Irish films for the most part are terrible: bad acting, bad scripts, clichéd storylines, stereotypical characterisation, bad Irish accents (both city and country), unoriginal, lack of continuity and realism in the use of places and locations, commercial, obsessed with certain themes that get endlessly repeated (father-son relationships, catholic guilt, search for Irish identity, potatoes and Irish-American clichés etc.). On the other hand some new Irish films try to avoid Irishisms and instead pander to established Hollywood conventions and genre films (eg: gangster, romantic-comedy, road movie). So it’s a bit of a conundrum. Yet on the other hand there are some gems of Irish films that unfortunately are little seen or known of.
Some basic background:
Before the 1970’s films made in Ireland were American or British productions such as The Quiet Man (1952), during the 70’s however indigenous Irish film production began to take hold as an increasing number of Irish art students began to make short films, older generation documentarists and former RTÉ personnel began to make films independently. This group banding together as the Association of Independent Producers began to lobby the government to help fund film production, after various Arts Council grants awarded, in 1980 the government finally set up the Film Board specifically to fund indigenous production. The first film funded was Neil Jordan’s Angel (1982), launching the career of one of Ireland’s most successful contemporary filmmakers. Other films funded are considered experimental and avant-garde and although critically acclaimed did not fair well at the box office. In 1987 with the country in a period of economic gloom, the Fianna Fail government closed the Film Board feeling that it was not becoming self-funding as had been the intention, casting the independent film sector into despair. A new government in 1992 and Micheal D.Higgins as Minister for Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht led to the reinstatement of the Film Board as Bord Scannán na hÉireann, which is the main source of funding for indigenous film production ever since. There has been a significant shift though in the type of films made by the ‘Board, while the earlier films were experimental and questioning of Irish society and culture; with the newer Board there has been a decided shift towards more commercial film-making, the international market and genre films. That said in comparing the Boards’ it must be taken into account the two very different periods of time, the greater amount of films made by the new Board, the pool of people who are making the films, and that the Irish film industry is still relatively young.
My own major issues with Irish films are there unquestioning espousement of consumerism, commerciality and the like. This is most evident in what is known as the “cappuccino” or “Celtic Tiger” films such as When Brendan Met Trudy (1999), About Adam (1999), Goldfish Memory (2002) and The Trouble With Sex (2004). There is also something very basic going wrong with film production in this country as regards the quality of scripts, unoriginality, acting and all those things I mentioned in the first paragraph. Also why is there no avant-garde/experimental film-making or what is really needed some well thought out critiques and statements on Irish society. Of course there’s another issue as regards distribution of films, and people actually getting to see them…
Any would be film-makers out there: start thinking, do your homework, get your shit together; hopefully there’ll be more good films to look forward to.
Anyway, rant aside here’s the
Poitín (1978, dir: Bob Quinn) (Ás Gaelige). The first Irish independent film, this tells the story of a Poitín maker in Connemara, West Ireland; and two conniving chancers who try to rob his wears. Rather than the idyllic clichés of The Quiet Man (et al) this shows the West and rural life in a harsh, realist light. With almost documentary style camera shots and movement, there’s a great car chase through some quiet stonewall adorned country laneways. You’ll get a bit of a shock at the ending as well. Check out all films directed by Bob Quinn.
Maeve (1981, dir: Pat Murphy/John Davies). The first film by Irish feminist director Pat Murphy uses a complex narrative structure influenced by the counter-cinema practices of the 1970’s avant-garde. Maeve returns to her home Belfast, having been living in London and tries to come to terms with her family and the republican community she grew up with. Operating as a sort of visual essay the film uses this back drop, to explore debates between nationalism and feminism (that nationalism and violence are essentially male struggles…), the privileging of male and patriarchal discourses to those of the female, the female nude as male sexual voyeurism, etc. Great and very interesting film.
Pigs (1984, dir: Cathal Black). Set in the grim depression era of 80’s Dublin, when dole queues, unemployment and recession were all the go. This tells the story of Jimmy who sets up a squatted house in an abandoned house in Central Dublin, to be joined by an unlikely group of outsiders and social misfits. For awhile the group take on the metaphor of an alternative family-type nucleus until the harsh realities of a bigoted society and repressive state intervene. Excellent and very strong statement on Dublin/Irish life at that time.
How To Cheat In The Leaving Certificate (1997, dir: Graham Jones). Great satire on the Leaving Certificate and Irish education system (especially if you didn’t enjoy the experience) in which a group of people hatch a plan to break into the central Dept. of Education warehouse in Athlone and rob the exam papers. With very funny cameo appearances by some well know Irish faces (Chris de Burgh as a gas station attendant, Biddy as career guidance counsellor), this film is spot on!
Adam & Paul (2004, dir: Lenny Abrahamson). Most promising Irish film in years; this follows two Dublin junkies who have fallen by the wayside of the Celtic Tiger, in a day in the life trek through town on the search for a score to fend off the dreaded junk sickness. It holds a fine line between sentiment and preaching, manages to avoid demonising, glorifying and pity, but yet captures the hopelessness of it all, leaving the viewer fairly stunned by the end. Sidesteps the usual Hollywood plot structure-clichés by focusing more on the spoken-syntax of the duo. Great digital camera-work as well.
Check out: The Irish Film and Televsion Network for Irish
filmography and more at www.iftn.ie; and Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the
Irish Film Board at www.filmboard.ie for more info on making films in Ireland,
funding and all the like.