Interview: Pádraig Trehy, director of ‘Shem The Penman Sings Again’

Shem The Penman

Sean Finnan talked to Pádraig Trehy about his film Shem The Penman Sings Again, which deals with the actual and much fabled friendship of James Joyce and John McCormack.

The world-renowned writer and the extraordinary tenor first met in 1904 when Joyce still had hopes of becoming a professional singer himself. They reconnected in Paris in the 1920s and Joyce was to use his first-hand knowledge of McCormack to create the character of Shaun the Post in his famously ‘unreadable’ final novel, Finnegans Wake. As Joyce struggled with the book, he portrayed himself in it as Shaun’s lowly twin brother, Shem.

Joyce’s twin obsessions, singing and literary experimentation, flow through the film as his and McCormack’s encounters are reimagined in a variety of early cinematic styles, interrupted by four short films-within-the-film charting the exploits of Shem and Shaun. As Joyce’s eyesight fails, the narrative is carried by a mix of archive recordings and imaginary radio broadcasts, giving us an emotional connection to an increasingly isolated Joyce.

Shem The Penman Sings Again screens on Thursday, 16th June 2016 at 16.30 at the IFI as part of the Irish Focus Bloomsday Programme.

 

What was it that caught your eye about the relationship between John McCormack and James Joyce?

I was interested in both of them separately. The two of them have been a kind of constant in the background of my reading and my listening. I’ve always had a love of early singing and early recording and I knew that there was this fabled meeting of McCormack and Joyce at the Feis Ceoil of 1903, although it isn’t actually true. Between the jigs and the reels, by 1904 they had made each other’s acquaintance. So there was a connection in actual historical terms but what interested me also was that there was this connection between the two in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Joyce has used the figure of McCormack to make up the character of Shaun the Post. And that is when I really started getting interested.

I, like many people, had struggled with Finnegans Wake. I had actually thrown a copy out at one point out of frustration! But I thought that McCormack and singing could be a way into something that is kind of impenetrable in some ways, intellectually.

There’s great emotion in McCormack and there’s great emotion in that style of singing; not just the Opera, the whole Irish ballads that McCormack would’ve been most popular for. Then I discovered that Joyce was listening to this really sentimental music and liked to sing after dinner or after a few drinks. I just thought that there was this lovely juxtaposition between the so-called most difficult book in the English Language and these sentimental songs. There was a crystallisation about six years ago when the idea just sort of popped – the emotion in McCormack versus the hard modernism of Joyce.

 

So you approached Finnegan’s Wake from a different angle…

I started reading Finnegan’s Wake with the idea of performance. It’s not an original thought by any means – but basically treating it as a performance text, that it is like a libretto. John Cage said that it is like an opera. Joyce himself called it an oratorio. Also, when you look at the biographical details, as Joyce was writing the book, he was also going blind. So that after a while it became impossible for him to physically write the book. He was dictating it. He was performing it for his legion of secretaries, including Samuel Beckett. So with the figure of McCormack singing and Joyce dictating the book there is a real twinning there.

 

That aspect of performance is very much reflected in the film’s aesthetic.

Performance is one of the key things.  It’s there in the shots and sounds of audience in the film a lot and even in the title of the film. In 1904, Joyce and McCormack sat and sang together in front of an audience and an appreciative audience for the style of singing they were engaged in. McCormack went on to have that audience multiplied by millions and went on to make millions. We can’t equate these days how much money he would have earned. He was giving away 25 to 50 grand a week during the First World War. There is a reason he was a Papal Count. It has nothing to do with his piety; it has to do with the size of his cheque!

At the same time that McCormack is building his audience, Joyce is losing his… if you can say he had an audience. He had a small really tightknit group around him that were fanatical but he doesn’t have the audience that he probably craved. Especially if you have ever performed live in front of people. This is something that is quite addictive and I think that having had that once Joyce would have missed it for the rest of his life. So that idea of the performance and audience, and lack of audience, are central to the film.

 

It asks the question that if Joyce was financially successful at singing would he have written anything?

I did start with the idea of what if…  what if Joyce had become a singer as opposed to the great writer. But I really don’t think it was ever actually on the cards. I think that is one of the interesting things about having McCormack there because Joyce would have realised, I think, that he couldn’t have been great. If Joyce wasn’t going to be great at something then he wasn’t going to do it. That is my interpretation anyway. He could have made a living as a singer very comfortably and he would’ve been at the right time, at the beginning of recording – and by all accounts, and by McCormack’s own account, Joyce had a voice as lyrical as his own. But I don’t think he would have had the personality to carry it off like McCormack had. I think Joyce would have been clever enough to know that, and realise that, what he really wanted, the greatness that he wanted to be, was only going to come from writing and reinventing the forms that he wrote in.

 

Why did you go down the route of portraying this aspect of Joyce in old-style silent cinema. It’s very dreamy. It’s kind of like Finnegans Wake in that way. You never have a full grasp of the narrative. You kind of sweep in and out of what is going on at times.

Most of that would be my personal taste, I suppose. When I started thinking about this idea first, it started life as a documentary. There is about 30 seconds of footage of Joyce – at the time that I dreamt this up I wouldn’t have been able to afford even that two seconds. For me, anyway, it’s useless. It is 30 seconds of him coming out of a doorway in Paris and walking down the street. So it’s really of no benefit.  It doesn’t really tell you anything. I was going to have to find a way of recreating the main events in the story so to speak.

I didn’t want to make a drama documentary. The reason I wanted to make films was Charlie Chaplin. I have wanted to make a silent film for 30 years. So with this idea, the more and more we thought about it, the more and more we realised the budget was never going to be big, the silent film option became more of a logical step. And then, as you say yourself, the dream aspect of Finnegans Wake; it is supposed to feel like you are falling into a dream, like that time before you dream where you are just falling out of one consciousness into another. I think that that drift is in silent films. You can get that uncanny kind of sense out of using silent film today that you couldn’t have got 70 years ago.

 

The film contains some particular abstract and intense psychological scenes. What was the thinking behind that?

Well some of them are taken from the surrealism of Paris of the 1920s. Some of them are directly lifted! I’ll leave you to find out where from! But they are direct references to films made in the ’20s. I don’t necessarily have documentary evidence that Joyce saw these films but the idea was that this is what people were doing cinematically around Joyce in the ’20s. These are people that were reading Joyce; these were people that Joyce was meeting and talking to. This is how they worked, using cinema to explore some of the same ideas that Joyce was exploring.

 

You make me want to go back and read Finnegans Wake now.

That is one of the great things about the screenings it’s having. A lot of people are coming out saying I’m going to buy a copy of Finnegans Wake now. All joking aside. One of the things I wanted is that people would do that. Here is a book that comes with a label of being unreadable and, yes, maybe if you start on page 1 and try to read it to the end you will fail. But if you pick it up randomly and read it out loud I think you might have a bit of fun.

There’s great wordplay and there is a great playfulness in Joyce, playing with ideas, bouncing them and crushing them off each other. You can find so much in every page – and that is how I was reading it at one point: one page a day, and sometimes randomly. Obviously, there are sections of it that I had to sit down and read, if you can do such a thing. But for my own enjoyment, I was picking it up and reading one page every single day and playing with it.

Every single page has at least one kind of joke, a piece or humour, in it and that is one thing I wanted to carry over to the film – it needs humour if you are going to be that experimental. If you are going to demand your audience stay with you, for me, it has to be funny. Also, I don’t want anyone to feel stupid. That is not what it is about. There is this thing with Finnegans Wake; people feel stupid trying to read it. That is pointless.

 

I read somewhere that Joyce was laughing every single day while he was writing it.

And that is the spirit you want to get back. How do you get that back? I think you’ve got to start outside it. He’s got popular songs, he’s got comedy, he’s got music hall. There’s loads in it is that is not highly intellectual. Maybe they are the way you should go into it. And if one page doesn’t work for you, you can maybe skip to the next page.

Like the film, it is not linear in any way. It is a dream – and dream logic is fun.

 

Shem The Penman Sings Again screens on Thursday, 16th June 2016 at 16.30 at the IFI as part of Irish Focus, a focus on new Irish film and filmmakers.

Director Padraig Trehy will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets are available here or from the IFI Box Office or on 01 679 3477 

 

 

 

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Review: High Rise

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DIR: Ben Wheatley • WRI: Amy Jump • PRO: Jeremy Thomas • DOP: Laurie Rose • DES: Mark Tildesley • MUS: Clint Mansell • CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans

Last year, Redrow Properties was forced to pull an advertisement for an exclusive apartment block in London’s city centre after numerous criticisms on social media noted that lurking behind the highly polished facade of the narrator’s new abode was a Patrick Bateman style insanity. The advert ended with the highly ominous quote, “To look out at the city that could have swallowed you whole and say ‘I did this’. To stand, with the world at your feet.” High-rise luxury living it seems is even marketed toward those with sociopathic inklings, that the success needed to live in such a grandiose abode implies a frame of mind of outright blindness with only a hint of superiority thrown in too.

Ben Wheatley’s new film, High Rise, could be seen as a 110-minute run of that same advertisement bringing it to its sickly conclusion of violence, anarchy and destruction where the protagonist is so straight-edged and devoid of emotions that life amidst the blows is barely even noticed. That all one requires to live in such a space is a temperament neutralized by a life of sticking to the path of low stakes and high returns. The film opens up with the line, ‘Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.’ Such a nonchalant tone of voice highlights the divergence between the scene of carnage and the almost pathological sense of self that is so devoid of emotion, that it can so easily reconcile with the outright destruction of civilisation.

Surrounding Laing (brilliantly played by Tom Hiddlestone) is a bloody corpse and a building in ruins as the civilised high class living usually associated with such quarters has, in the space of three months, rapidly disintegrated into a primitive Hobbesian all-out anarchic nightmare. The calmness of the narrator’s voice and the inability of Laing to do anything but reflect points to the dull and dreary temperament of Laing’s class that Wheatley so wishes to satirise in this film.

Rather than playing up the anarchic demise of civilisation that is so prominent in J.D Ballard’s novel of the same name, Wheatley focuses instead on Laing’s personality (or lack of), the type of personality that can survive in such a deranged environment and even declaim that he ‘has never been happier’ despite the chaos unfolding around him. Wheatley’s cutting satiric jibe at the type of neo-liberalist policies now dominating literally the landscape of London at the expense of any type of social cohesion, is framed through Laing’s cold and blind emotional temperament. Such experimentation is hinted at throughout through the architect (played by Jeremy Irons), a calculating and devilish artist seen as not just the architect of the building but also of conducting some type of deranged social experiment amongst the inhabitants of his tower.

Such contemporary anxieties fuel Wheatley’s adaptation of Ballard’s novel yet seldom do we viewers respond to the anxiety with any feeling of shock or horror. Especially when one thinks back to the squeamishness unleashed at Cronenberg’s adaption of Crash. We experience the cataclysmic demise of the promise of sophistication, of living in the modernist dream turned nightmare as little more than kitsch due to Wheatley’s tongue being somewhat stuck firmly to the side of his cheek. Yet despite such loss of momentum, there are many moments of utter manic joy and the score by Clint Mansell is superb. And never have I heard a more haunting paranoid version of ABBA delivered here by Portishead.

The energy that gives the film its momentum at the start in Wheatley’s own idiosyncratic style begins to feel cumbersome three quarters of the way through as if he finds it difficult to continue to poke humour from society’s disintegration. Of course, this may well be the point, even if the film at time comes dangerously close to choking on its own irony. We are within Laing’s stylised world, a world where we all can live amongst the destruction, the chaos and the barbarity as long as we put a few aesthetic frills upon it and live within another’s dream world. And in watching the Redrow Properties advertisement again, it is even harder to be critical of Wheatley as he delivers such a perfectly timed satirical blow at the ludicrous nature of the high-class housing industry.

Sean Finnan

118 minutes

16 (See IFCO for details)

High Rise is released 18th March 2016

High Rise – Official Website

 

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ADIFF Irish Film Review: Fís na Fuiseoige / The Lark’s View

Fís na Fuiseoige

Sean Finnan gets the lay of the land at Fís na Fuiseoige, Aodh Ó Coileáin’s documentary which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Something that often gets forgotten about in the constant discussions of the Irish language is the wealth of history that it carries. The educational system and government policies certainly hasn’t helped this in turning the language into something of a bureaucratic necessity, a means of being employable in various civil service jobs, in the educational system and the fact that every legal and bureaucratic document has to be translated into Irish. Not to mention signposts. The language, in this way, has been pushed into a state of stasis where much of its emphasis on its value in the educational system is placed on offering students a means of employment in a field of tedious translation in the depths of meaningless bureaucracy.

Fís na Fuiseoige, the directorial debut by west Kerry man Aodh Ó Coileáin brings to the fore the voluptuousness of the Irish language in both the history it carries, its connection to place and the differing understandings of life that it carries. A far cry from the state supported life support it has been placed upon. Using the ever increasing quality of drone technology, Ó Coileáin offers us a slow contemplative picture of the Irish landscape seldom captured so evocatively before. With such stunning aerial cinematography the timelessness of the Irish landscape is evoked as the camera reflects over places as diverse as the Iveragh Peninsula, the Donegal Gaeltacht, Glendalough amongst others. In each of these various locations, a contributor guides us through the connection of the strong links between the Irish language and place, a connection so strong that in ancient Ireland it even inspired its own literary tradition, ‘dinnseanchas’.

This literary tradition still exists on the fringes of Irish literary life as highlighted by the contributions by the Irish language poets in this documentary, who continue to pursue a knowledge of the land’s relationship with language. In their contributions, the Irish language is associated with a reverence to place itself that pays not only homage to the land but evokes a sense of this land as being timeless, as if its history is ever recurring.

Professor Nuala Ní Dhomhnail’s contribution highlights the different way in which people conceived of themselves as a result of a habitat within a language that, quite literally, gave every surrounding a story and a history based on a tradition.

Such reflections abound in this documentary and offer the viewer another way of understanding the importance of the Irish language that has lost in its bureaucratisation this intimate connection with its surroundings. As Declan Kiberd points out, the loss of the language is something like a forgetting and if the Irish landscape is a manuscript of meaning, we are quickly losing the codes of reading it. In this centenary year, Aodh Ó Coileáin’s beautifully intimate portrait of language and place is a reminder again of the importance of the language in the Gaelic Revival, the cultural rebellion that was the catalyst for the later rebellion. In serving as a pool of traditions that were lost under anglicization, the language was used as a means of re-imagining, of conceiving of a new identity.

Serving as such a reminder, Fís na Fuiseoige is a documentary to be treasured. Few others have made the argument of the importance of the Irish language’s survival in such a subtly celebratory manner while in the process highlighting its absurd vacuous place in Irish official life.

Fís na Fuiseoige screened on 24th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 – 28 February) 

Irish films at ADIFF

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Interview: Aodh Ó Coileáin, director of ‘Fís Na Fuiseoige’

Fís na Fuiseoige

Sean Finnan talks to filmmaker Aodh Ó Coileáin about his documentary, which explores the connection between people and place, as expressed in Irish poetry and local lore.

Fís Na Fuiseoige screens at the Light House Cinema on Wednesday, 24th February 2016 at 6:15PM as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 

 

Where did the idea of the documentary come from?

Well, the company Counterpoint Films was contemplating a film on sense of place. When I became involved, in March 2013, the canvas was extremely wide. We were looking at English language short stories, English language drama, English language poetry, Irish language poetry. After a number of processes we decided to place the focus on the literary tradition on this island, which is poetry through the medium of the Irish language, in that it can be traced right back to the early centuries – the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries; the monks writing poetry in places like Skellig and Glendalough. Of course the tradition is intact right up to the present day, as illustrated in the film, with some of our most brilliant Irish language poets… or just poets full stop. Paddy Bushe, Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Biddy Jenkinson, Jackie Mac Donncha and Louis de Paor.

At the start of the film you quote lines from the first century AD Irish poet Aimhirgin, who names the place before he steps foot on it. That idea that poets have the power to create a sense of identity with the landscape.

Yes. West Limerick poet Michael Hartnett said that the very act of poetry is a rebel act. And this idea of naming Patrick Kavanagh called the “love act”. There is a strong tradition of naming places in Ireland, like Úirchill an Chreagáin and Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, and these place names being used in poetry as if to validate a place in the poet’s head.

It reminded me of Yeats and how he uses Irish language place names. These Irish words have a magic around them, whereas the English feels flat. Because of their authenticity they bring something else to his poetry.

I think the very sound of the words were attractive to Yeats. Also, he had a certain appreciation of the history and lore and poetry in itself attached to these place names. They had value in their own right to be included in their Irish form. Louis de Paor mentions in the film that the translation of these places was a translation into gibberish. That Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Tipperary have no meaning. They are Anglicisations of the Irish place name and that the project of the coloniser was to separate the people from the place by calling the place something else.

That runs through the whole documentary, that fracturing, that loss of identity. That it was the biggest act of  dispossession. Even more than the taking of the land physically was the taking of the identification of the land.

That is the central theme in the film. If you take John Montague’s poem A Lost Tradition, he speaks of:

All around, shards of a lost tradition:
From the Rough Field I went to school
In the Glen of the Hazels. Close by
Was the bishopric of the Golden Stone;
The cairn of Carleton’s homesick poem.

He goes on to say, and Professor Declan Kiberd quotes it in the film, that:

The whole landscape a manuscript
We had lost the skill to read,
A part of our past disinherited;
But fumbled, like a blind man,
Along the fingertips of instinct

and if these codes, this ability to read the landscape, was taken from the people then it wouldn’t be so difficult to control the people or to colonise the people.

The film takes on a further significance in the fact that we’re in the centenary of 1916.

When one considers that from 1890 onwards that there was a cultural revolution in the country and that it was people like Patrick Pearse, Thomas McDonagh, Joseph Plunkett and James Connolly, who were all poets. 4 out of 7 of the leaders of the Rising were poets. Much of their project was to retake or re-seize Ireland’s cultural heritage and to promote it. By the end of the day, of course, by 1915 and the following year they realise that they needed an armed uprising as well as a cultural uprising.

This film re-ascertains the Irish people’s connection with the land, the Irish people’s love of the land, and why these men thought it was worth going out and doing what they did… because what they did didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.

And today?

The fact that we have put on the screen six very brilliant Irish language poets makes a statement in its own right – what if the field be lost; all is not lost. The tradition continues. While it is small, while maybe few enough people read the poetry in English, and even much fewer in Irish, at least it is there and these people still feel it is still worth writing in Irish.

On that point, I should mention that the support we got from TG4 and the BAI shows that there are still idealistic people around who believe in films like this because they are intrinsically good and are therefore worth making. That, in its own right, 100 years after the Rising, is evidence that the importance of the cultural is still very much alive in Ireland. 

Fís Na Fuiseoige screens at the Light House Cinema on Wednesday, 24th February 2016 at 6:15PM 

The 2016 Audi Dublin International Film Festival takes place 18th and 28th February 2016. 

 

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Review: The Lesson

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DIR/WRI:Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov • PRO: Konstantina Stavrianou, Petar Valchanov, Irini Vougioukalou • DOP: Krum Rodriguez • ED: Petar Valchanov • DES: Vanina Geleva • CAST: Margita Gosheva, Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov, Ivanka Bratoeva

The unforgiving reality of debt repayments and the overwhelming pressures that financial providers place on the individual is the theme of this Bulgarian drama by director Kristina Grozeva. Nade is a middle-aged school teacher, highly educated and struggling thanks to her husband’s uselessness with money. Instead of paying back the repayments on their family home, Nade’s husband has been buying parts for his broken and irreparable camper van with the hope of one day making the value of the van back with its prospective sale. Needless to say the scheme fails and when Nade returns home from school one day she encounters the bailiff’s attempting to repossess the home. With three days left before the bank put up the house for mortgage, it is up to Nade to come up with the desperately needed cash.

The film opens with Nada standing in front of her class, questioning the room as to the whereabouts of a student’s stolen purse. In retribution for the refusal of the culprit to come forward, Nada makes the class as a whole cover the cost of the student’s lunch. Such a brief allegory on the collective socialisation of private debt brings a more universal concern to the private life of Nada and the film in general. Nada is performed tellingly by Margita Grazeva, a role that engrosses the audience by the subtleties of her dramatic performance, always constrained and real, of a woman under threat yet unwilling to let the family around her or her society understand the strain she is under.

Within this middle class pride, of retaining face and Nada’s refusal to expose to anyone that can help her how close she is to desperate circumstances, show a woman of unflinching independence, of taking charge of her family’s fortunes. At times, the numerous and unending unfortunate occurrences, from the token flat tire on the mad rush to the bank before closing time to the stolen money when it is needed most pivotally, could make a lesser film falter. Yet in this case perfectly highlights the numerous tragedies that the desperate daily encounter, when every obstacle becomes a Sisyphean task of survival.

Margita Grazeva’s performance is riveting and allows what could be a weak plot to be overcome as we are drawn further into a psychological exploration of desperation and social façades. Our empathy at times for Nada makes The Lesson a tough watch because of its constant implications and presence of being plunged fully and wholly into desperation. Especially with the introduction of the moneylenders and their seedy representation of money as a control over the autonomy of one’s body and the constant threat they represent.

The director, Kristina Groseva, has created a film of brilliant emotional resonance, the realism of her profile of the teacher uncompromising in its promotion of the individual and their right to dignity, even when surrounded by the callousness of bureaucratic institutions and financial lenders that offer nothing of the like. The lack of addition to the film of any soundtrack serves wisely in removing any emotional distances between the audience and the protagonist.

By the film’s end, the plot comes full circle as once again we are brought back into Nade’s classroom and the lesson of theft is brought back into focus. Nada’s response to the perpetrator bundles up the central morale of the story. This film is indeed a lesson and a timely portrait to the daily desperation that exists in the west as the values of the community and the individual within these communities come into stark contrast with the valueless ideologies of finance.

Sean Finnan

106 minutes

The Lesson is released 4th December 2015

 

 

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Review: The Fear of 13

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DIR: David Sington • WRI: Corin Hardy, Felipe Marino • PRO: Christopher Riley, Haroula Rose, David Sington • DOP: Clive North, Nickolas Dylan Rossi • MUS: Philip Sheppard • CAST: Sammy Silverwatch, Nick Yarris

 

Over the past few years quite a number of films have emerged questioning the injustices of the American incarceration system such as West of Memphis and The House I Live In. The Fear of 13 belongs to this category of documentary with one essential difference, in this film, rather than using the traditional range of testimonies involved in such documentary films, this film allows this victim of institutional injustice free reign to tell his story. The story rather than the injustice is put on centre stage. Sitting in an empty cell, Nick Yarris’ voice echoes, the acoustics replicating an actor on stage as the death row prisoner’s charisma relays the story of how he once sought to fast forward his execution despite always maintaining his innocence.

Director John Sington’s film opens up to Yarris lamenting the silence of solitary confinement that he endured on first arriving on death row. That was a quaker prison, he states, and the warden doesn’t permit speaking. He was, as he makes clear, a man silenced.

Essentially a monologue, Sington embellishes Yarris’ performance of his monologue with a range of sound effects that serve to heighten the already engaging performance. By keeping Yarris’s alleged crimes on the long focus, Sington’s film can instead delve into the character of Yarris and his own journey rather than a film primarily focused on injustice. Yarris peppers his monologue with anecdotes, from the cultural life within prisons, to Yarris’ own youth and his own brief and accidental escape from prison.

Despite the cruelty at times of life in the prison, it is the kind act of one prison guard to introduce the prisoner to world of books that has the most significant effect on his life. With passion, Yarris explains how he was overcome by an obsession with learning, reciting words, writing them out ten times, putting them into sentences, learning words like phantasmagoria and triskaidekaphobia (thus the name of the film) and in the process he came to understand and know his self. Never was he happier, he states, than in death row surrounded by books and with each book learning a little bit more about himself.

Singeton employs beautiful impressionistic cinematography that disperse the constant close up on Yarris and allow the film to breathe. Geometrical patterns of incarceration systems, sights and sounds of Yarris’s youth, all are rendered in the cinematography to embellish the voice of the charismatic narrator. The trial, we learn, that ended up sentencing the young man to death was based on the preposterous nature of circumstantial evidence and also the young man’s own blunder. A young woman named Linda May was raped and murdered. Despite being 20km away from the scene of the crime scene, Yarris was charged for her murder.

The man’s story is entertaining, he is at times, a murder accused, a chancer, a vagrant, a thief, a drug addict, a prisoner, an escaped convict, innocent, guilty, a lover, but as his story makes progressively clearer, a victim. Never, however, does he play this role. He is the storyteller, this is his story and there seems to be a certain amount of pride at being given the opportunity to tell his story after spending so many years on Death Row reading and being enchanted by other people’s stories. That the man’s joy remains, despite his silencing by the monolithic slowness of the American Justice system at clearing an innocent man’s name, shows the redemptive quality of literature as much as the man’s own will to life.

As he states of what he finds appealing in the best stories: “the true story is the telling of life.”

 

Sean Finnan

90 minutes

The Fear of 13 is released 13th November 2015

The Fear of 13– Official Website

 

 

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Review: Talking To My Father

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DIR: Sé Merry Doyle

 

Architect Robin Walker’s architecture emerged, as T.K Whitaker’s Ireland emerged, an Ireland of growth, growing confidence and a step away from the insular nationalism that defined the preceding years. In this film, Walker’s son Simon explores his relationship with his father through the legacy that his father has left behind. Part of the Scott Tallon Walker architecture firm, which pioneered the modernist architectural style espoused by such twentieth century architects as Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe, Robin Walker’s buildings have both a significant and controversial presence in the Dublin skyline. Notable buildings emanating from the modernist movement include Busáras, RTÉ studios and Walker’s very own Bord Fáilte building by Baggot Street and the Cork Opera House. Through a dialogue with his father, Simon wishes to highlight the importance and the artistic merit of the much maligned modernist moment in architecture and how important it was in creating a sense of modern Ireland.

Sé Merry Doyle’s film aims to emphasis the personal nature of Simon’s quest, that this film is not simply an exploration of Walker’s legacy but Simon’s own re-connection with his deceased father. Throughout the film, Simon rummages through the vast writings and photographs his father has left behind in order to understand the philosophy that lay behind the architecture. Such an intimate approach offers us a brilliant introduction to the principles of architecture and the personal philosophy that lie behind it. The image of place and how architecture, as Simon explains, is the alignment of nature, space and time provides an apt allegory to the very idea of nation building; and this theme of nation building is constantly evoked in Simon’s quest.

Although at times, the film lags over the moments of family intimacy, evoking the boredom of spending too much time looking at another person’s family photos, such moments are short lived. Instead, there are moments where the beauty of the Irish landscape, especially on the Beara Peninsula and the interaction of Walker’s architecture to its environment, really emphasis the importance of socially and environmentally engaged architecture.

Through Simon’s quest then, a very valid and personal message is uncovered from his father, that architecture has a social and political responsibility. Thus, when Simon brings us on his journey to the UCD restaurant on one of the more ambitious projects of 1960s Ireland, the building of Ireland’s largest university, Simon speaks about his father’s political inspiration from the 1968 student protests in Paris. Those familiar with UCD will know the urban legend of Belfield being designed to prevent a repeat of any student provocation. What Simon informs the viewer is that the open-plan design of the restaurant building was his father’s wish to create a space where students’ ideas and conversations flowed freely, reflecting the openness of 1960s thought.

Doyle’s film is filled with such vivid insights into the nature of design and a son’s desire to remind us of the need for good design. Now, as Simon wonders, in post-debt socialisation Ireland, can the importance of design be re-invigorated and exist outside the terminology of finance. In a nation that is now suffocating due to a history of bad planning, constant niggling questions over the land use of buildings in NAMA’s possession and yet another housing crisis, Talking to My Father is a wonderful reminder of a period in Irish history that embraced a positive design approach to the challenges of nation building.

Sean Finnan

90 minutes
Talking to My Father is released 16th October 2015

 

 

Read an interview with Sé Merry Doyle here

 

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