film

Sure, isn’t it only a harm­less bit of fun the way Ir­ish peo­ple are al­most al­ways drunk, feck­less, twee or thick in Hol­ly­wood movies? No it isn’t, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

Oirish eye­sores: Don­ald Clarke on Hol­ly­wood’s lat­est steam­ing pile of blar­ney,

NEXT WEEK, a ro­man­tic com­edy en­ti­tled Leap Year opens across the coun­try. Such is the de­based na­ture of that once-proud genre, you won’t be sur­prised to hear that the view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is some­what less de­light­ful than shov­ing your face in a Sumo wrestler’s armpit. Leap Year is, how­ever, some­thing quite spe­cial. The pic­ture stars Amy Adams as an up­tight New Yorker who, af­ter hear­ing about an “an­cient Ir­ish custom”, trav­els to Dublin with the in­ten­tion of propos­ing to her part­ner on Fe­bru­ary 29th. (Yeah, I know 2010 isn’t a leap year, but let’s just tackle one ab­sur­dity at a time.) Fol­low­ing a storm, she gets di­verted to “Cardiff, Wales”, hops a boat to Din­gle and at­tempts to make her way up coun­try.

Does she en­counter top soft­ware en­gi­neers, tal­ented travel writ­ers, ac­claimed ar­chi­tects and cel­e­brated elec­tronic com­posers? She does not. Is she di­verted by the in­creas­ingly mul­ti­cul­tural na­ture of the new Ire­land? Not a bit of it. She gets stuck be­hind cows. She lis­tens to end­less su­per­sti­tious gib­ber­ings from el­derly cretins lean­ing on dry stone walls. She hooks up with a bizarrely ac­cented pub­li­can – Matthew Goode ap­pears to have pre­pared for the part by al­ter­nat­ing view­ings of How Green is My Val­ley with glimpses at Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire – and al­lows him to work through all the most pun­gent clichés con­cern­ing the love­able Ir­ish rogue. The film is of­fen­sive, re­ac­tionary, pa­tro­n­is­ing filth.

“Ah, sure. What are ye get­ting your Ar­ran jumper in a twisteen about?” I hear the av­er­age Ir­ish Times reader say, be­fore tak­ing an­other bite from a raw po­tato. “Isn’t it only a bit of aul craic [sic]? Sure wouldn’t we be the ee­jits to take of­fense at such gas.” (Take note, this di­a­logue is con­sid­er­ably more au­then­tic than that in Leap Year.)

Imag­ine if African-Amer­i­cans were still car­i­ca­tured in such a lazy and sim­plis­tic fash­ion. Sure, Hol­ly­wood still has some way to go in its deal­ings with black Amer­ica – in­ter­ra­cial cou­ples are, for ex­am­ple, still rare in the main­stream – but we do see the odd film in which African-Amer­i­cans are al­lowed to be some­thing other than min­strels or slaves.

It, how­ever, in­volves only a mild ex­ag­ger­a­tion to sug­gest that Hol­ly­wood is in­ca­pable of see­ing the Ir­ish as any­thing but IRA men or twinkly ru­ral im­be­ciles. There was a brief pe­riod in the late 1990s and early 2000s when, thanks to the ac­tiv­i­ties of Veron­ica Guerin and Martin Cahill, we were al­lowed to be ur­ban vil­lains or cru­sad­ing re­porters, but the nor­mal rules of play quickly re­asserted them­selves.

There is a fas­ci­nat­ing irony at the heart of this phe­nom­e­non. The aca­demic LP Cur­tis has ar­gued that the ar­che­typal no­tion of the “paddy” was de­vised in 19th-cen­tury Bri­tain

“Hol­ly­wood is in­ca­pable of see­ing the Ir­ish as any­thing but IRA men or twinkly ru­ral im­be­ciles”

as a ma­lign com­ple­ment to the pa­tri­otic fig­ure of John Bull. Whereas the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Great Bri­tain was res­o­lute, re­spectable, well-scrubbed, good-na­tured and hard­work­ing, the em­bod­i­ment of Ire­land was drunken, un­trust­wor­thy, child-like, lazy, filthy, vi­o­lent and ir­ra­tional. True enough, this ver­sion of the em­blem­atic Ir­ish­man, par­tic­u­larly com­mon in no­to­ri­ous car­toons for Punch mag­a­zine, re­mained a sta­ple of Bri­tish anti-Home Rule pro­pa­ganda right up un­til the es­tab­lish­ment of the State. That said, at least you knew where you stood with th­ese at­tacks. The Tory bilge-ped­dlers hated and re­sented the up­pity Ir­ish and felt no shame in parad­ing their prej­u­dices.

Now, con­sider, say, Vic­tor McLa­glen’s char­ac­ter in The Quiet Man (1952). How many of the pe­jo­ra­tive ad­jec­tives listed above could be com­fort­ably at­tached to John Wayne’s sworn en­emy in John Ford’s (ad­mit­tedly rather gor­geous) ro­man­tic fan­tasy? Drunken? No ques­tion. Vi­o­lent? Well, duh! Filthy? Pretty much. Ir­ra­tional? No viewer is likely to con­fuse Will Dana­her with Im­manuel Kant.

When Hol­ly­wood down­played the char­ac­ters’ vi­o­lent in­stincts, they tended to heighten their child­like ten­den­cies. That star­tlingly clever ac­tor Barry Fitzger­ald was happy to be­come a geri­atric in­fant for his Os­car-winning turn in the now barely watch­able Go­ing My Way (1944). More re­cently, Ger­ard But­ler twin­kled through the largely ap­palling PS I Love You and Pierce Bros­nan tor­tured his vow­els in the stom­achchurn­ing Eve­lyn. All th­ese char­ac­ters look like vari­a­tions on the anti-John Bull theme.

Bizarrely, the Hol­ly­wood Paddy who is most cer­tain to have no time for vi­o­lence is the IRA vol­un­teer. Think of Richard Gere in the use­less The Jackal. Pon­der Mickey Rourke in A Prayer for the Dy­ing. If Repub­li­cans had been so keen to re­tire, the Trou­bles would have ended decades sooner.

The odd­ity, of course, is that the cosy, un­com­pli­cated im­age of a back­wards Ire­land pop­u­lated by burp­ing, thiev­ing morons has been largely prop­a­gated by the Ir­ish-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. Chris­tened John Feeney, Ford of­ten claimed that his par­ents, both first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants, orig­i­nally named him Sean Aloy­sius. The scripts for the most aw­ful Oirish catas­tro­phes fea­ture a de­press­ing num­ber of O’Rourkes, Ryans and Mur­phys. In re­duc­ing the old coun­try to a sham­rock-strewn theme park, the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of the gen­uinely Ir­ish pre­sum­ably feel they are do­ing us a favour.

While in­ves­ti­gat­ing Leap Year, this writer be­came in­volved in an un­seemly ar­gu­ment on the com­ments board at the In­ter­net Movie Data­base. En­coun­ter­ing an Ir­ishAmer­i­can tol­er­ant of the film, I cour­te­ously com­pared him to Hitler and won­dered, in con­cerned sin­cer­ity, how he could sleep at night. (That’s what you do on the in­ter­net.) He replied that he couldn’t un­der­stand why the Ir­ish would ob­ject to its por­trayal in Leap Year as it made the na­tion seem like a “quaint lit­tle coun­try”. Well, pre­cisely.

In decades past, a cer­tain cul­tural cringe still in­fected Ire­land’s at­ti­tude to the United States. While such a vast eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal gulf ex­isted be­tween the na­tions, it seemed dis­cour­te­ous to ob­ject strongly to the ram­pag­ing dis­tor­tions in de­pic­tions of Ir­ish so­ci­ety. We might have been tempted to point out that when James Joyce, an ac­tual Ir­ish­man, set out to cre­ate a Dublin ev­ery­man in Ulysses, he imag­ined a civilised, peace­able, partly Jewish ad­ver­tis­ing can­vasser. Nearly a cen­tury later, Hol­ly­wood seems un­able to get be­yond a wiseacre in a cloth cap or an in­con­gru­ously gun-shy ter­ror­ist.

Now that the life­style of the av­er­age Ir­ish­man seems so much closer to that of the av­er­age Cal­i­for­nian, it ap­pears all the more in­de­cent that the US con­tin­ues to ped­dle this garbage. We should now speak up.

A St Pa­trick’s Day view­ing of the fa­mously dread­ful Darby O’Gill and the Lit­tle Peo­ple re­mains an amus­ingly camp ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter all, even Spike Lee man­aged to laugh at worse ar­chaic African-Amer­i­can stereotypes in Bam­boo­zled. But the fact that, 50 years af­ter Darby O’Gill, Hol­ly­wood stu­dios are still be­lit­tling the na­tion in trash such as Leap Year is gen­uinely de­press­ing. Might I humbly sug­gest that ev­ery reader buys a DVD of Lep­rechaun: Back 2 tha Hood and flings it at the head of any punter seen en­ter­ing a screen­ing of this up­com­ing atroc­ity. Ac­tu­ally, come to think of it, that would be an ap­palling waste. That spoof hor­ror film is, un­like PS I Love You, funny on pur­pose.

Clock­wise from left: Amy Adams in the up­com­ing Leap Year; Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzger­ald in Go­ing My Way; Hi­lary Swank and Ger­ard But­ler in PS I Love You; and Darby O’Gill and the Lit­tle Peo­ple

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