Look back with cando
Pioneering Irish feminist film-maker Pat Murphy is being feted with an IFI retrospective. She talks to Tara Brady about how the radical journey continues – but in a new direction
FILM-MAKER Pat Murphy emerged at a peculiar moment in the odd, higgledy-piggledy history of Irish film. A graduate of the Ulster College of Art and Design, Murphy studied under noted feminist theorists such as Laura Mulvey to emerge with an MA in Film and Television from London’s Royal College of Art.
The pioneering Murphy is, accordingly, often written up as a disciple of the old-school reduction, which holds that the cinematic apparatus of classical Hollywood invariably objectifies the female.
It’s a neat theory but it’s far too small a pigeonhole for Murphy’s post-Marxist, postRepublican, post-Irish, post-Joyce oeuvre.
“Laura Mulvey was a huge presence when I was at college,” nods the director. “Like most film-makers my age, I had read her essay on visual pleasure and narrative cinema and, as with most film-makers my age, it became a kind of touchstone. She’s a phenomenal figure, but if I had really been her disciple, I would have made very different kinds of films to the ones I did make.”
Sure enough, in the late 1970s, Murphy found even more radical modes of thinking across the Atlantic when she became the first European to spend a scholarship year at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Her plan was to learn a trade and train as a cinematographer. New York, however, sent her off down a road less travelled. What’s this? A lady director?
“In New York, I started to work with other film-makers that got me fired up,” recalls Murphy. “Before that, I had never connected movies as being something I could do. In England at the time, the theory was radical, but coming from Ireland it felt a little bit repressed and stuffy."
Repressed and stuffy would never have suited Murphy. Energetic and possessed with delightfully demonstrative fingers, today we catch up with the film-maker behind Maeve, Anne Devlin and Nora in the Irish Film Institute, the site of an upcoming Murphy retrospective and one-time home to a poster for Anne Devlin – longtime punters will surely remember the quad that decorated the establishment when it was still known as the Irish Film Centre.
“When the archive called me about a retrospective, I wondered if three feature films was enough to justify one,” she smiles. “But I do get quite a lot of emails from people trying to track them down. The only place to see them is in the archive in here. It’s my own fault really. People now are more clued in to the life of their films after the cinema. I never