World Film Locations
Edited by Jez Conolly & Caroline Whelan
Bristol: Intellect Books, 2011
Paperback. 128 p. ISBN 978-1841505503. £11.50
Reviewed by Sylvie Mikowski
Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne
Thanks to Joyce, Dublin has for long been associated to literature and high modernism, but who ever thought of considering the city as a cinematographic locus? The purpose of the ‘World Film Locations’ series is to link together urban landscapes with films using them as mere décor or more broadly as themes; but whereas Paris, New York or London naturally spring to mind as far as this kind of connection is concerned, and were indeed used as backdrops to some of the world’s finest film classics, the small Irish capital seems a less obvious choice.
As Todd McGowan argues in his review of the volume of the same series devoted to Las Vegas, and published in a previous issue of Cercles, the ‘World Film Location’ series is far from meeting academic standards, yet the books are a good introduction to lesser-known national cinemas, as is the case here. The format of the collection is a good excuse to introduce some Irish-made films which were never released on the Continent. On the other hand, one is reminded of the impressive number of Irish-related films which did make it beyond the Irish Sea. Irish cinema can thus boast such internationally-renowned directors as John Boorman, who has lived in Ireland for most of his life, and is listed in this volume for The General (1998), written after the true story of a famous Dublin gangster who was arrested thanks to an unexpected alliance between the police and the IRA. Other high-profile directors quoted here include Stephen Frears and Alan Parker, both British, and who filmed in Dublin successful adaptations of Roddy Doyle’s ‘Rabbite’ trilogy :The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van; as well as Neil Jordan, who brought Irish revolutionary history to Hollywood with his blockbuster Michael Collins.
The arch-Dubliner James Joyce has proved to be an indefectible source of inspiration for film-makers, with no less than four titles included here which were adapted from his work, among which John Huston’s heart-tearing masterpiece The Dead, the last movie he shot, starring his daughter Anjelica Huston in the part of Gretta Conroy. Irish cinema has thus obviously benefited from the wealth of national writers ready to supply original scripts, as is evidenced by the adaptations listed here, featuring, apart from Roddy Doyle who has already been mentioned, Edna O’Brien, Maeve Binchy or Patrick McCabe. These writers' involvement with script-writing highlights if need be the tendency prevailing among Irish artists to experiment with various genres and even various media. Such is the case for instance with Martin McDonagh, who is acknowledged as one of the foremost contemporary English-speaking dramatists, but also met international success with his film In Bruges (2008); one can also mention Conor McPherson, the author of the international success play The Weir, who also experienced with movie-making in The Actors (2003).
Likewise, if some Irish films may have seemed to distributors too limited in scope to deserve overseas exploitation, such is not the case for Irish actors, some of whom have grown to be international stars, such as Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell or Brendan Gleeson, to which list should be added Daniel Day-Lewis, the son of Northern Ireland-born poet Cecil Day-Lewis. All of them feature in the Irish-made films quoted in the volume. The flow of cultural exchanges between Ireland, America and Britain comes to the fore in this survey of Irish cinema, as some films shot in Dublin are supposed to be located in London (as in Becoming Jane, 2007, an evocation of Jane Austen’s early years), or in Liverpool (Educating Rita, 1983), while directors such as Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan or Pat O’Connor have moved between Ireland, England and the USA.
World Film Locations : Dublin provides the reader with short summaries of the films listed, each being illustrated by small, rather awkward footage, which lacks commentaries. Each summary emphasises the connection between the script and the various districts of Dublin chosen as backgrounds. The book also includes six double pages entitled ‘spotlights’ dealing respectively with the themes of music in Dublin-based films, famous Dublin actors (but nothing about actresses), the 1916 Uprising in film, literary adaptations, the gangster figure in Dublin cinema, and Dublin during the Celtic Tiger Era. If the summaries lack in-depth analysis, the book offers a survey of recent Irish cinema which points to the acceleration of local production as a result of the economic prosperity during the years of the Celtic Tiger, which enabled such institutions as the Irish Film Board or the Irish Film Institute to play a role in its development and promotion. Besides, it appears that the Celtic Tiger era was itself a source of inspiration for many of the films cited, whether to show-case the spectacular metamorphosis of Irish society and life-style, or to express a sharp criticism of economic liberalism, which brought about prosperity for some but left a good number of people on the roadside or even in the ditch.
Many of the films mentioned in the volume also emphasise corruption, violence and crime, to the point that the image of Dublin may come out as of some new gangland, equal to the worst American inner cities. This image is a far cry from the pastoral postcard of rural Ireland as promoted by the likes of The Quiet Man or The Field. If only for this correction of outdated stereotypes, World Film Locations : Dublin is worthwhile flicking through, notwithstanding that it can be used by prospective Master and PhD students in search of a good topic for a dissertation.
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