The Quiet Man Revisited, Revisited!

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How It’s New York:  MoMA is one of New York’s cultural treasures.  And Sheridan was one of the first Artistic Directors of the Irish Arts Center!
How It’s Irish:  The series looks hard at representations of Ireland on film, and how they’ve used The Quiet Man to emulate and kick against.  It’s curated by Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador, Gabriel Byrne.

It’s not too late to catch some of the great films in Revisiting the Quiet Man:  Ireland on Film at MoMA.  I went to a triple header on Saturday– Darby O’Gill and the Little People, introduced by Jim Sheridan; In the Name of the Father, with discussion afterwards with Gabriel Byrne and Jim Sheridan; and Hunger, with discussion from Gabriel Byrne and Enda Walsh.    I interviewed Jim and Enda for the podcast so stay tuned!

Gabriel Byrne and Jim Sheridan (Gina Herold)

  This is from my write-up for Speakeasy at the Wall Street Journal, in a piece called “Visions of Ireland on Film”:

Directors Jim Sheridan and Enda Walsh chatted with actor Gabriel Byrne yesterday at MoMA about their own films and others, as part of “Revisiting The Quiet Man: Ireland on Film,” an exhibit which runs through June 3. John Ford’s classic 1952 story about Sean Thornton (John Wayne), an American boxer born in Ireland who returns to Innisfree and falls in love with Mary Kate Danneher (Maureen O’Hara), is more than just a feel-good St. Patrick’s Day film, according to the filmmakers. Its influence over Irish film persists even today.
Byrne, who spoke after the second and third films showing yesterday, had just returned from Ireland, where, as cultural ambassador, he welcomed President Obama. That visit, and the recent visit of the Queen, threaded through his discussions with the filmmakers as examples of  events with powerful imagery that had an impact on Irish identity. Byrne, who had met the Queen years earlier, had once observed that she was an affable woman with lovely teeth. “Now the whole country’s going, she has lovely teeth,” he told an enthusiastic audience, many of whom stayed all day long.

 I sat with Gina Herold (who also took these photos), whom I’d just met at The Half King for Pen, Paper and Palate; Eilin O’Dea, who peformed at Selected Shorts on Wednesday, and playwright T. Cat Ford for the second two films, and with singer/songwriter Susan McKeown for the first.

Films still to be screened include Neil Jordan’s “The Butcher Boy” (1997) on June 1, “This Other Eden” (1959), John Ford’s “The Informer”(1935) on June 2, and Lance Daly’s 2008 movie “Kisses” on June 3. In addition three silent films, Lad from Old Ireland (1910); Come Back to Erin (1914), newly restored by MoMA with support from the Irish Film Institute, and Come On Over (1922), will be accompanied by traditional Irish musicians Ben Model and Ivan Goff on June 1. 

Some disjointed thoughts and observations after the jump!  And  I will have audio from these discussions too!
Jim Sheridan told me that for an Irish film to succeed, it has to open in America– it’s considered the boondocks to open in Ireland or England.  Darby O’Gill was researched for 12 years– and Disney himself was half Irish!  While it’s still not a favorite film of mine (I really could live without the “sprightly” music and the ersatz Irish songs), there is some terrific acting in it, particularly Albert Sharpe in the title role.  And it does make use of actual Irish folklore, including a pretty scary banshee, and the puka.  Sheridan didn’t really think it was for kids under seven.  Now Susan was there with her daughter, and whispered to me, “she’s eight.”  But I did notice one little boy leaving the theatre with Daddy when the Death Carriage was coming down.  Like The Quiet Man, the film has some real observations mixed in with its whimsy.  I liked the moment when the Pub owner threatened the film’s villain, Pony, that he had to switch from whiskey to stout “or I’ll have Father Murphy forbid you to come here at all.”

I hadn’t seen In the Name of the Father, executive produced by Byrne and directed by Sheridan, since it came out in 1993.  I found it compelling and engrossing in its tale of the gross miscarriage of justice of the arrest of Gerry Conlon and his father Giuseppe for the bombing of a London pub.  It was funny to see such a skinny boy as Daniel Day-Lewis, complete with bad 70s hair.  In 1974, I guess, it was still the swinging sixties in London.  The scenes of his interrogation after his arrest were absolutely harrowing.  Day-Lewis was nominated for an Oscar for this role, and seeing his first mini-breakdown in prison I thought he absolutely deserved it.  It’s amazing.  Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia.  

I missed some of the discussion because I was outside interviewing Enda, who had just flown in from Ireland that day.  We walked in as Gabriel and Jim were trading stories about their dads; Enda said “this is like walking into a pub!”  Jim was talking about his dad picking horses.  Jim is a fabulous interview, with many thoughts whirling around, and though he sometimes seems to be straying from the question, he’s always saying something fresh.

Gabriel Byrne, Enda Walsh (Gina Herold)

The final film was Enda Walsh’s Hunger, directed by Steve McQueen, about the hunger strikes of 1981 and the death of Bobby Sands.  By this time I could have done with a coffee.  My one criticism of MoMA’s lovely space is that there is no place to get a quick pick-me up between films.  Really, they need a coffee bar outside, or even regular concessions.  Eilin O’Dea and I crossed the street before In the Name of the Father and got chicken gyros from a truck, but then had to sit on the subway steps to eat it– they wouldn’t let us back in with our sandwiches.  The discussions ran kind of long, so you had almost no time at all to try to rush somewhere and eat and return.

Gabriel and Enda discussed the legacy of the film, and the line between terrorist and martyr.  Enda had warned me that it was a hard film to watch, putting one’s hands over one’s eyes, and he was not kidding.  The “dirty protest” in which the prisoners painted the walls with shit, and the cells were not slopped out so the food became bug-ridden, was truly nauseating.  Hunger is a very artful film, and hard to describe.  There is almost no dialogue at all for much of it, and then in the center there is a long scene between Sands and his priest, in which Sands decribes what he’s going to do.  The film is made up of moments that are never explained:  a guard checks under his car every day for a bomb.  A prisoner holds his arm through a grate and interacts tenderly with a fly– a living thing and a gentle one.

Gabriel pointed out that traditionally, parking yourself on someone’s doorstep and starving oneself was a shaming technique.  Both men agreed that the conflict seems so ancient now.  Enda said he thinks of Ireland as made up of parishes, not counties.  And that the film has stripped away a lot of the politics.  He went into it not very political– and is still mostly that way, although he admires the commitment and purity these men had towards their cause.    In the long spoken scene, Sands tells his priest an anecdote about encountering a foal with a broken leg in a stream, as a boy.  The audience asked about it three separate times.  I guess we all needed coffee!  Gabriel said that “you can sense the presence of  Catholicism all the way there,” when someone asked about the priest’s visit.  But when asked if Christlike imagery of the suffering body of Sands was deliberate, Enda said “absolutely not.”

I admired Hunger, and never want to see it again.  But in some ways it was terribly disturbing; the mystery in it, while confusing to some in the audience who didn’t know the history (one question suggested that she didn’t understand why there was shit in the cells, for example), pulls at the pain of the situation unforgettably.  It needs to be seen.  And discussed.

Read more about the exhibit here!

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