June Butler is haunted by Niall McCann’s observational drama which centres on well-known Irish musician Adrian Crowley.
I was not sure what to expect when attending the IFI for a screening of this film. The director, Niall McCann, stood to say a few words and my expectations mutated into full confusion mode. McCann thanked Adrian Crowley, the subject of his film ‘for not going mad’. Cue titters from the audience. Quite why Adrian might have gone ‘mad’ was intriguing but worrisome. He went on to express his gratitude to other persons working on the project for also not going ‘mad’. More polite tittering.
It was clear at this point, McCann had a theme going on. He then mentioned a crew member who had decided not to row in with the flat-line levels of remaining calm, instead ratcheting crazy to a new level by actually going ‘mad’, thus throwing the audience into immediate disarray. No more cuddly safety for them – the audience stopped tittering and looked askance at each other. At this juncture, I was out of my seat and scrabbling for the emergency exits when McCann said something that stopped me in my tracks – ‘this is an experimental film’ he averred. I sighed in relief and returned to my seat. From here on, anything that came my way was a delightful excursion into the unknown.
Adrian Crowley, on whom the film is based, is both the perfect topic and an ideal subject for such a film. His soulful countenance, at times expressive and others implacable, is a most suitable canvas for McCann’s vision. There are moments of farce that bring unexpected lightness into the frame – some are timely and others a distraction but each scene brings with it the knowledge that post-mortem impressions are the result of individual wisdom. Each to their own, as the fella says. Crowley and McCann work well together with McCann’s vision coming to the fore and Crowley being game for a laugh. There is humour in parts and in others the wide-eyed innocence of a child, evidenced from Crowley’s playful narrative about his son.
Lyrics to Unhappy Seamstress written by Crowley when he moved, hermit-like, into a bedsit in Rathmines, make for somewhat distressing listening – the tools of a songwriter unfold as by-lines to human despair. But his songs also hold a light to the human condition in its perfect misery. The cinematography holds moments of sobriety against capricious whimsy – changing from moment to moment – becoming manifest as an oft-distant stage-whisperer only to later metamorphose into a second but equally significant subject, one that is figuratively as vital as Crowley himself.
McCann cleverly juxtaposes the sublime with the even more sublime and always manages to carry it off with panache. As experimental films go, I would suggest this has tones of Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deran, 1943, USA), with its unpredictable reminiscences – McCann’s wonderful offering allows and encourages viewers to think for themselves – it is what makes his film well worth seeing.
The Science of Ghosts screened on Saturday 26th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).