Virginia O’Connor takes a look at Citizen Lane, Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s Citizen Lane.
Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s documentary-drama Citizen Lane (2018) explores the complex personality and life of art dealer Hugh Lane (1875-1915). The film offers valuable insight from various historical experts including Roy Foster, Morna O’Neill and Barbara Foster, the current director of The Hugh Lane Gallery. The talking heads are intercut with recreations of Lane’s associations, notably Lady Gregory (Derbhle Crotty), Lane’s aunt, who ‘interviews’ to camera. Alongside these segments is a dramatic portrayal of Hugh Lane himself played by the immensely talented Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. These contrasting, well-paced approaches are used to great effect by O’Sullivan and elevate the subject.
For a film focusing on art as a central theme, it surprised me how swiftly Citizen Lane breezes over the paintings presented in it. Also when the art works are shown they are accompanied by quite a poignant score; a juxtaposition to the silence usually encouraged in art galleries to enhance the sense of sight while observing the artefacts. However, this is in keeping with Lane himself, who was adamant on making art accessible. In fact, he curated pieces for passersby to see in Dublin City Centre, placing works across the iconic Ha’penny bridge.
Lane’s determination for the encouragement of artistic creations to be part of daily life to all of society highlights how much he truly cherished the works. He felt they deserved all the recognition they could garner. This attitude was quite contemporary for 20th-century Ireland, where the opportunity to engage with art was considered the exclusive privilege of the high-brow elements of society. Lane’s firm values in democratising art is echoed at the very core of Citizen Lane, which trusts its viewers to recognise the diligence and passion that has been constructed as a piece of cinema.
Despite the subject’s flaws, Citizen Lane can be characterised as having a consistently unequivocal respect and admiration for Lane and does a great job in cementing Lane’s deference for art and how highly he thought of the toil and commitment incorporated into the craft.
Citizen Lane itself embodies this love of detail. This is a wholesome film and makes for pleasant viewing. While interesting to watch, above all it is refreshingly civil. Just as Lane strived for within his lifetime of work, this film is inclusive; open to be seen by anyone with even a passing interest in art or the complex humanity of Lane himself.
Citizen Lane is available on iTunes, Amazon & Google from 12th April 2021