Interview: Sé Merry Doyle, director of John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man

The documentary, which enjoyed its premiere in the Irish Film
Institute during the recent John Ford Symposium, take a detailed look
into the making of the 1952 classic The Quiet Man, regarded as one of
filmmaker John Ford’s most personal projects.

Daire Walsh caught up with director Sé Merry Doyle to talk about the film.

When did you first start to develop John Ford: Dreaming
The Quiet Man?

I started approximately seven years ago. It took a
while. Pretty much all the stuff (in the film) you would have seen of
Nancy in Cong, and stuff like that, people who were connected with The
Quiet Man, was filmed first for a lot of reasons. One that I thought
some of them wouldn’t be around much longer. That became the basic
material for a pilot, which also included initially Jim Sheridan.
Basically, I hawked that around to try and get a documentary written,
but really nobody was interested in it. Then on a chance encounter,
Alan Maher came into the Loopline offices many years later to talk
about another project, and I don’t why but I said ‘Hey, would you look
at this pilot before you leave’, and he immediately was struck. He got
what nobody else was getting, and then the film went into full
production.

Have you always been a big admirer of The Quiet Man?

I’ve certainly always been an admirer of John Ford. I’ve grown up
watching his movies with my parents. The Quiet Man, I suppose for all
of us here, is a ‘love it or hate it’ sort of film. Way back, the
documentary was originally called ‘The Quiet Man: A Milestone Or A
Millstone?’. That idea would be a noose around our necks. I’ve always
been an admirer of John Ford, and the whole idea for the film started
when I was talking to somebody else, a colleague, who rubbished The
Quiet Man, and countered by saying ‘How could that be if it was made
by John Ford?’. I wanted to get to the bottom of what Ford was up to.

Was it difficult to secure the participation of any of the
interviewees we see in the documentary?

Maureen (O’Hara) was very difficult. She has never really spoken
at length about The Quiet Man. She had a feeling that people were
going to exploit the film. She didn’t want to, but I happened to meet
her nephew, Charles Fitzsimons, in Los Angeles, and we got on very
well and he put in the good word for me. After two years of trying to
get her, I finally secured an interview in 2010. That was difficult,
but it was also a wonderful interview, I had great fun with her.
Martin Scorsese really came about because years ago he came here to
give a talk, and also his editor Thelma Schoonmaker came. Because I
was an editor at the time, I kept a correspondence, and she led me to
Scorsese. Scorsese loves The Quiet Man, and loves Ford, so that kind
of worked well. Peter Bogdanovich, we just met him in LA, and he was
wonderful. But a lot of these people I think really wanted to
contribute to the documentary, it wasn’t too difficult with them.

What kind of an impact do you think The Quiet Man has had on Irish film?

Well I think it has been enormous. I think in all fairness, the
film was extremely popular. We all know that some did, and still do,
put it down as a stereotype. You know, John Ford created a stereotype
for America. I think all the early maverick Irish filmmakers,
especially say Joe Comerford, they were  creating the new realism
cinema against The Quiet Man. Now those filmmakers have since gone on
to not be petrified and respect The Quiet Man. But back then  Ireland
was trying to re-invent itself.

The film seems to give as good an insight into Ford himself as
does The Quiet Man. Was that your intention from the outset?

Absolutely. His 20 year quest to make the film, how it changed
from being a gung-ho IRA film to something totally different, that
became the tracking of the film. For instance, He was a Democrat, so I
think he was making a film about a lot of things we’re going through
in Ireland now. Will Danaher is a banker if you like in modern day
terms. Sean Thornton is someone who wanted to chill the land and lead
a decent life. He has created a world in Inis Free that is of
Shakespearean proportions. I think he knew his film would be more
understood with time. As he said, you couldn’t go around Hollywood
saying you were making an intellectual film. They’d kill you. As you
can see from the film, he’s a very complexed, difficult character, but
at the same time his troupe of actors, Wayne, O’Hara, McLaglen, were
very loyal to him and called him ‘Pappy’.

You had the film’s premiere last weekend. How did you find that?

It was fantastic, it really was. We had the original world
premiere in Cork, where we had 1,000 people in the Opera House with
Maureen O’Hara. That was a night to remember, and it broke box office
records for a documentary showing in Cork. What was special about the
other night was to have Dan Ford, John Ford’s grandson, in the
audience. Redmond Morris, who produced the film, and particularly
Peter Bogdanovich, who was a great friend and biographer of Ford, gave
the film the thumbs up. That was one of the best accolades I’ve had so
far for the film.

How important has the Symposium been for the film’s profile, and
also giving Ford the recognition he deserves in his ancestral home?

I think it’s amazing. I just think John Ford is an Irish icon. He
has peopled all his films as Westerns with Irish and lots of other
migrants to America. He was a good man, a great filmmaker. I think
they couldn’t have chosen anybody better to finally honour on a yearly
basis. He’s a real icon for emerging filmmakers, and when you see
people like Scorsese paying homage to him, and Steven Spielberg and
all the rest, it is a great platform for Irish film I think.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon at the moment?

I made a film that came out in the year 2000, that had a little
bit of that very first film I made in 1982, which is called Looking
On, which was documenting the inner city parts of Dublin. I returned
to that in 1996, and four years later it came out with a film called
Alive Alive-O: A Requiem For Dublin. It still has a strong presence,
it gets shown occasionally at the Archives, but the last time it was
shown everybody said you have to do a final chapter. The film ended
just as the Financial Services Centre was rising. Ireland was going
through a huge economic boom, so I’m trying to go back to the Irish
Film Board and do an epilogue or a full stop to that show. It just
seemed to chart a whole period of Dublin. That’s the next project if I
can get it made.

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