 2008 in Ireland. Such cuts dramatically change the cultural current. Take Annabelle Comyn.

Annabelle Comyn was the founding artistic director of Hatch Theatre Company in 2004. She directed a number of contemporary British plays (by Martin Crimp, Dennis Kelly, David Greig, and Zinnie Harris) with regular collaborators including set designer Paul O’Mahony, sound designer Philip Stewart, and actor Peter Gaynor. Then in 2009 Hatch Theatre Company saw its grant slashed from €90,000 to €20,000. After that there was no funding for any projects submitted, and Comyn, who had also directed Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange and Caryl Churchill’s A Number for the Peacock in 2006 and 2007, took the hint. As she told the Irish Times in a 2014 interview “I remember thinking that the work I had done with Hatch – predominantly contemporary British plays – wouldn’t get funding.” So began two years in which one of Ireland’s best theatre directors didn’t work as a director.

And then Abbey artistic director Fiach Mac Conghail offered her the chance to direct Pygmalion at the Abbey’s main stage in 2011. So began a new phase of Comyn’s career. Her version of Shaw’s comedy emphasised that Henry Higgins really is stripping Eliza Doolittle not just of her accent, but her station in life; and even personality; and irresponsibly remaking her to his own whims. The coldness of Charlie Murphy’s Eliza to Higgins in their final scenes captured the accompanying intellectual transformation he had not counted on, and was an unexpected touch. 2012 saw her back on the Abbey main stage reviving Tom Murphy’s 2000 Abbey commission The House. This Chekhovian tale of social climbing and the frustrations of returned emigrants in the 1950s saw Comyn add new strings to her bow as she blocked 13 people for a chaotic drunken speech and fight. Comyn’s interpretation of Murphy’s melancholic character study with barbed commentary on societal failure saw her win Best Director at the Irish Times Theatre Awards. And yet…

DG declan conlon and Catherine Walker

A director who specialised in premiering contemporary British plays is now (with the exception of 2012’s The Talk of the Town) exclusively reviving classic texts. A cultural current in Irish theatre has been diverted, and you can be sure that nobody returned to Dail Eireann after tomorrow will have as a priority allowing it to resume its original course. Does it matter? Well, John McGahern, the Irish novelist par excellence, would not have become the writer he was had he not been exposed to the works of Flaubert, Camus, and Hemingway. It matters if our theatrical landscape suddenly has a Berlin wall of austerity erected cutting off consistent interaction with new British writing. In the grand scheme of things cutting a €90,000 grant has had a larger effect than the latter-day Gladstone who made that retrenchment could ever have imagined.

To quote the two voices at the end of GK Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill:

“What could have happened to the world if Notting Hill had never been?”

The other voice replied—

“The same that would have happened to the world and all the starry systems if an apple-tree grew six apples instead of seven; something would have been eternally lost.”

December 31, 2015

1916 without 1916

By now we’ve all seen the Government’s video about the 1916 Rising that somehow forgets the Rising. I’m not sure I’ve seen something so straight-facedly absurd since Brad Dourif preached “The Church of Christ … without Christ” in Wise Blood.

Enda-Kenny

From the suggestively chosen imagery it’s tempting to conclude (apropos of Interstellar) that we’re commemorating when David Cameron, Ian Paisley, and Queen Elizabeth II travelled back via a handily placed wormhole to Dublin 1916 in order to ensure a docklands fit for Google and Facebook to live in. Sadly the truth is less imaginative, and depressing; because this fiasco was entirely predictable. The Proclamation being rendered as Gaeilge via Google Translate was a perfect statement of intent. Nobody cared enough to flag that it ought to be double-checked before it went live. It is unthinkable that in 2004 a Polish text could have been given such haphazard treatment while our government was hosting the EU’s big expansion into Eastern Europe; Bertie Ahern cared deeply about that Farmleigh event. It is unthinkable that a German would text would not be excruciatingly parsed if Angela Merkel were to visit next week; because Enda Kenny would care deeply about such a visit. But for the literal genesis of our political consciousness as a modern state? To appropriate the current Rabobank ad’s stylings: “Any translation” “Any translation?” “Any translation…” That attitude expresses a political weltanschauung: Labour gives the distinct impression of being embarrassed by our Constitution; which Eamon Gilmore liked to dub outdated (ignore the awkward fact the Americans are still using their 1780s constitutional settlement); and Fine Gael, despite their self-definition (as Pat Leahy has put it) as the party of “Law and Order. Law’n’Order and the Foundation of the State!”, are ashamed of 1916 – which is to primarily be remembered, whereas they celebrated the 75th anniversary of winning the Civil War…

Labour’s Aodhán O’Ríordáin, while insisting that the video was a preview of what the entirety of 2016 would be like (apparently a never-ending bacchanalia of Macnas and BOD coming out of retirement to score tries), offered a non-apology apology: “If we got it wrong, we got it wrong and we should look at something else.” (If? If?? IF?! Yes, ye got it wrong. This has been made abundantly clear by now, so lose the “if”.) He went on to offer the official version of the mindset behind the video: “The point is that we’re trying not to present a very stiff and stale and unimaginative and cold depiction of what happened 100 years ago, which can almost turn some people off immediately.” Maybe he sincerely believes this, maybe not; to my mind this defeatist insistence that marking the events of 100 years ago is impossible because it’s all deathly dull so let’s just talk about the Queen’s visit in 2011 is a disingenuous cover for the fact that it is the government itself who are the people turned off immediately by the idea of celebrating 1916. The BBC spent 2014 producing radio and television documentaries and fictional serials about WWI. If you could watch 37 Days’ dramatisation of the failed diplomacy of July 1914 and find it very stiff, stale, unimaginative, and cold, then the problem lies not with history or its recreation but with you. If you could watch Niall Ferguson’s provocative arguing for WWI being a mistake and the hostile reaction of his academic audience and find it very stiff, stale, unimaginative, and cold then presumably you find newspapers insupportable because they’re about events from distant yesterday. It is telling that the video’s themes; Remember, Reconcile, Imagine, Present, Celebrate; visually remove ‘celebration’ from the revolutionary past…

The video’s visual cues for ‘remember’, ‘reconcile’, and ‘imagine’ taken together imply sorrow for having had the bad taste to rebel against Britain, and a desire to plot how to go forward together. As approaches to celebrating a country’s independence from its colonial masters go it’s got the merit of originality. But it cannot go uncontested. How does marking 1916 by mentioning Ian Paisley and not Padraig Pearse make sense? How is it even acceptable to prioritise, over a man who gave up his life as a blood sacrifice (of the type Rupert Brooke valorised) to start a fire whose flame would burn a hole in the map of the British Empire, a man who became a big avuncular bear once he’d made it to the top of the greasy pole having first done considerable damage in his life-long climb to the top in his capacity as venomous firebrand? (When Seamus Mallon dubbed the Good Friday Agreement ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’ who did he have in mind?) I have walked some of the battlefields and cemeteries of the Western Front, where Irish and British soldiers died together in 1914, and remembered them. It does not preclude me from celebrating 1916.

French historian Francois Furet rescued 1789 from the grasp of communists who wanted to make it a proto-1917, by instead inflecting 1917 as the culmination of 1793’s Terror; and the Terror as the betrayal of the Revolution. Terence Brown has argued that Kevin Whelan’s The Tree of Liberty was vital in allowing 1798 to be celebrated here as a good thing, instead of mumbling embarrassedly about it. We need something of the same now. It doesn’t matter that we’re an indebted country who’ve signed away our sovereignty to the Troika. America in 1976 was hardly in a wonderful state. Vietnam, Inflation, Watergate, Roe V Wade: if ever a country was having a crisis of confidence and identity it was America then. And they still pulled off a celebratory bicentennial instead of sitting around bemoaning lost opportunities and how the Brits would have given them parliamentary representation if they’d just waited longer…

The government’s video suggests that we celebrate the future, and take inspiration from … whatever. That’s completely wrong, but completely in character. We should celebrate the past, and be inspired by it. We should not look back at 1916 and be embarrassed by it, we should look back at 1916 and be embarrassed by ourselves. We need to mark 2016 as a combination of July the 4th and Gettysburg. It is both a cause for celebration, and a time for serious discussion. And if there’s anything in our national poet’s complicated canon that best sums up conflicted Irish identities in a triumphal way it’s this watchword for the coming centenary year:

“Sing the peasantry, and then

Hard-riding country gentlemen,

The holiness of monks, and after

Porter-drinkers’ randy laughter;

Sing the lords and ladies gay

That were beaten into the clay

Through seven heroic centuries;

Cast your mind on other days

That we in coming days may be

Still the indomitable Irishry.”

June 18, 2014

Politik: Part III

It has been, mercifully, over two and a half years since this blog strayed in the direction of politics; and yet now, regrettably, it’s happening.

Enda-Kenny

I don’t really have much to say on the matter of the banking inquiry fiasco. I’m far more interested in pointing out two things that Pat Leahy said in his 2013 book The Price of Power which, when combined, seem to cut through the contradictory messages coming from the government in recent days. First Enda wanted a committee majority to set the terms of reference, because without being in charge of setting the terms of reference, the government would not go ahead with the inquiry. Then he seemed to say the government didn’t want to interfere because that would politicise the inquiry; so there would no be whip imposed on the members of the committee. …However, they would still be working off the terms of reference he had politically imposed.

Here’s Leahy’s sardonic record of the failed Oireachtas powers referendum in 2011:

“The referendum was narrowly defeated, to the great annoyance of many in government who had planned a lengthy and detailed embarrassment of Fianna Fail’s stewardship of economic and banking matters in an inquiry held under the new, enhanced powers.” (167)

And here is Leahy’s unrelated commentary on the expert group’s report on abortion in 2012:

“After the expert group delivered its report, Labour was in a far stronger position. Labour officials had worked carefully and discreetly on the terms of reference for the expert group with a view towards ending up with exactly the sort of report that the group ultimately produced. According to one person who was closely involved in the process at all times, ‘Getting the terms of reference we wanted was absolutely critical. In many respects that was the key battle.’ The direction given to the group largely determined its eventual findings.” (235)

Draw your own conclusions on whether that means the banking inquiry is intended to actually investigate what happened or merely to embarrass Fianna Fail in time for the next election.

*Pat Leahy’s excellent The Price of Power: Inside Ireland’s Crisis Coalition is published by Penguin.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.