Talking Movies

December 22, 2019

From the Archives: Youth without Youth

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

One of the worst films of the year, this should be held as proof that Francis Ford Coppola may know how to make wine but he long since forgot how to make films. After a decade away it would appear that Coppola saw Donnie Darko and decided that what he really needed to do to add to the legendary reputation of his last two films, Jack and The Rainmaker, was to make his own version of Donnie Darko. His wine business has after all left him in the happy position of being able to entirely self-finance his films and he has droned on about his insane desire at the age of 68 to be a young independent film-maker tackling unusual subjects. It is hilariously appropriate to title the film Youth without Youth, as this is Donnie Darko without its wunderkind writer/director Richard Kelly’s youthful sensibility.

Imagine Donnie Darko with an older hero, no jokes, no dramatic tension, no interesting scenes, no characterisation and enough pretension to out-do a Parisian coffee shop full of philosophy students. Coppola’s ‘script’ is a boring trawl through endless unexplained ideas which even lead actor Tim Roth has admitted not understanding in the slightest. Roth stars as 70-year-old linguist Dominic Matei whose life’s search for the original source of human language is rejuvenated by a lightning strike that restores him to his 35-year-old self, with two co-existing personalities, which makes him a coveted specimen for evil Nazi scientists….Don’t ask, this film hops genres every time you yawn. In the hands of Tom Stoppard this could have been made interesting. But then in the hands of Tom Stoppard anything can be made interesting as his approach combines fearsome intelligence with a love of comedy. Coppola though seems to be getting ever more pompous as he gets older. Witness the ‘written and directed by’ credit he insists upon claiming even though he then has to admit that this film is based on the supposedly amazing writings of Romanian philosopher/historian Mircea Eliade.

There is no trace here of the man who made The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. There is though, God help us, a trace of the man who made Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Alexandra Maria Lara, so good in Control, has the thankless task of playing both Tim Roth’s dead love from the 1890s and a lookalike Belgian schoolteacher in the 1950s who falls in love with Roth’s Matei who is only using her for her ability to channel the spirit of a 1200s Indian princess-philosopher. This will allegedly help him to finish his life’s work although that seems logically impossible if you’re still conscious enough to think about it at that point. The final image of the film is so obviously meant to be a shockingly intelligent twist that the only correct response is derisive laughter….

1/5

January 27, 2010

RIP Michael Dwyer

I was saddened to hear of the death of Irish Times film critic Michael Dwyer. Many words have been written about Dwyer’s contribution to Irish cinema, his founding of the Dublin International Film Festival, and his work in building an audience for foreign films in Ireland. I can add little to such perspectives, what I can add is a personal note on what I think he meant to me and other film fans of my generation.

As the elder statesman of cinema at the Irish Times from a ridiculously young age Dwyer was more influential than anyone with the exception of Barry Norman in forming the archetype for a whole generation of what the role of a film critic was, and what films were worthy of recognition and championing in the ongoing narrative of cinema. My own personal experience of Dwyer’s writing falls into, yes, a three-act arc. First was the period of adoring respect – the religious reading of the Irish Times every Friday to see what films were good, what films were bad, what directors deserved respect, and the continual processing of his casual asides into an expanding mosaic of just what films from cinema past and present were important and good.

Then inevitably came the teenage age of rebellion. This began for me with sneering at his (still) frankly embarrassing laudatory review of Titanic in 1998, and then found greater expression in criticising his Top 20 Films of the Year lists which seemed to take a peculiar joy in not featuring films from the Top 20 Highest Grossing Films of the Year lists. Eventually this perception of an utter disjunct between critic and audience led to a jaded boredom with his perspective and a cynical distaste for the clichés of his style, especially when writing about sex and violence in movies, which found voice in a polemical University Observer piece about the tired and tiresome predictability of critical responses to films like 9 Songs and The Passion of the Christ.

The reappraisal came later, after I had finished writing my abrasive film column for the University Observer and had started writing reviews, when I realised just how difficult it sometimes is to sum up your reaction to a film in a short word-count. Indeed I could not possibly have hacked it as a film critic for InDublin, writing up to 6 reviews a week, had I not downloaded Dwyer’s review of 300 and taken it apart to understand how he structured his reviews – which gave him the head-start needed to make the sometimes tortuous work of reviewing seem easy. At this juncture, having cycled back to a position of mature rather than adoring respect, it was fitting that I finally met Michael Dwyer at a press screening of Youth without Youth. He was charming and talkative about the decline of Coppola and the history of InDublin and made me feel like I truly belonged to Graham Greene’s ‘mornings in the dark’ corps.

Other people have written about Dwyer’s tangible legacy but from my perspective his legacy is to forever be the voice in your head which asks, “Yes, this film is fun, but will it endure?” In a way every Irish film critic of my generation, professional or amateur, will have Barry Norman’s sardonic “…And why not?” and Michael Dwyer’s critical perspective internalised for life. And so long as we all keep hearing that voice then a part of him lives on forever in his readers.

Blog at WordPress.com.