Seán Crosson takes a look at two TG4-commissioned documentaries that screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh – An Náisiún (The Nation 1923) and Deoch an Dorais (Name Your Poison).
Since its launch in 1996, TG4 (or TnaG as it was then) has rightfully developed a considerable reputation for the excellent documentaries it has commissioned and the Galway Film Fleadh has provided an important forum for the premiere of many of these works in recent years. An Náisiún (The Nation 1923) and Deoch an Dorais were two further impressive examples of TG4’s súil eile approach in its examination of the experiences of Irish people at home and abroad.
In An Náisiún the subject is the Irish civil war, and particularly that part of it fought out over Limerick city and its hinterland. Narrated by Macdara Ó Fatharta, the doc features impressive archive footage and photographs that are beautifully rendered to bring the viewer into the lives and tensions of the period considered. The most affecting aspect of the work is the director’s – Andrew Gallimore – decision to offer most of the commentary from the perspective of participants involved in the war itself, on both the Free State and Irregular sides. Arguably no war is more brutal or more poignant than a civil war and the words of those involved, whether from letters, memoirs or interviews, make this all the more apparent.
Set slightly later in the early 1930s, Deoch an Dorais (Name Your Poison) examines the legend of Mike Malloy (nicknamed “Rasputin of the Bronx” or “Durable Mike Malloy”), an Irish emigrant to New York at the time of prohibition. Malloy was the unwitting subject of insurance fraud when a policy was taken out on his life by an Italian-American New York gangster and speakeasy owner, Tony Marino. However, despite repeated attempts to collect the policy by killing Malloy in a manner that would suggest a natural death – from poisoning him with drink and food, to hitting him with a car and dumping his soaking body overnight in freezing weather – Marino and his accomplices were unable to collect.
The documentary is presented by All-Ireland winning Donegal captain Anthony Molloy, who also reflects on his own struggle with alcoholism and the larger story of Irish emigration to the United States of which Malloy was but one of many examples. Incorporating contemporary footage of New York and interviews with a range of scientific and academic commentators (including historian J.J. Lee), Deoch an Dorais also includes reenactments of the events from the 1930s involving Malloy, Marino and his co-conspirators (including undertaker Francis Pasqua); the scenes in Marino’s speakeasy offer a convincing rendering of the period, with the lighting particularly impressive. Under Paddy Hayes assured direction, Deoch an Dorais is an engaging and thought-provoking account of an extraordinary story.
Seán Crosson is the Programme Director of the MA in Film Studies: Theory and Practice at the Huston School of Film & Digital Media, NUI Galway. His publications include Sport and Film (Routledge, 2013) and several co-edited volumes, including Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema (Braumüller, 2011) and The Quiet Man … and Beyond: Reflections on a Classic Film, John Ford and Ireland (Liffey Press, 2009). He is currently President of the European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS).
An Náisiún screened on Thursday, 9th July & Deoch an Dorais screened on Saturday, 11th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)