Sounding Off: Rachel Lysaght asks ‘Where my ladies at?’ Issue 144 Spring 2013

Pic: Niamh Creely

The IFTAs are upon us again. The great and good, the glamorous and glorious, the gorgeous, gregarious and gratuitous are poised on the red carpet, ready to be piped into our living rooms. Let’s celebrate the best of the best in Irish film and television.

 

However, a quick tot of the named nominees this year shows that only 27% have a double X chromosome – that’s 40 women across 41 categories. Well, across 34 categories actually, as there is zero female representation in Direction, Script*, Cinematography, Production Design, Animation, Score and Sound. Creative talent is not the sole preserve of a single gender, and I quote the great thinker Lupe Fiasco when I ask, ‘Where my ladies at?’

 

Lupe got me to pondering – maybe very few women work in the film and television industry, and that’s why the nominations aren’t flooding in. First stop IBEC. Unfortunately, for my purposes, IBEC has not asked for an employee gender breakdown since 2006, which would have looked at 2005 productions. However, it is interesting to note that these 2005 numbers, skewing 57% male to 43% female are not a million miles away from the current EU figures on general Irish employment: 54% male, 46% female.

 

A quick ring around the various colleges and universities offering film, media and communications courses yields more interesting results. Where high Leaving Cert points are required, and on the more arts-centred courses, the student split was close to 50/50, skewing female. On the more technical courses, the split widened, skewing 70/30 male and in some cases reaching as far as a 90/10 male/female divide.

 

To examine female representation in the creative origin of film projects, I took a quick scan of the Irish Film Board’s 2012 development slate. It reads depressingly. Of the successful directors, only 28% are female, and of the writers, a paltry 25%. There are no figures available on the gender split of applicants, so we cannot surmise whether these director and writer figures represent a success rate of 10%, 50% or 100% of applications from female creatives.

 

The IFTA Irish Film Board Rising Star awards, anticipated to be representative, one imagines, of the future of Irish talent, acknowledged female skill and ability with only 1 out of 5 nominees. Across the pond, where BAFTA are allowing the public to vote for their Rising Star category, we see, from 5 talented young things, that 4 are women.

 

From this, albeit not entirely scientific statistical analysis, we can make some conclusions. 1. Not enough women are being encouraged into the technical end of filmmaking. 2. As an industry, film and television is not abnormally more pro-male than other Irish industries. 3. There is a clear dearth of female voices and stories being developed, produced, making it to market and ultimately to a shiny podium in the Convention Centre.

 

Which brings me back to the IFTA nominations. What better way to encourage young women into an industry than for them to see talented female creatives recognised, lauded and championed? How about a bit of role model action for the girls at the back? Anyone…?

 

2011 was a particularly sad year for female thespians – apparently there weren’t eight actresses of sufficient merit to be found in this country, so IFTA created a combined Lead Actress in a Film/TV Role category. I’m not crying conspiracy – clearly enough quality actresses weren’t put forward for selection.

 

So who is responsible for the selections? In a tidy piece of circularity, we turn again to our industry – it is Irish producers, production and post-production houses that nominate their colleagues and work. IFTA members then vote as to who goes through for the nominee shortlist, and the chance to strut their stuff on the red carpet. When I contacted IFTA to find out their membership gender split, they did not have exact figures but assured me it’s about 50/50.

 

This, I must admit, leaves me in a bit of a bind as I come to a conclusion. Some small part of me had hoped my fleeting foray into the world of investigative journalism would yield Pulitzer results, and uncover a Machiavellian misogynistic machine working devilishly behind the scenes, thwarting women from claiming their golden statues… In reality, there are no such easy, flippant answers.

 

Ultimately, audiences and industry alike are being cheated. We need a variety of voices, stories and experiences on our screens in order to build and maintain a diverse, exciting and successful industry and culture. We need to encourage more young women to make their voices heard. We need to champion and, crucially, support women already excelling in their chosen field**. Our industry’s future depends upon it.

 

If you’re interested in finding solutions to the under representation of women in the Irish film and TV industry, please add your voice on 28th February – see Underground Films’ Facebook page for more details.

 

 

* ‘Jump’ is based on the stage play ‘Jump by Lisa McGee, though she herself is not nominated for the screenplay.

** Much as I would like to segue into a discussion on maternity leave for self-employed women, long working hours and childcare, printing space decrees I must desist.

 

Rachel Lysaght

Rachel Lysaght is an award-winning Film & TV Producer, and a graduate of the European EAVE programme and the Samuel Beckett School of Drama in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.  She is a lecturer for Filmbase Dublin’s Masters in Creative Documentary Production from Staffordshire University, UK.

Recent producing credits include new release THE RUNNER (Director Saeed Taji Farouky 2012), THE RELUCTANT REVOLUTIONARY (Director Sean McAllister 2012), DREAMS OF A LIFE (Director Carol Morley 2011) and THE PIPE (Director Risteard Ó Domhnaill 2010).  

This article first appeared in issue 144 Spring 2013, the last ever printed issue of Film Ireland, which was published 14th February 2013.

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A Response to Sounding Off: Making Irish films that people want to watch: my thoughts on Mark O’Connor’s manifesto

Screenwriter and producer Eilis Mernagh responds to Mark O’Connor’s Sounding Off article: ‘The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage’, which featured in Film Ireland magazine Issue 142 Autumn 2012

Mark O’Connor, the writer and director of the low-budget feature film Stalker, read this manifesto out at the Fleadh, before a screening of Stalker.
I like the idea of someone putting themselves out there and bothering to write up a well thought-out manifesto. There’s something brave and maverick-ish about this. Vive La Revolution and all that! I like even more the fact that he had the balls to stand up and deliver it in public (it’s also printed in this month’s Film Ireland magazine btw).However, I do disagree with him on a bunch of points. Actually quite a lot of points.

I do agree that we are experiencing a bit of an “Irish New Wave” and that there’s a lot of interesting stuff being made. I also agree with him that Charlie Casanova has an “astonishingly powerful cinematic voice” and is one of the most intriguing pieces of work ever made in Ireland. And on a no-budget at that. But…

He goes on to say that “We have for too long focused on perfecting the script when in fact some of the finest work in this country, such as ‘Tin Can Man’ and ‘Pavee Lackeen’, came about through a uniquely personal way of working. These films show that the logic of film can work in a very different way than a rigidly plotted out story on paper.”

This is where my heart starts to sink. Like most writers, I believe that starting a film without a properly worked-out script (not necessarily rigidly plotted, there has to be room for manoeuvre) is like starting to build a house with no clear blueprints. What do you think the final product will look like? If the builder is a complete genius and manages to make it work, it will still be great. If he’s an average Joe, well…

When this kind of point comes up, people always mention Mike Leigh. Yes, Mike Leigh can start with nothing more than an idea and improvise a whole film. But Mike Leigh IS a complete God at what he does. Most directors are not Gods (most writers aren’t either, for the record).

But there’s more.

“Unlike the ‘Auteur’ or ‘Shreiber’ theories favouring either the director or the writer as the true author of a film, the ‘Fís’ Theory holds that a true singular voice can only be attained when the director is also the writer. If the director does not write it then they must rewrite it and reinterpret it into their own vision”.

This reminds me of when I went to a screening of “Our Wonderful Home” by Ivan Kavanagh at JDIFF a few years ago. Following a silence during which you could smell the depression off the audience, a woman got up during the Q&A. She asked Ivan Kavanagh (rather pointedly) whether he thought it had been a good idea to write, direct and edit the film himself. She was heavily hinting that it might have been better to get another perspective.

For me, and I accept that this is not everyone’s view, film is a collaborative medium that relies heavily on a bunch of creative people working together. I write a script, a director directs the movie, someone else does the costumes, someone lights the set, etc etc. I have zero interest in directing and if a director has no interest in writing that should be okay.

Sidney Lumet wrote a brilliant book on making films where he dismissed as ”’auteur’ nonsense” the notion that the director is the sole stylistic voice on a film, and he said he went out of his way to give credit to everyone from script girl to star. He discusses how he worked heavily with the writers on each of his films and always put story first. In other words, he respected the talent of those he worked with and got the most out of it.

Just to be clear, I’m not a writer who always thinks the director is out to mess with my script or who would resent changes being made along the way. I’d think it was strange if compromises didn’t have to be made, or if other viewpoints weren’t taken into consideration. But it’s a rare person who is just as excellent at writing as they are at directing. And I feel that a lot of people are out there doing both not because they can do both well, but because they don’t want to compromise “their own vision”.

If the only way a singular voice can be kept is if the director writes/rewrites the script where, then, does that leave a. directors who can’t write (should they just write shoddy scripts and shoot them? And b. what about writers who don’t want to direct?

That brings me to Charlie Casanova. I’m glad I watched it and I’m glad it was made. It looks fantastic and is a credit to its production designer and cinematographer. It raises great questions about class and about what the ruling class in the last administration were allowed to get away with – what they’re still getting away with.

I just wish Terry McMahon had let someone take a red pen to a script that was indulgent and wearyingly up its own arse (or up its own vagina in the case of the scene where Leigh Arnold inserts a tampon in front of Charlie). This is a film that is so “incendiary”, it thinks there’s something shocking about an act that half the population do many times a day for a whole week out of every month. Are tampons now sexy? Will Ireland now be full of panting men in front of bathroom doors, whispering “Show me the Tampax, baby!” Will Terry’s next film show a smear exam? My tongue is leaving my cheek now.

Apparently, CC is a “Protest film” and “the protest film is not conceived for the market. They are emotionally reactive, born out of necessity and a political and social consciousness”. 

I don’t know – and I haven’t been able to find out – whether Charlie made any money, whether it made a profit or whether it even broke even? No one got paid, and I assume Terry put a fair bit of moolah in himself. Either way, should films not be conceived – at least to some extent – “for the market?”

I’m thinking of an Irish person at home on Saturday night, who wants to go and see a film. First of all, he or she is likely to dismiss an Irish film as an option – even if there is one available to watch in their local cinema. Let’s be honest about this. Irish people tend to think Irish films are shit

And why is this? There are a lot of possible reasons – lack of proper distribution, poor development processes, lack of money, but I think the biggest problem is that the films are not, as a general rule, entertaining. I think the average person, who’s had a hard week at work and just wants to be gripped/made cry or made laugh for two hours, is not going to pay to see what may well be what a friend of mine likes to call a “tap-dripper”.

In case you think I’m saying that all films need to be Michael Bay-like (perish the thought), Mississippi Burning is a highly entertaining film as well as being powerful and informative. So is Medium Cool. So is an excellent Palestinian film called Amreeka. I remember watching the TV documentary drama “Who Bombed Birmingham” when I was very young and it’s stayed with me, scene by scene, ever since. It was so well written and well presented that it took me by the throat when I saw it.

But film is a medium that is designed for people to watch, preferably en masse, in a darkened cinema. I believe – and this is my manifesto if you like – that we need to think about the end user. The guy or girl paying for a ticket to watch something that we have created. We owe it to the audience to come up with something great, something that will leave them wondering, or laughing, or crying. And yes, thinking.

I watched two trailers for Irish movies today that (hopefully) will do those things. Two very different films, too – Citadel and Grabbers. I’m willing to bet that both of them will make money AND leave the audiences feeling like they got their monies worth.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mark on this last point – and I’d like to thank him for writing a manifesto that will encourage debate and hopefully lead to some great films being made. Because we think we can agree that we all want that.

“We need to build our indigenous film industry by making it about ourselves instead of trying to replicate the foreign model. For this movement to reach its full potential we need to promote Irish cinema as an important part of our culture and bring this new wave more into the mindset of Irish audiences. We need better models for the distribution of Irish film and we need our television stations to show more support for the industry. We should not be looking to work within a hierarchy but in a collaborative environment”  

Eilis Mernagh

http://dublintohollywood.com/

You can read Mark’s original Sounding Off article The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage here

If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

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Sounding Off: ‘The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage’ Mark O’Connor Issue 142 Autumn 2012

‘The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage’

There is a new face in Irish cinema. The makeup is finally coming off.  The conventional and generic Irish films of the past are being replaced by what could be referred to as ‘The Irish New Wave’ or ‘Tonn Nua’. I believe that we are finally finding our voice.

 

The new wave has being rising for a few years now with pioneers like Ivan Kavanagh leading the way but not until recently has there been an emergence of a whole movement in Irish cinema. We have for too long focused on perfecting the script when in fact some of the finest work in this country, such as ‘Tin Can Man’ and ‘Pavee Lackeen’, came about through a uniquely personal way of working. These films show that the logic of film can work in a very different way than a rigidly plotted out story on paper.

 

This is not to dismiss the work of such early pioneers as Joe Comerford or Bob Quinn, or the two most respected film makers in this country, Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan who have shown how the traditional approach can lead to works of real genius.

 

However there is a new movement in Irish cinema emerging which has an emotional truth and it is more exciting than anything that came before. Simon Perry could be seen as the grandfather of this new wave because of the amount of kids he produced. He was the first to encourage personal film making by supporting first time writer-directors that he believed in. Now that the fruit of Perry’s tree is beginning to ripen we are seeing an emergence of a new kind of cinema, driven by what I like to refer to as ‘Fís’ (vision) men such as Brendan Muldowney, Ian Power, Ciaran Foy, Colin Downey, Lance Daly, Ken Wardrop and ‘Fís’ women like Carmel Winters and Juanita Wilson.

 

Unlike the ‘Auteur’ or ‘Shreiber’ theories favouring either the director or the writer as the true author of a film, the ‘Fís’ Theory holds that a true singular voice can only be attained when the director is also the writer. If the director does not write it then they must rewrite it and reinterpret it into their own vision.

 

Whether you loved it or hated it, it is clear that Terry McMahon’s ‘Charlie Casanova’ is an astonishingly powerful cinematic voice and yet it was rejected by the critics. It seems sadly familiar to the years leading up to the French New Wave and Alexandre Astruc’s 1948 essay ‘The birth of a new Avant Garde: La camera-Stylo’ how the critics have once again over looked ground breaking films like Charlie Casanova. Is the point of art not to disrupt familiarity? It is not a perfect film by any means but it didn’t need to be. Its very conception was avant-garde and it’s a testament to its power how it has divided audiences, receiving international festival selections and IFTA nominations on the one hand and verbal assaults and one star reviews on the other. It seems ‘Charlie’ was a tough pill to swallow for certain audiences used to sucking on Hollywood infant formula.

 

As a direct result of ‘Charlie’ a new form of Irish cinema has begun.

 

The ‘Protest Film’ genre of which ‘Charlie Casanova’ (#1) and now ‘Stalker (#2) belong to, are direct reactions to what has happened in this country. They reflect the changes in the Irish psyche and the socio-economic and moral conditions of our time. The protest film is not conceived for the market. They are emotionally reactive, born out of necessity and a political and social consciousness.

 

With the development of high quality formats and crowd funding opportunities now accessible to all of us the tools are finally in our hands to go out and make films like ‘Charlie’ and ‘Stalker’ without having to wait for permission. While the funding bodies have been massively supportive to many of us and will remain so in the future, I believe there is also ‘ROOM FOR THE REJECTS’, the films considered culturally shameful, the films that go to the core and do not fit in with the standard, the ‘scannáin bagairt’ that are refused a voice.

 

These films ‘RAGE AGAINST THE SILENCE’ by expressing the inner most feelings about the society we live in. Their stance which is outside the system enhances the pure vision which is not answerable to a committee of opinions or restricted by time and money.

 

There are new techniques at play in our new wave, such as how music is being used, over lapping in editing and bringing actors more into the creative process, a technique being utilized by the very positive new Actor’s Studio in ‘The Factory’. The language of cinema is evolving and audiences are now capable of cognitively solving the mysteries of crossing the ‘180° axis’ or ‘jump cutting’ which has removed all remaining limitations in film making.

 

This article is written with the intention of bringing recognition to the wave. We need to build our indigenous film industry by making it about ourselves instead of trying to replicate the foreign model. For this movement to reach its full potential we need to promote Irish cinema as an important part of our culture and bring this new wave more into the mindset of Irish audiences. We need better models for the distribution of Irish film and we need our television stations to show more support for the industry. We should not be looking to work within a hierarchy but in a collaborative environment.

 

I would like to issue a call to arms that if there are any up and coming ‘Fís’ men or women reading this then you don’t need to wait for permission anymore. As Terry McMahon believes ‘The art is in the completion, begin’. Pick up a camera, create your spiritual treasure and reveal your feelings in all their unique beauty and our new wave will turn into a cinematic revolution.

 

 

Mark O’Connor

 

If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

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Sounding Off: A Response to ‘Superhero Movies – no longer films for our times’

 

Paul Counter responds to Paul Lynch‘s insistence that  superhero movies are no longer films for our times featured in Film Ireland‘s ‘Sounding Off‘ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.

Last month’s Film Ireland carried a cover showcasing the Death of a Superhero, and a back page proclaiming it. After years of horrible box-office domination the superheroes were finally about to succumb to their kryptonite – in these complex times, cinema audiences would demand more from their heroes and superheroes would simply be outgrown.

The aspiring scriptwriter in me is yelling just to nod and look intelligent. It really is. I’d love to work with some of the people on this forum in the future. Why am I sticking my head above the parapet and defending these awful films?

The comic book fan won’t lie down though. The main reason he can’t sit still is not to convince you superhero films are high art, or even better than half good. There have been many superhero films so bad they should be wiped from existence. It’s because super hero films really aren’t about to die. They are obviously making a fortune. And it’s because having spent many years with the guilty secret of admiring men in tights who can summon thunder, I’d like to understand why now so many other people pay for a cinema ticket to do so. And it’s because if we’re serious about making films in Ireland with a real commercial appeal, as James Hickey says, then we should try to honestly assess why these films make huge, huge money each summer rather than exaggerating rumours of their demise.

The thrust of Paul Lynch’s argument is, I think, that superhero films have been in existence for 70 years, and their format of good versus evil must evolve to reflect more complex times today or else it will lose its audience. Whether we might wish it so or not, as a statement of fact this is utterly wrong.

The modern CGi-enabled superhero blockbuster has been with us for around a decade and as a spectacle is a completely different beast to what went before. Five of the highest ten grossing superhero films have been released in the last four years. More and more are being greenlit for development by studios desperate for the sure-fire return they bring (listing the number of sequels and reboots slated for release would exhaust you, reader). Rather than needing to evolve, this vast success is stunting growth, leading to a formulaic and limited approach to recycling the same kind of story.

With their easily translatable character arc, obvious external change, internal dilemmas and protagonists, the superhero origin story could have come straight from one of Syd Field’s workshops. With their huge brand recognition (since those ’40s films there have been millions of comic books and hundreds of cartoons) and universal values these films are of course that dreaded thing, the perfect summer blockbuster. Indeed superheroes and Hollywood have become such a match made in heaven that Disney recently bought Marvel, one of the two major comic book companies.

Suggesting that that simple story structure and a clear moral delineation are exclusive to superhero tales or have had their day is equally wrong. This is true of most films throughout history and will remain so until we become so cynical that good and evil are concepts a generation doesn’t even encounter in childhood.

So are superhero films kids films dressed as adult films? Of course. Challenging the films to grow up is paradoxical when the route of their success is that they allow the audience to do exactly the opposite. Today’s audience grew up with these characters as kids. At the root of their appeal are individuals who choose to wear spandex, can do impossible things, live in mansions and drive flying cars. This is essentially a childish fantasy, much like becoming a Teletubby or appearing on Wanderly Wagon. Unlike a guest slot on the Wagon, however, harnessing the living power of the sun and driving a flying car still appeals to me immensely. It stops becoming so appealing however if I have to park my flying car outside the White House to advise Obama on a responsible foreign policy, or spend a six months helping a recovering drug addict through a painful rehab. Other films do this very well, that simply is not the function of the superhero film.

Perhaps the time will come when the genre must subvert that expectation, as Paul observes the Western chose to do with the morally confused ‘70s upon it. It should be remembered though that the most successful film of the seventies was Star Wars. Westerns had simply been overtaken by better special effects and spaceships.

The most interesting aspect of all this is the one he has back to front. The complex times we live in don’t damage black and white escapism: they encourage it. With property out of reach to first-time buyers this generation stays at home longer. Grown men play on playstations. We get married later, and get drunk more. We exist in a state of extended kidulthood, an absence of responsibility that just wasn’t there in the ‘70s, so the audience has changed.

But could superhero films grow up? There is the material to support this such as The Authority and The Ultimates (which reimagines the Avengers as alcoholics/schizophrenics /wife beaters), but this isn’t the version getting made (Watchmen excepted). The problem is, I suspect, because the audience like to be quite clear what they are getting when they purchase a cinema ticket – probably one of the few experiences where we deliberately purchase the goods without inspecting them – and for a superhero film they expect mindless escapism.

Can we get better superhero films? My definition of a better superhero film would be different to my definition of a better piece of cinema, so it depends. They are films that arrive at the cinema with a history already behind them. Where a film captures the essence of the source material from page to screen, entertains an audience and generates enough revenue for a sequel to be made it has probably done its job. It’s not meant to be anything more.

Are comic films going to be left behind then in an evolutionary cinema race in which they are unable to adapt? No. They currently have no need to adapt, and the material is there if, and when, they do.

The more likely reason for their extinction is the finite number of characters that automatically command a large audience. With Spider-Man already on his fourth film this summer, three Nolan Batfilms and five X-Men films already completed, people will tire of seeing the same characters and studios will be unwilling to invest in lesser known properties.

Until that happens, for those that have no history with comic books, and no desire to reconnect with that inner child, I suggest the best course of action is simply to avoid watching them. I doubt they damage credible cinema, or take any audience share from more meritorious films, indeed with cinemas teetering on the edge of economic viability these cash cows probably effectively subsidise much of the more creative endeavour out there.

Paul Counter

If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

 

 

 

 

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Sounding Off: Superhero Movies – no longer films for our times

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Paul Lynch explores why superheroes movies are no longer films for our times. – continuing Film Ireland‘s ‘Sounding Off‘ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.

The long winter is almost over. Jack Frost is retreating his icy fingers. And the superhero movie is coming out of hibernation. If only it would stay there for good. For after 70 years of thump and thunder, crash and clamour, the superhero movie has outstayed its welcome.

Since the start of the 2000s, superhero fan boys and the cinema-going public have never had it so good. The era of incredible CGI ushered in a decade of superhero movies in a way that just wasn’t possible before. Mostly it’s been a run of diminishing returns, but there have been some classics: from Sam Raimi’s takes on Spider-Man to the juggernauts that were Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, the genre has hinted at adolescence.

These films have built upon the foundations of superhero films from the 1940s. Those old serials laid down the names we know and love today — Batman, Superman and lesser favourites such as Captain America. What marked those films out was that they were films made for kids.

And there lies the rub: today’s superhero movies might prowl on the surface like more sophisticated beasts, but underneath they are still the same: they operate within a simple world of black versus white, good versus evil. Despite their largely adult following, they are still movies that see the world like children.

The rebirth of the modern superhero movie goes hand-in-hand with the era of the Republican Neo-Cons. George W. Bush made their credo simple: it was ‘us versus them’. Their good versus evil approach to foreign policy was disastrous. It failed to see the world as a vastly complex place, and looked upon the Middle East with the naivety of a child. The repercussions have been enormous. America’s heavy borrowing to fund two wars has helped prolong the world economic crash. And in this more challenging era, it’s not hard to see that superhero movies are no longer films for our times.

If the superhero genre has a forefather, it is the western. The genre began in the silent era and spent a good three decades providing moral comfort food: good guys faced off against bad guys and civilization was allowed to thrive. Wholesome morality was the only game in town.

But after World War Two, the western had to rise to the challenge of meeting a new, hard-bitten cynicism. Watch the development of Anthony Mann’s westerns over the 1950s: beginning with Winchester ‘73, Mann darkened the genre, roiling it with moral ambiguity and psychological complexity. He blurred the boundaries of who was good and who was bad.

Those films paved the way for John Ford in 1956 to make The Searchersa John Wayne vehicle with an unambiguous racist as a hero. By the 1970s, the genre was a different animal: heroes weren’t heroes at all; westerns were populated by amoral assholes. The terrain had become a lawless, evolutionary plain of moral relativism where good and evil did not exist. Much like the real world then.

As the dominant Hollywood genre, can superhero films rise to the challenge of representing these complex times? I doubt it. Rewatching the genre’s greatest achievement, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, you can sense Nolan pushing at the boundaries. He gave Batman very dark shades, but in the end, darkness was something Batman had to shake off.

For there is a code governing the form of superhero movies. And there are rules the viewer brings to it, built on the belief that our heroes, unlike ourselves, cannot be corrupt and that good must always remain strong and true over evil. You can shade character, you can make heroes into temporary outlaws, but the outcome must remain the same.

Can a superhero film transcend genre under such strictures? It seems unlikely. After 70 years of doing battle with evil, the superhero genre remains the Peter Pan of the movies: it is incapable of growing up.

Paul Lynch

If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

 

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Sounding Off: Give ‘em what they know…

a load of scrap metal

Gavin Burke bemoans the Summer blockbusters’ lack of originality – continuing Film Ireland’s ‘Sounding Off‘ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.

Good luck selling your original spec screenplay. Even if it’s an action-heavy superhero actioner with lots of action Hollywood won’t want to know. No, for the duration of the summer blockbuster season (which has now extended from April to September) only graphic-novel or comic-book adaptations will make it to the Omniplex.

A hefty chunk of today’s movie budget is funnelled into advertising but there’s one way to save on that. A great review can put bums on seats, word of mouth works wonders and an Oscar® nod goes a long way, but in selling World-Saving-Flying-Guy-Story-#256 Hollywood won’t risk anything and in this risk-free era nothing beats a subject that’s already public knowledge and is already making money – an action hero movie invariably culled from the graphic novel/comic. Success by association is the tactic right now (Inception might have been an original script by Christopher Nolan but it didn’t hurt putting ‘from the director of The Dark Knight‘ on the poster). The poster for Thor boasted ‘from the studio who brought you Iron Man‘, which is really akin to saying ‘no one who had any creative input on Iron Man contributed to this movie’ (if they did, the poster would have said so).

The summer movie isn’t about the actual movie – it’s about everything else. The graphic novel/comic adaptation not only packs them in, but also gleefully flogs merchandising and action figures that look cool when sat in the vehicle (sold separately of course) on the way out. It’s not enough to be sold the movie, the movie sells you things. Michael Bay and Ferrari have a ‘long-standing friendship’, which is why Ferraris keep popping up in Bay’s movies. No surprise then that this summer’s Transformers 3 will boast a Ferrari transformer and gives Hasbro another shot at selling old toys to a new generation.

But what if you find that all the decent graphic novels have been mined? There’s always a sequel to some nonsense that was released last month. Sequels are a shoo-in and are usually in development before the first instalment hits the screens. Slap ‘2, 3, 4 or 5’ on the end of any title and you’re guaranteed a decent opening weekend (Big Momma’s House 2 actually made enough money to warrant Big Momma’s: Like Father, Like Son! ). Sequels are comfortable, dependable and reliable and that horse will be flogged until it stops making money. But they can only make so many sequels before they run out of ideas, right? Yes, but then there’s always the reboot. Underestimate this ‘flog-du-jour’ at your peril.

Yo, Adrienne, I'm commercial again

By the time a franchise hits Part Eight – The Return Of Yer Man With The Yoke You Thought Died In Part Five But He’s Very Much Alive – a new director with a fresh style will be ready to take a series back to its roots. Reboots can also re-launch the career of a falling star. Sylvester Stallone was nowhere before he sent Rocky Balboa back into the ring; that worked, so the inevitable outing of the action-porn Rambo was green-lit. Suddenly Stallone was hot again: The Expendables was a hit and Sly hopes Headshot will keep his head above water until The Expendables 2 happens by, which it will next year. Then there will be the 3D re-release of all of the above. Chi-ching!

But has it always been this way? Remakes are nothing new (John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon was the third attempt to bring Hammet’s pulp novel to the screen). Novel and play adaptations have been with us since nineteen-dickety-dee: of the eighty-three Oscars® handed out for Best Film only twenty-six have been original screenplays. But one book isn’t enough anymore: Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hobbit will be split into two movies. Chi and ching!

What’s missing in all this? Originality. The art of story-telling takes a back seat to the summer blockbuster and it won’t change anytime soon. So eat that Happy Meal, listen to that soundtrack, play that videogame, buy that action figure for your nephew and fork out for the re-released special edition graphic novel. And, oh yeah, don’t forget to book your tickets for next summer’s sequel.

 

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Sounding Off: The Road to Recovery

As If I am Not There

Díóg O’Connell examines the cultural and economic argument for film production in Ireland –  continuing Film Ireland’s ‘Sounding Off’ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.

Although not to everyone’s political taste, a universal sigh of relief was heard when the old, redundant and failed regime of the last government exhaled its final breath and the new incumbents took power, allowing for a little ray of hope to shine. But before resting on our laurels and slipping into complacency, a word of caution needs sounding. We are certainly far from exiting the doldrums and anything can happen as the coalition government seeks to make its mark by implementing its policies as Ireland attempts to recover. As the new Minister of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan T.D. gets familiar with his brief, how should he respond to the Irish film industry? Film culture and industry attract a see-saw of defense between two arguments, on grounds of economics and culture. This can change depending on the prevailing wind of boom or bust. Arguing in terms of economics can be convincing but misleading, suggesting that film is measurable along the lines of other industrial practices, based on profit and loss logic. In times of recession, when there is no money in the nation’s kitty anyway, the culture argument is trotted out. Without a doubt there are economic benefits to film activity and the figures are there to prove it. For very little state investment (less than 20 million euro per annum), the benefits to the economy run to many millions, measured in terms of inward investment, job creation and services.

However, caution must be exercised around the economic value argument. The over-inflated vanity of the ‘Celtic Peacock’, it is suggested, was driven by a sense of monetary wealth and little else. The economy was built on a foundation of sand driven by property development and house building, sanctioned and approved through government policy and banking mal-practice. Aside from a few dissenters, the so-called ‘experts’ in government, planning, banking etc. failed to shout stop. While the economic argument for film culture is a valid one, it must be made by honest brokers. Of course all film production contains a level of economic activity and can contribute to a growing and diverse economy but should this be the motivating force to maintain state supports? What if does not deliver?

Film production is part of a wider film culture, at a local level and on an international scale. In Ireland, as in most European countries, film production cannot compete with the industrial levels of Hollywood, nor should it want to. European cinema, albeit based around industrial models, has always had a wider remit of cultural practice and identity. While individual films function to degrees of popular culture and entertainment, they also act as cultural documents that shed light and reflect on our times. Irish film is still in its infancy, with less than a twenty-year period of consistent and consecutive state support, yet has made its mark in a variety of ways on the national and international stage. With the release of four feature films in Irish cinemas in the month of March alone (As If I am Not There; Between the Canals; Rewind and Wake Wood), the Irish film industry is in a healthy state despite our economic meltdown. The success of His and Hers, as the highest grossing Irish film at the box office in 2010 after thirty-seven weeks of distribution, indicates the potential of Irish feature documentary. Seven Oscar® nominations since 2002 for Irish short films testify to our strengths as storytellers and the potential for the fledgling industry on the international stage.

If we let the dominant discourse of economic doom and bankruptcy direct all decisions about Irish life, we will end up, in five or ten years, living in the equivalent of a vast grey industrial estate not physically but mentally and emotionally, devoid of any aesthetic or cultural value, where everything is measured in unit terms. While economics is central to life in the western world, we do not live in an economy; we live in a country and participate in a society. And for that society to recover, grow and prosper we need both bread and roses. The Irish film industry can contribute to the recovery of Ireland’s economy but equally will enhance Irish society as Irish film moves towards its next phase of development, so long as its oxygen supply isn’t cut off at source. The next ten years is crucial for Irish film culture in terms of consolidation and advancement. While many of the so-called pillars of society have been exposed as harbouring its fair share of charlatans – in politics, religious life and business – cultural activity has continued to grow and contribute in a positive way. All is not lost for Ireland, at home in our self belief and abroad in how we are perceived. The key lies in supporting areas that grew slowly yet consistently during the so-called boom years, without becoming a national and international disgrace. Film culture is part of this recovery.

Díóg O’Connell is the author of New Irish Storyteller: Narrative Strategies in Film and teaches film and media studies at IADT.
If you feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

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