Talking Movies

October 1, 2019

The one thing we can learn from history is that nobody ever learns anything from history

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Politics — Fergal Casey @ 8:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

Reading today about the decision to somewhat save history in Irish secondary schools was profoundly dispiriting. The arguments for history, and against history, and the underpinnings of both seemed to indicate a general idiocy.

As far as I can see from the op-ed in the Irish Independent by the Minister we ought to study history in schools to remind ourselves of how awful Ireland was in the 1950s and praise ourselves constantly for being such fine fellows in contrast. The Magdalene Laundries, the poor treatment of tinkers, gays and atheists. These all prove that people in the past were awful, and we are great. Five stars all around for being such great guys now. One might suggest that perhaps one of the most important benefits of studying history is the attempt to escape from the greatest of all mental traps – present bias.

As far as I can see from the marketing speak originating from the masters of curricula we ought not study history in schools because there are more exciting things we can surf in and out of and the purpose of education is to only do fun things. One could substitute maths or English for their dismissal of history and it would make little difference to the argument. After all, can one argue that students really enjoy maths? And with calculators and the internet who needs to learn these skills which are not transferable and of no real use in the real world outside the ivory towers of academia.

Meanwhile the Irish Times featured students decrying exams for the Leaving Certificate as being injurious to mental health and well-being. Well, yes, that’s sort of the point. Life is in general not just a succession of fun things with no crunch moments. One of the benefits of actually studying history is grappling with other civilisations and understanding that not everybody is always on the same page. If we throw out the traditional methods of education that does not mean China will follow suit, and the Confucian model of scholarship will take no prisoners of a generation educated to express themselves in bite-size opinions, scattershot samplings and stress-free study.

October 21, 2018

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid: Discussion Groups

Award-winning new Irish film The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, on release now, will be accompanied by a series of panel discussions after selected screenings to reflect on the issues raised in the film. Panels will take place at the Omniplex, Rathmines and the Eye Cinema, Galway.


Ward’s film investigates Kildare farmer Thomas Reid’s long struggle to resist a Compulsory Purchase Order from IDA Ireland who had identified his farm as having prime industrial development potential. Reid vowed to resist the sale under any circumstances and at any price. His story and the Irish Government’s subsequent response asks searching questions of how much one individual can be asked to sacrifice for the ‘national interest’.

Panel Details
Omniplex Rathmines  – Sunday 21st Oct 6.30pm
Lenny Abrahamson, Oscar-nominated director; Feargal Ward, director & Tara Brady, journalist Irish Times (moderating). Book here

Thursday, 25th Oct Eye Cinema Galway 6.50pm Lelia Doolan, filmmaker and activist; Luke McManus, producer & Dr. Tony Tracy, (Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUIG) (moderating) Book here

Filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson said “What is so excellent about The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid, is that, despite Reid’s deep peculiarity and quiet dysfunction, it is not the world of his crumbling Leixlip farm but the Ireland which surrounds it which comes to seem most in need of explanation and redemption. It’s our world, not his, which is the more troubling. I would urge anyone who values creative documentary film making to seek out this excellent, haunting and original film.”

Clare Daly TD spoke forcefully in Dáil Éireann during the debate on the Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill on 28th March 2018 saying ‘I compliment Thomas Reid. In many ways he has been inspirational, a lone wolf taking on a giant single-handedly and winning, with five Supreme Court judges agreeing with him. However, that was not good enough. A multinational had to be given the land from under him and the law had to be changed to facilitate it. One can talk about selling and prostituting ourselves and giving it away, but today is a new low in that regard.’

The Lonely Battle of Thomas Reid is in selected cinemas including IFI; Rathmines Omniplex; Mahon Point Omniplex, Cork; IMC Dún Laoghaire and Eye Cinema, Galway.

www.lonelybattle.com

April 30, 2018

On Urbanity

Prefacing my attack on Legion last month I noted decorum was important, and that urbanity was important as a stylistic and aesthetic goal, and noted one could stretch to call it an ethical goal too.

What then is urbanity? When I was writing for the University Observer I used to think our house style was aiming for the droll elegance of the New Yorker.  I’m not sure anybody else did. I’m not sure I would even have been able to pin down where I got that notion of the New Yorker from, possibly a refracted Dorothy Parker vibe from the Gilmore Girls. Having recently, deliriously enjoyed James Thurber’s The Years with Ross I think that I wasn’t far off in my peculiar sense of the magazine’s house style. Although it may have been just Thurber himself rather than the New Yorker writers en masse in possession of that style. Certainly the current New Yorker writers are en masse in possession of a house style, and the deployment of it by Gladwell, Gopnik & Co can be maddening in its repetition.

The New Yorker film reviews these days mostly overshoot urbanity and instead sound jaded, and snobbish. Richard Brody’s review of Ready Player One is a recent particular lowlight. Brody seems to have the shakiest of grasps on the commercial realities of movie-making, and indeed how movies are remembered by non-critics. His notion that a blockbuster themed around 1980s nostalgia should chuck The Shining for Jim Jarmusch’s oeuvre is tragicomic; once you stop laughing in astonishment, you realise he’s serious, and then need to lie down. But how should one write film reviews? I went from writing a movie column for the University Observer titled ‘Fergal’s Guide to Misanthropy’ to reviewing for InDublin. In thrall at the time to Hunter S Thompson I wrote reviews in a style that I would now never countenance. Hunter S Thompson is a great stylist, but he is not urbane.

It doesn’t matter that Hunter S Thompson is not urbane, because he is Hunter S Thompson. But it matters a great deal when people who are not Hunter S Thompson are neither urbane nor Thompsonian despite their best efforts. And those best efforts usually betray fierce labour as they attempt to do the Gonzo style without being the man who was Gonzo. As I wrote more and more film reviews for InDublin I began to appreciate that reinventing the wheel with snark and wildness each time was not sustainable. So, as I have recounted before, I turned to an earlier mentor, Michael Dwyer. I pored over his 300 review in an effort to understand how it worked, and especially how he could write so many reviews with such apparent ease; given their clarity and simplicity. I adopted my interpretation of his technique as my model.

Initially though the interpolated technique was all structural. It was only over time and ever more reviews for Dublinks.com and Talking Movies that the mature style revealed itself; borrowing a structure from Michael Dwyer had seamlessly led to an Augustan style. Films were reviewed without hyperbole over their strengths or hysteria over their weaknesses. As a result they could be reviewed with astonishing speed; my review of Prometheus took 26 minutes from first keystroke to published post. It wasn’t vitriolic, like so many reviews, it maintained an even keel. But it had taken 5 years to get to the point where that review could be penned in 26 minutes. What one looks for in urbanity is the appearance of effortlessness concealing much effort; the sprezzatura of Castiglione so promulgated by WB Yeats as the ideal of lyric poetry. Which brings us back to James Thurber…

Thurber’s droll story ‘The Bear Who Let It Alone’ concerns a bear that gets too fond of honey mead at the local bar:

He would reel home at night, kick over the umbrella stand, knock down the bridge lamps, and ram his elbows through the windows. Then he would collapse on the floor and lie there until he went to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

But our hero sees the error of his ways. He becomes a teetotaller, and a physical fitness freak, and boastful of how the two are connected:

To demonstrate this, he would stand on his head and on his hands and he would turn cartwheels in the house, kicking over the umbrella stand, knocking down the bridge lamps, and ramming his elbows through the windows. Then he would lie down on the floor, tired by his healthful exercise, and go to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.

The simplicity of the gag makes you feel like you always knew it just after you first read it, and of course belies what must have been careful paring and paring by Thurber to get it just right. That is the key. It appears effortless; elegant, graceful, simple; and it took much effort to make it appear so. Thurber was in a contract with himself as much as the reader not to let go of the piece until he’d finely chiselled it to perfection and then polished it to remove all trace of the chisel marks. And it’s that determination to do oneself and others justice that I argue can move urbanity from aesthetics to ethics. To write urbanely is to do more, to be beneficent.

PG Wodehouse once wrote “The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well”. One might advance a similar notion when it comes to urbanity. Consider Mark Zuckerberg’s painfully laboured non-apology apology for the Cambridge Analytica flap:

“I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The good news is that the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago. But we also made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it”

A billionaire, surrounded by expensive lawyers and media consultants, who can take five days (which I like to imagine were spent brainstorming on a luxury houseboat moored in the dead centre of Lake Tahoe), to write and/or approve something as inelegant as that italicised sentence… Well, I opine, in identical manner to the man who cheats at golf, a man capable of writing like that is capable of anything.

John McGahern is the endpoint of the notion of urbanity as an ethical goal. His description of fictional Leitrim farmer (and, as Graham Price persuasively has it, dandy) Jamesie sitting in Ruttledge’s passenger seat on their way to the market I have characterised in my Irish University Review article ‘Competing Philosophies in That They May Face the Rising Sun’ as a Stoic benediction: “He praised where he could, but most people were allowed their space without praise or blame in a gesture of hands that assigned his life and theirs to their own parts in this inexhaustible journey”. That may be the ideal of urbanity I wish for in journalism. How it got muddled together with Thurber’s New Yorker drollness in my head is a puzzler, but there it is. Socrates said that nobody would willingly commit evil. An evil-doer is in possession of imperfect information. Nobody sets out to write badly, paint badly, compose badly, or to direct a bad film. In reviewing one should try to nudge where possible, and always offer solutions when identifying problems. One should only eviscerate if something is positively harmful, and even then try to do it with a light touch. A bad review done with urbanity is a judo flip. Identify what is obnoxious, and, if possible; and it is surprisingly often possible; see how the work can be read against itself, so that it is condemned out of its own mouth.

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…

February 6, 2016

My Own Personal Theatre Awards 2015

All aesthetic judgements are political, but some are more political than others; and if you cannot conceive of great art made by people whose political opinions you do not share, then just maybe you cannot conceive of art at all.

web_de_kersentuin_portret

It was ironic that the Irish Times released their Theatre Awards shortlist just after the death of Alan Rickman; whose performance in John Gabriel Borkman the Guardian valorised as one of his great stage achievements; as it drew the mind back to the Irish Times’ magisterial pronouncements on the state of Irish theatre in 2010. John Gabriel Borkman, a co-production between the Abbey and Southbank’s National Theatre, premiered in Dublin before transferring to London, and eventually Broadway. It was seen by around 20,000 people, got rave notices, and received … two nominations from the Irish Times: for costumes and set.

Meanwhile World’s End Lane, which could be seen by 3 people per performance, and so was seen by almost a hundred punters, as opposed to John Gabriel Borkman’s 20,000, received a nod for best production. And of course you ‘couldn’t’ sputter with outrage over this because, inevitably, you hadn’t seen World’s End Lane. Thus has it been lately with the Irish Times Theatre Awards. Such hipster valuations of theatrical worth downgraded the Gate and Abbey, and combined with a persistent boosting of Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, and companies and plays that shared the politico-cultural preoccupations and prejudices of the Irish Times.

But, as with my objections to the Abbey’s 2016 programme, there is little point in speculative grousing. So here are my personal theatre awards for 2015, with the winners in bold. And let me anticipate objections. I did not see DruidShakespeare on tour or The Match Box in Galway. I did not travel up to Belfast to see a single play at the Lyric. But, when you strip out all DruidShakespeare’s nominations, the vast majority of nominations handed out by the Irish Times were for work performed in Dublin. So with more nominees and fewer categories let’s have at it…

Best Production

The Cherry Orchard (The O’Reilly Theatre)

Dancing at Lughnasa (The Lyric/The Gaiety)

Hedda Gabler (The Abbey)

The Night Alive (The Lyric/The Gaiety)

Grounded (Project Arts Centre)

 DG declan conlon and Catherine Walker

Best Director

Annabelle Comyn – Dancing at Lughnasa (The Lyric/The Gaiety) & Hedda Gabler (The Abbey)

David Grindley – The Gigli Concert (The Gate)

Selina Cartmell – Grounded (Project Arts Centre)

Conor McPherson – The Night Alive (The Lyric/The Gaiety)

Patrick Mason – The Importance of Being Earnest (The Gate)

 

Best Actor

Declan Conlon – The Gigli Concert (The Gate)

Marty Rea – The Importance of Being Earnest (The Gate)

James Murphy – The Importance of Being Earnest (Smock Alley)

Brendan Gleeson – The Walworth Farce (The Olympia)

Dylan Coburn Gray – Enjoy (Project Arts Centre)

DG the gigli concert

Best Actress

Catherine McCormack – Dancing at Lughnasa (The Lyric/The Gaiety)

Aislin McGuckin – A Month in the Country (The Gate)

Catherine Walker – Hedda Gabler (The Abbey)

Clare Dunne – Grounded (Project Arts Centre)

Lisa Dwyer Hogg – The Importance of Being Earnest (The Gate)

 

Best Supporting Actor

Declan Conlon – Dancing at Lughnasa (The Lyric/The Gaiety) & Hedda Gabler (The Abbey)

Marty Rea – The Caretaker (The Gate)

Peter Gaynor – Hedda Gabler (The Abbey)

Kevin Shackleton – The Importance of Being Earnest (Smock Alley)

Stijn Van Opstal – The Cherry Orchard (The O’Reilly Theatre)

Domhnall Gleeson – The Walworth Farce (The Olympia)

John Doran – Enjoy (Project Arts Centre)

 image

Best Supporting Actress

Marion O’Dwyer – By the Bog of Cats (The Abbey)

Minke Kruyver – The Cherry Orchard (The O’Reilly Theatre)

Kate Stanley Brennan – Hedda Gabler (The Abbey)

Deirdre Donnelly – The Importance of Being Earnest (The Gate)

Elodie Devins – By the Bog of Cats (The Abbey)

 

Best New Play

George Brant – Grounded (Project Arts Centre)

Conor McPherson – The Night Alive (The Lyric/The Gaiety)

Gerard Adlum – The Man in Two Pieces (Theatre Upstairs)

Enda Walsh – The Last Hotel (The O’Reilly Theatre)

Gerard Adlum, Nessa Matthews, Sarah Finlay – Bob and Judy (Theatre Upstairs)

 15_The_Importance_of_Being_Earnest

Best Set Design

tgSTAN & Damiaan De Schrijver – The Cherry Orchard (The O’Reilly Theatre)

Paul O’Mahony – Dancing at Lughnasa (The Lyric/The Gaiety) & Hedda Gabler (The Abbey)

Francis O’Connor – The Importance of Being Earnest (The Gate) & The Caretaker (The Gate)

Liam Doona – You Never Can Tell (The Abbey)

Alice Power – The Walworth Farce (The Olympia)

Alyson Cummins – The Night Alive (The Lyric/The Gaiety)

 

Best Lighting Design

Chahine Yavroyan – Dancing at Lughnasa (The Lyric/The Gaiety) & Hedda Gabbler (The Abbey)

Sinead McKenna – The Gigli Concert (The Gate)

Davy Cunningham – Grounded (Project Arts Centre)

 

Best Sound Design

Dennis Clohessy – Through a Glass Darkly (Project Arts Centre) & A View From the Bridge (The Gate)

Mel Mercier – The Shadow of a Gunman (The Abbey)

Conor Linehan – You Never Can Tell (The Abbey)

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