Niamh McCann as Madam May Oblong
Stephen Porzio takes a look at Anne Maree Barry’s latest film work, Otium cum Dignitate ~ Leisure with Dignity, which combines her own psychogeographic walking tours of the ‘Monto’ area to create a film and exhibition that reflects historical events, whilst at the same time presenting a complex portrait of female empowerment.
Leisure with Dignity is a short film which utilises various non-typical styles of filmmaking, combining them to instill a strange, hypnotising effect on the viewer. The experimental film (23 minutes in total) sees four characters – Madam May Oblong, Kitty D, Countess Aldborough and The Custom House – discuss their roles in society, particularly in relation to Monto, a red-light district which prospered in Dublin between the 1860s and 1920s.
Anne Maree Barry as Countess Aldborough
Dense and multi-layered – an early reference to Joyce’s Ulysses sets the appropriate mood – Leisure with Dignity takes a moment to link the viewer to its unusual tone and pace. The opening five minutes of the short is its least compelling, feeling the most like part of a museum exhibit. Consisting of long lasting close-up shots of The Custom House – accompanied by an emotionless, icy narration – the type of filmmaking doesn’t lend itself best to the cinematic medium.
However, following this opening, Leisure with Dignity finds its feet and the rest of its running time is nothing short of compelling and entrancing. Firstly, there are two straight-to-camera monologues delivered by actors Niamh McCann and Katie Freeney, performing as a prostitute and a madam. They breathe life into the film, delivering recounts (wonderfully written by director Anne Maree Barry) of the dangers of Monto, that somehow also function as testaments to the strength of the women who worked those streets – managing to endure and survive despite the constant threat of violence.
Katie Freeney as Kitty D
Also, there’s the Countess Aldborough portion of the drama, a woman who wrote a book about homemade remedies, much of which were used by the prostitutes of Monto. This is where the short is at its most mesmerizing. Barry utilises a four-minute extreme close up of a potion being prepared in a glass as all the ingredients blend together, evoking memories of watching Freddie Quell preparing “torpedo juice” in The Master.
One could have made a more standard, completely factual documentary about Monto. Yet, that’s not what Barry did. Instead, she takes four disparate elements – parts of the history that particularly interest her – and merges them, crafting a complete image of the place and time for the viewer. One won’t come away from Leisure with Dignity knowing specific dates and facts. However, they will leave with a sensorial evocation of the period.
Otium cum Dignitate ~ Leisure With Dignity is currently screening everyday Mon-Fri 10-6 and Sat & Sun 10-5 on the first floor gallery, The LAB, Foley Street, Dublin until 3rd September 2017.
The piece is 23 minutes long and screens on a loop.