Review of ‘Guests Of The Nation’ at the NCH 11th September 2011


(Guests of The Nation)


Rory Cashin spends an evening at the National Concert Hall for a special screening of the silent classic ‘Guests of The Nation’ accompanied by a new orchestral score by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The programme also featured Andrew Legge’s experimental silent film ‘The Lactating Automaton’ starring Dominic West, with a live orchestral score by Liam Bates and live Foley performance.

Set within the grand opulence of the National Concert Hall, and on the eve of Hurricane Katia’s arrival, those in attendance of the night’s festivities arrived in their glad rags and settled themselves in for a unique evening.

Starting off with a double bill of Andrew Legge ‘silent’ shorts, first up was The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish. Combining footage of Dublin shot in 1897 with new scenes filmed on a clockwork 16mm Russian camera, the story of a young inventor vying for the affections of a well-to-do lady was very sweet, quite simple and expertly told. Accompanied by pianist Isabelle O’Connell, the first screening certainly set the mood for the experimental manner of the evening.

Next up was the premiere of Legge’s latest short, The Lactating Automaton. Starring The Wire’s Dominic West as an inventor unable to cope with a new baby and a wife that died during childbirth, he constructs a mechanical wet-nurse to look after his child.

Brilliantly unique, the funny and bittersweet short features fantastic cinematography, editing and art direction, and altogether more darker in tone that Cavendish, Legge’s new short channels influences such as Frankenstein, Spielberg’s A.I. and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. This latter influence extends further, as the score for the short is provided live by Liam Bates, and is quite reminiscent of Burton’s regular soundtrack composer Danny Elfman. The short is also presented with live Foley artists, scored by Caoimhe Doyle, and watching the three artists perform and create the sound effects right before your eyes was quite a sight to behold.

Finally, the world premiere of the new restoration of Guests of The Nation. The 1935 movie was introduced by Irish cinema icon Stephen Rea, whose speech made it evident that he is just as passionate about being a part of the audience as he is being part of what audiences come to see. The first big-screen viewing of the movie in over 75 years, the restoration of the project was beautifully handled, and the film itself has lost none of its power.

The story of a budding friendship between two British military prisoners and the two IRA members assigned to watch over them, the first and only feature by Denis Johnston is a testament to the enduring nature of cinema. The film was presented with a newly commissioned score by the Irish Film Institute under the Arts Council Commissions Award Scheme, composer Niall Byrne’s dramatic soundtrack perfectly accompanies the movie throughout, supplementing the ever-changing tones on screen.

The programme is part of Culture Ireland’s ‘Imagine Ireland: A Year Of Irish Arts In America 2011’, and will have its US premiere on 22nd September at the Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Centre in New York. To any of our readers in America, I highly recommend this evening’s unique spectacle of sight and sound.

Rory Cashin