Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Curious Works of Roger Doyle

 

Loretta Goff goes on a journey through The Curious Works of Roger Doyle, Brian Lally’s documentary about Roger Doyle who, over the course of five decades, has created an impressive body of work ranging from minimalist piano and electronic pieces to orchestral works.

Preceding the screening of The Curious Works of Roger Doyle at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Roger Doyle himself performed live on the piano. Doyle synched this performance with footage of himself in concert in Beijing six years earlier (in 2012), material that was cut from the documentary. As the onscreen Doyle plays, he is superimposed with images of and from a moving train, visually mirroring the motion of his fast-paced music. This synchronicity was echoed through Doyle’s live performance, creating a synergy between the digital and the human, as well as the old and the new—something that pervades both Doyle’s work and Brian Lally’s documentary about the composer.

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle is framed around Doyle’s 2016 electronic opera, “Heresy”, performed at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, but covers five decades of his career. This intertwining of the current and the previous reflects Doyle’s style as a composer, bringing together classical forms and instruments (e.g. opera and the piano) with electronic technology to create his own style. Interspersed with footage of his opera—from the early stages of its approval and rehearsals to its live performances—are interviews with Doyle’s collaborators over the years, archival footage and several of his past performances. Though dubbed the “Godfather of Irish Electronica”, Doyle’s music has taken him across the world and we see that in the film.

Lally gives space to the music in this documentary, setting aside several sections for Doyle’s performances to play out onscreen. These are often combined with corresponding images that help tell the story of the songs to the audience. For instance, as Doyle plays his song “Chalant” in Paris, shots of the city and its people at night populate the screen. As new faces appear with each beat, a whimsical portrait of the city unfolds. While this shapes our perspective of the song, each musical break in the documentary primarily focuses on the music itself, allowing the audience to become immersed in it and reflect. Doyle’s music invites its listeners to take part in an experience and Lally’s documentary allows for this.

At the same time, we learn about the methods and motives behind the music from both Doyle and his collaborators. Doyle describes the influences behind several of his songs and his use of technology, explaining: “I revise, that’s my process”. Olwen Fouéré, who formed Operating Theatre with him, describes his music as “from the mothership”, noting how their unique styles connected in such a way that allowed them to create musical theatre pieces together for several years.

Equally, several of Ireland’s prominent filmmakers in the 1970s were drawn to Doyle’s music. In fact, Bob Quinn, who collaborated with Doyle several times, also used the composer as a subject of a 1978 documentary for RTÉ. Joe Comerford, who grew up with Doyle, explains that they worked in parallel on the short experimental film Emptigon, simultaneously developing a language of film and composition. A similar sentiment is expressed by Cathal Black, who explains that music creates “a sort of invisible story” in film and Doyle’s was able to perfectly match the film’s narrative in Pigs.

In Lally’s impressive documentary, the story of the music is much more visible and, during the Q&A following the screening, the director expressed that, though he did most of the work on the film, he had Windmill Lane work on the sound mix as that was “quite important” for this project. Equally it was Doyle’s music that inspired the project. Lally became aware of Doyle’s work in the early 1990s but started the documentary in 2005 when he saw Doyle playing goldfish bowls at Whelan’s in Dublin and thought: “this is remarkable, someone should be filming this.”

Describing Doyle as an “avant-garde” composer, Lally explained: “the more I delved into it, the more fascinated I became”, noting that, particularly when he struggled to find funding for the project, “there were certainly points when the music kept me going.” Screen Ireland funding eventually saw the documentary through to completion and the result is a thoughtful exploration of Roger Doyle’s music and career. As Doyle expressed in the Q&A: “I am constantly curious and constantly looking for new ways of doing things.” The Curious Works of Roger Doyle expresses just that, bringing the audience along for the journey.

 

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle screened on Sunday, 11th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

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Brian Lally, Director of ‘The Curious Works of Roger Doyle’

 

Brian Lally tells us about his retrospective look at five decades of celebrated composer and the “godfather of Irish electronic music” Roger Doyle and observes him presenting one of his most ambitious musical projects to the general public – his first electronic opera.

 

I met Roger Doyle at the Fleadh way back in 2004. I had been aware of his work and the music he had done for films like Pigs and for Joe Comerford’s short experimental films, both of which feature in the documentary.

I met him at a retrospective on the work of Bob Quinn. Bob was showing Budawanny and he pointed out Roger Doyle in the audience. I ended up chatting to him afterwards. At the time, I was making Aftermath, an experimental film and he gave me some of his music to use in the film. It was something very new that he was working on and was very otherworldly. It had an enormous impact on the actual film. The film went around the world playing at festivals and seemed to have an enormous impact on the audience. Half of it was down to his music.

I started thinking maybe I should make a documentary about his work. I started filming Roger’s concerts with a view to using them in a documentary at some point. But nobody seemed interested. I got rejected everywhere.

Then in 2015, Roger told me his opera had been funded. This was his first electronic opera, Heresy, a big 2-hour production about the Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno. I’d seen a short version of it, which was a work in progress, a few years earlier and I knew it would be good. That was kind of what I needed because the one thing the documentary lacked was a solid structure but I knew I could build a future documentary about the preparations for the Opera, leading up to the opening night, which would be the climax of the documentary.

I set the documentary up so that you’re introduced to Roger leading a quiet life in Bray. Here’s a guy who has brought out 27 albums but, outside of the Dublin art scene, there’s not that many people who know Roger Doyle – so it was a great subject for a documentary. Someone said that the purpose of a documentary is to make the unseen seen, or in this case to make the unheard heard.

Roger has had an amazing career spanning 50 years. He has an incredible work ethic. He composes every single day. He is highly disciplined and highly focused. Plus, he’s one of those people who has that rare quality that as he gets older he’s actually getting better. I’ve looked back at all his work, I’ve listened to every single one of those 27 albums and I think, as a single piece of work, the Opera is his finest achievement, particularly when you see it live.

I didn’t want to make a documentary about an obscure talent who remains obscure. The Opera allowed me to make a story about an obscure talent who has this big career-defining moment quite late in life. There’s a theme in the documentary of an artist in search of an audience and the payoff at the end is a mind-blowing performance in front of that audience.

And so the structure took shape – a fly-on-the-wall style documentary following the preparations for Roger’s first electronic opera and along the way a look back at Roger’s 50 year-long career in music, avant garde theatre and film.

By the time we came to 2016 I’d been filming Roger on and off for about 10 years so I had a wealth of archive from about 2005 onwards. Plus the remarkable work he’s done has attracted other filmmakers beforehand, so there was very rich material for me to draw on when it came to putting the actual feature documentary together.

As for the fly-on-the-wall footage, I attended about half the rehearsals for Heresy, picked the very best moments from that and filmed the Opera itself. Thankfully, it proved to be spectacular, visually striking and just a treat overall.

I hope I’ve captured the spectacle of his opera and done justice to his remarkable career.

 

From an interview conducted by Gemma Creagh

 

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle screens on Thursday, 27th September 2018 at 20.20 as part of the IFI Documentary Festival 2018, which runs from the 26th – 30th of September. Full details here

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Brian Lally, Director of ‘The Curious Works of Roger Doyle’

 

Brian Lally spoke to Gemma Creagh about his retrospective look at five decades of celebrated composer and the “godfather of Irish electronic music” Roger Doyle and observes him presenting one of his most ambitious musical projects to the general public – his first electronic opera.

I met Roger Doyle at the Fleadh way back in 2004. I had been aware of his work and the music he had done for films like Pigs and for Joe Comerford’s short experimental films, both of which feature in the documentary.

 

I met him at a retrospective on the work of Bob Quinn. Bob was showing Budawanny and he pointed out Roger Doyle in the audience. I ended up chatting to him afterwards. At the time, I was making Aftermath, an experimental film and he gave me some of his music to use in the film. It was something very new that he was working on and was very otherworldly. It had an enormous impact on the actual film. The film went around the world playing at festivals and seemed to have an enormous impact on the audience. Half of it was down to his music.

 

I started thinking maybe I should make a documentary about his work. I started filming Roger’s concerts with a view to using them in a documentary at some point. But nobody seemed interested. I got rejected everywhere.

 

Then in 2015, Roger told me his opera had been funded. This was his first electronic opera, Heresy, a big 2-hour production about the Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno. I’d seen a short version of it, which was a work in progress, a few years earlier and I knew it would be good. That was kind of what I needed because the one thing the documentary lacked was a solid structure but I knew I could build a future documentary about the preparations for the Opera, leading up to the opening night, which would be the climax of the documentary.

 

I set the documentary up so that you’re introduced to Roger leading a quiet life in Bray. Here’s a guy who has brought out 27 albums but, outside of the Dublin art scene, there’s not that many people who know Roger Doyle – so it was a great subject for a documentary. Someone said that the purpose of a documentary is to make the unseen seen, or in this case to make the unheard heard.

 

Roger has had an amazing career spanning 50 years. He has an incredible work ethic. He composes every single day. He is highly disciplined and highly focused. Plus, he’s one of those people who has that rare quality that as he gets older he’s actually getting better. I’ve looked back at all his work, I’ve listened to every single one of those 27 albums and I think, as a single piece of work, the Opera is his finest achievement, particularly when you see it live.

 

I didn’t want to make a documentary about an obscure talent who remains obscure. The Opera allowed me to make a story about an obscure talent who has this big career-defining moment quite late in life. There’s a theme in the documentary of an artist in search of an audience and the payoff at the end is a mind-blowing performance in front of that audience.

And so the structure took shape – a fly-on-the-wall style documentary following the preparations for Roger’s first electronic opera and along the way a look back at Roger’s 50 year-long career in music, avant garde theatre and film.

 

By the time we came to 2016 I’d been filming Roger on and off for about 10 years so I had a wealth of archive from about 2005 onwards. Plus the remarkable work he’s done has attracted other filmmakers beforehand, so there was very rich material for me to draw on when it came to putting the actual feature documentary together.

 

As for the fly-on-the-wall footage, I attended about half the rehearsals for Heresy, picked the very best moments from that and filmed the Opera itself. Thankfully, it proved to be spectacular, visually striking and just a treat overall.

 

I hope I’ve captured the spectacle of his opera and done justice to his remarkable career.

 

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle screens on Thursday, 12th July at the Pálás Screen 1 @ 18:30 as part of the 2018 Galway Film Fleadh (10 – 15 July)

 

 

 

 

Preview of Irish Film @ Galway

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