Talking Movies

February 5, 2015

Selma

Selma brings to vivid life the struggle for civil rights in 1965 Alabama with a fiery performance from David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr.

SELMA

Four schoolgirls are murdered in a church bombing in Selma. Any prospect for justice is defeated by the refusal of Registrar (Clay Chappell) to allow people like Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) to register to vote (on ever shifting sands of spurious tests), thereby ensuring all-white juries. And so MLK (Oyelowo) rolls into town to whip up a mass demonstration to pressure LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) to put aside the Great Society and pass a Voting Rights Act instead. Little does he know that as well as facing the obvious threat of Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), his henchman Col. Al Lingo (Stephen Root), and the vicious Selma Sheriff Jim Clark (Stanley Houston), he will face the shadowy threat of J Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker) attempting to turn King’s wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) against him. Can MLK stay the course?

Oyelowo oozes charisma as he delivers three set-piece speeches during this film. But he also shows us a vulnerable side to King; riven by guilt over the deaths of protestors drawn by his rhetoric, self-doubt about whether his leadership will achieve civil rights, and shame at his infidelities. The other black leaders Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), James Orange (Omar J Dorsey), James Bevel (Common), Bayard Rustin (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), Andrew Young (Andre Holland), John Lewis (Stephan James), James Forman (Trai Byers), Rev. Williams (Wendell Pierce), and Rev. Vivian (Corey Reynolds), are, perhaps inevitably, less particularised; but the ensemble is equal to the challenge laid down by Oyelowo’s lead performance. Selma is especially interesting when it explores conflict between these men; with egoism and principle equally important in arguments over leadership and non-violence; and when Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch) arrives in town.

But Selma has heavy baggage. Director Ava DuVernay’s Oscar snub is not that outrageous. Even if she did rewrite Paul Webb’s script as much as claimed she’d deserve a nod only for writing. The ones hard done by are Oyelowo and cinematographer Bradford Young; who once again does extraordinary things with warm shadows in MLK’s intimate moments of doubt. But the depiction of LBJ, as uninterested in civil rights and conniving at J Edgar sending a sex-tape to Coretta, has been hauled over the coals by Maureen Dowd, and her central charge; “Filmmakers love to talk about their artistic license to distort the truth, even as they bank on the authenticity of their films to boost them at awards season”; rings uncomfortably true. Rather David O Russell’s ‘Some of this actually happened’ than claiming your fictions are truer than history.

Selma is an extremely moving, often upsetting, chronicle of an extraordinary event, powered by a magnificent lead performance, but it’s not history and must be taken with much salt.

3.5/5

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February 11, 2014

Close-up: Iconic Film Images from Susan Wood

An exhibition of work by New York photographer Susan Wood is now open until the 22nd of February in the Irish Georgian Society’s City Assembly House on South William Street, and Wood will give a free admission lunchtime talk about her life and work on Friday 14th February at 1pm.

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Close-up is part of the JDIFF programme and is a collection of iconic 1960s film images from movies including Leo the Last and Easy Rider, representing milestones in American photography over a period of more than thirty years. Under contract to Paramount Pictures, United Artists and 20th Century Fox, Wood’s assignments allowed her to capture remarkable, unrehearsed shots of some of the era’s most unforgettable personalities – Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Monica Vitti, Marcello Mastroianni, Billie Whitelaw, John Wayne, Billy Wilder, and Joseph Losey. The pictures are on display as a group in this exhibition for the first time ever. Wood’s editorial, advertising, and fashion photography has appeared in LookVoguePeople and The New York Times and she is known for her portraits of John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Susan Sontag, and John Updike. A founding member of the Women’s Forum, Wood was friends with many of the vanguard of the feminist movement, including Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. This exhibition, presented with the Irish Georgian Society, has been curated by Irish photographer Deirdre Brennan, who has worked with Wood’s archive for the past decade. Wood says “I am thrilled that these photographs, lovingly curated by Deirdre Brennan, will be seen together for the first time in Dublin and I’m honoured to be one of the first artists to exhibit in this wonderful new space at the Irish Georgian Society.”

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Wood is the winner of many Art Director and Clio awards, and her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide. Throughout the 1970s and 80s she was a regular contributor to New York magazine, and did a notable cover story on John Lennon & Yoko Ono for LookMademoiselle her as one of their ‘10 Women Of The Year’ in 1961, and she went on to interview and photograph Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer, as well as delve into investigative reporting for the celebrated New York magazine expose of medical malfeasance, “Dr. Feelgood”. She is the co-author of Hampton Style (1992), a Literary Guild selection, for which she took over 250 original photographs of houses and gardens on the East End of Long Island. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Yale School of Art, her work is in the Library of Congress and her own website www.susanwood.net.

Brennan is an NCAD graduate who worked as a photojournalist and documentary photographer in New York for over a decade before returning to Dublin in 2008. On contract with The New York Times since 2000, her work has been published throughout the world in NewsweekMarie ClaireThe Smithsonian and the Sunday Times. Brennan is currently working on a photo documentary entitled Ulysses Map of Dublin, utilising the map and structure of James Joyce’s novel to consider politics, race and class in the modern capital. She has been a member of New York’s Redux Picture Agency since 2000. (Seewww.deirdrebrennan.com)

February 1, 2013

Men at Lunch – Lon sa Speir

This documentary examines the famous 1932 photograph Lunch Atop a Skyscraper depicting 11 steel workers perched on a girder above Manhattan while building 30 Rock.

Men-at-Lunch

This TG4 originated feature, narrated by Fionnula Flanagan, tries to identify the anonymous 11 men in the photograph with research in the archives of the Rockefeller Centre that compares the diners with figures in other contemporaneous photos taken by the daredevil press photographers of the equally death-defying steelworkers. Director Seán Ó Cualáin follows the trail of clues into the bunker west of NYC that houses Corbis’ originals of their treasure-trove of iconic photographs. On a side-note Pennsylvanians should definitely head to Corbis’ underground lair in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Sadly what appears to be an original glass negative is now shattered, but it seems to confirm there was no trickery involved in the photo. It was as dangerous as it looks, and 2 of those men eating lunch may have been from the remote Galway village of Shanaglish…

Matt O’Shaughnessy and Sonny Glynn to be precise, as vouched for by Boston man Pat Glynn who recognised his father and uncle in the photo one day – not least because of the characteristically intimidating stare given the camera by his father; who may have been drinking poitin on the job… Both men did leave the small village of Shanaglish to work in New York on the lucrative but extremely dangerous skyscraper construction boom of the roaring 1920s. But did they then become immortalised by the skyline they helped to build? Perhaps, perhaps not, it’s hard to be definitive. Dan Barry of the New York Times certainly wishes to believe so, not least because of some amazing coincidences. But then, as the film explains, with eloquent testimony from Irish-American Peter Quinn, many Americans insist their ancestors are in the photo.

There is in fact too much harping about the photo’s deep positive meaning throughout. If you’re wary of American exceptionalism even as Francis Fukuyama, or know the deep suspicion with which non-WASP immigration has historically been regarded in American politics, then you may get fed up of this section; but it’s quickly dispensed with for detective work. Sadly 9/11 and the construction of the Freedom Tower are then unnecessarily tacked on at the end. The building of 30 Rock is fascinating in itself. The architects and chiefs planned a certain number of deaths per number of storeys completed. Chilling? Yes. Reminiscent of how the pyramids were built? Even more so. The names of the men who commission these buildings are remembered, but the people who actually hauled the stones or raised high the steelwork are forgotten. That is, until now.

This is an interesting film that occasionally pushes its luck too far, but has the horse sense to change direction just in time to keep the audience consistently engaged.

3/5

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