“All of the con­ver­sa­tions I had about the film were about the pol­i­tics. I don’t re­mem­ber any­one ask­ing me about what I was try­ing to do as a di­rec­tor”

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

have been. I was just about mak­ing them. I made films in an im­per­ma­nent way. You make them. You leave them. I re­alise now that I have to do bet­ter house­keep­ing.”

Mur­phy cringes slightly. “And I re­ally don’t have the out­go­ing, pro­mo­tional per­son­al­ity that helps when you're a di­rec­tor. It’s amaz­ing that I man­aged those three films.”

In 1980, Mur­phy, lately re­turned from her New York sab­bat­i­cal, re­ceived fund­ing from the British Film In­sti­tute for Maeve. A Go­dar­d­ian thriller set against the Ul­ster con­flict, it was Ire­land's first bona-fide fem­i­nist film, a land­mark that has kept the­sis students com­ing to her doorstep ever since.

“It has tailed off a bit in re­cent years,” she says. “But I did used to get it. Maeve was use­ful for peo­ple who were film-mak­ers or who were in­ter­ested in Ire­land or women or pol­i­tics or con­flict. When I made it, I was com­ing from a very raw and rad­i­cal place. And then I’d meet these students and I’d re­alise they hated Maeve. They hated writ­ing their the­sis on this sub­ject. But be­cause there weren’t many Ir­ish films around, they were stuck with it.”

It’s no won­der that Mur­phy’s films are like cat­nip for grad­u­ate students. In the early years, her writ­ing in­evitably came from big, com­plex ideas and con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous de­bates about pol­i­tics, gen­der and hege­mony.

“I’ve learned so much from teach­ing students at NYU over the years,” she says. “The students I have there pro­duce very sub­tle char­ac­ter-driven sto­ries, and I re­alise that this is very dif­fer­ent to the way I used to think. I didn’t think about story. I’d think some­thing like: rep­re­sen­ta­tions of North­ern Ire­land are un­sat­is­fac­tory: I’m go­ing to make Maeve and sort it all out.”

De­spite those early the­o­ret­i­cal un­der­pin­nings, it would be fool­ish to see Maeve or Anne Devlin in purely con­cep­tual terms. “Both of those films come out of a par­tic­u­lar rad­i­cal time and a par­tic­u­lar rad­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment,” says Mur­phy. “They try and en­gage with those is­sues that were big at the time. Maeve was ask­ing how does a woman po­si­tion her­self against the back­ground of what was go­ing on in the North and within the his­tory of repub­li­can­ism and mem­ory and land­scape. At the time, peo­ple were push­ing com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives. But my ex­pe­ri­ence was that there was no clear nar­ra­tive, only a frac­tured one. I was in­flu­enced by Go­dard and Brecht. But, more than that, with Maeve, any­time I sat down and tried to cre­ate a straight­for­ward film with a be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end, it just wouldn’t work. When I was at col­lege, all the talk was about the shape of a film or the shape of po­lit­i­cal cinema. Maeve comes out of that vor­tex, but it’s equally or­ganic.”

Anne Devlin, by con­trast, is rather more straight­for­ward. “Yes. But that’s be­cause I was work­ing from her prison di­ary. I was amazed by how cin­e­matic it was. Scenes were de­scribed in enough de­tail to con­struct shots for the movie. I think af­ter mak­ing Maeve I be­came more in­ter­ested in story. And with Anne Devlin’s jour­nal I wanted to tell a story that was like a bal­lad.”

A his­tory of the 1798 re­bel­lion from the per­spec­tive of some­one who has fre­quently been marginalised or dis­missed as Robert Em­met’s house­keeper or Michael Dwyer’s cousin, Mur­phy’s 1984 drama sought to re­claim rather than re­vise his­tory.

“Re­vi­sion­ism usu­ally in­volves an agenda or an ide­ol­ogy,” says Mur­phy. “But I wasn’t at­tempted to un­der­mine the ex­ist­ing

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