Cinema - Secret Women, Pigs Back and Beauty and the Beast
It's the women who bury the dead. And, as they do at the beginning of Pat Murphy's new film 'Anne Devlin', it's often the women who' must recover the dead from the holes into which their conquerors or torturors have flung them. 'Anne Devlin' Is the other side of the story. by David McKenna
In 1803 one brave Robert Emmet led a coalition of republicans, nationaalists and what would nowadays be called terrorists to disaster on the streets of Dublin. Pat Murphy shows him as a scientist, something of an artist, someone who believed that if only he could get the ingredients right, he could change the world. When Anne Devlin first enters his room at the house in Butterfield Lane where he planned the rebellion, she opens the shutters for the light to fall on quills, retorts, dishes containing chemical compounds, a microscope, on a world of elegant reason; it's a world which is new to her.
She comes to the house to play the role of housekeeper, to make a house full of conspiring men seem normal to outsiders. "You're one of us," Emmet tells her. A moment later, she is orrdered by one of the other men to fetch him some hot water and a dry towel. She's one of them alright €but a different kind of one.
She is on the edge. She cleans, fetches, carries, delivers. Also reads Tom Paine. Sews with Rose Hope, down from the North with her hussband James, republicans. "Does it matter," asks James Hope, "whether parliament sits in Dublin or in London? Still the same people in power." She listens to the men argue and shout, their rumbustiousness often a threat to the enterprise. Sometimes, it seems like a game they play, a serious game but somehow disconnected, unreal. (After the rising, they will tell stories, bravado making a comic history of failure.) With women like Rose Hope, she provides the unacknowledged suppport without which the game could not go on. But for her own good reasons, too. She is not a dupe.
She waits in the house to hear news of the rebellion. Gradually, the surviivors return, disperse. One night, when her small sister and herself are in the house alone, the soldiers come. She will tell them nothing. Afterwards, she returns home to clean the blood away. The soldiers come again, she and her family are taken into custody, first to the Castle, then to Killmainham Gaol.
And this is where Anne Devlin enters into history. Except that Pat Murphy's idea of her story is diffferent from that which would have us believe that the brave peasant girl suffered through silence for love of the aristocratic revolutionary. Murphy's Devlin has a mouth of her own and her refusal to use it is personal, resisting even Emmet's insistence that she save her own skin. She remains silent out of respect for herself and the cause she worked for. And her life has preepared her to wait, to resist the interrrogations of Major Sirr, a figure unexxpectedly akin to Emmet in his appreeciation of scientific method.
She moves into horrors. Unlike the gaoler's Wife, she is not there beecause of a husband's job. As a woman, she is double offensive to her captors:
"You are dead to the noble feelings that adorn the character of a woman. You will hang for it." Betrayals happen all around her, she does not even know whether her knowledge is of any connsequence, the only action possible is confession, if she is not to talk the only thing to do is nothing, absolutely nothing. "I used to know time passing because of my body. Now, even thaf has stopped." She is on her own.
Well, not quite. To watch 'Anne Devlin' is to see a secret history reevealed, a history not only of insurgency and imprisonment, but of kitchen and children, a history generally untold. We're used to watching the thrillers, comedies and fantasies which move at the high speed of those in control. This film and Brid Brennan's measured performance in the title role move at another kind of pace, a timing which has more to do with survival than conntrol. It's an experience which will be recognised by people who have rarely seen their lives in a cinema before.
To make a film, a costly, drawnn0Ut, organisationally complex affair, is some achievement, even more so within Ireland's underdeveloped and haphazard film industry. But to make one which breaks new ground with such a sure hand is an extraordinary thing. In a way, the measure of 'Anne Devlin' is that it achieves the right to offer the dedication which appears on the screen at the end of the film.
'Anne Devlin' was premiered at the Cork Festival of Film and will go into general distribution in the near future.
by Declan Kiberd
Where's Roscommon?" asks the threatening Garda in the long anorak. "Oh, somewhere in the west," replies the trapped sq uatter and doleefiddler. He looks frightened. He has just been done over by "queer-bashers". "Don't mind him," says the other cop in a reassuring 'Dublin accent. "He's just trying to find his style. Now sign this and everything will be all right."
It isn't just the cops in Cathal Black's films who have trouble finding a style. It's the whole of Ireland. His earlier movie 'Our Boys' (also showing at the Academy) opened with shots of a St Patrick's Day parade in the nineteen-sixties, as carts bearing hurlers jostled with floats advertising television sets. A third-world country masqueraading as a consumer paradise, and not really convincing itself. The decayed brickwork and peeling paint so - unerrringly photographed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan cast the hopeful newsreels in a more dubious perspective.
The brothers are selling up. Land given them in charity is now being sold for profit to speculators, instead of being left for the new community school. But the Brothers have their problems, too, and need funds for an uncertain future. And their dying superior shows greater dignity than the breezy young doctor who says that an old patriot like himself will be all right. "The town is full of sham nationalism," complains the old Brother, no longer envious of priests whose authority has been eroded. He worries about what will happen to the flowers when the community is gone. The final frame focuses on Brother Gilmartin gazing vacantly through the window of the commuunity's departing Morris Minor. The effect is oddly tender and elegiac 8the film suffused with a sadness for these men whom history is leaving behind.
'Our Boys', which seemed dated when first issued, now looks like an uncanny prophecy. The lay teachers came out of the shadows and rallied around Tony Gregory, as the denizens of the inner-city began to fight back. While the Mayoman of the year was being feted in the Burlington, Gregory's workers found streets ravaged by poverty and neglect, by drug pushers peddling dope to ten-year-olds at school gates. They saw immigrants to the city set up in the cosier su burbs of Rathfarnham, Stillorgan and
Howth, while authentic Dublin parishes were left to rot. .Sornething had to explode:
'Pigs' is about those doomed to live in the explosion. In the backkground are the bright lights of an affluent city by night, but in the foreeground kids are burning a car in a vacant lot through which a traveller rides a white horse. A young man named Jimmy opens a squat in an abandoned tenement and offers shelter to George, a middle-aged loser with a cough and a heart condition. George talks of how they might both go to the warm barns of Provence in the south of France. By now, the homage to 'Midnight Cowboy' is unmistakable. "I saw a movie once . . ." falters Jimmy, but the recollection peters out. Nothing even gets said or anaalysed or completed in this crowded tenement world, where even mugggings are interrupted by intruders.
The squat is Sean O'Casey out of Jean Genet - a schizoid Corkman who eats com plan pizzas; a Jamaican pimp and would-be pop-sjnger; his girl; a drifting youth; George; and Jimmy, a suppressed homosexual, estranged from his wife and cheating on doleecheques. They are all living in a dream, but so is the world outside - the girl from social welfare looks unconnvinced of her ministering-angel role; the workers on building sites don't trust each other; the high-rise houseewife is high on dope; the country is having its last fling on borrowed billions. And the policeman from Rosscommon is having trouble finding a style.
The last shot is of Jimmy gazing baffled through the window of a police-car. The reference back to Brother Gilmartin is apt - the one a real traditionalist betrayed by the sham nationalists of the suburbs; the other a victim of the same regime. A middle-class which knows how to consume but not how to make and build is imaged in the figure of George, who puts on a managing director's outfit every morning, even though he has no factory to go to. In 'Pigs', apart from the eponymous policemen, the middle-classes are not even accorrded the dignity of a walk-on part, as if to suggest that the initiative has long passed from them.
Cathal Black is too much the artist to argue or judge. He simply shows what happens, with unfailing symmpathy for all concerned. At times, his tact may seem excessive - like his characters, he doesn't always push his insights to their logical connclusion. At other times, he seems to be trying to say too much. But if 'Pigs' turns out to be as prophetic as 'Our Boys', we are in for a rough time. More crime, more closures, more cops. More paupers convincing themselves they are on the pigs back. More Gaels by day and Galls by night, seeking to hit off an appropriate style.
'Pigs' and 'Our Boys' are now showing at the Academy
Cinema 3 - Beauty and the Beast
by Aidan Dunne
Never stray from the path, never eat windfalls, and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle." So Rosaleeri's grandmother warns her in "The Company ofW olves", and she underlines her advice with a seemingly endless series of sanguinary tales. Story telling, it has been pointed out, is a way of postponing the future. And the dream yarns spun by cooauthors Angela Carter and Neil Jordan take off at a ninety degree angle to time's trajectory, and postpone inndefinitely their young heroine's connfrontation with the workaday world and the problems towards which age is inexorably rushing her. The narraative theme and variations that commprise their film are enacted almost entirely in dream time and dreamland: a forest of the mind.
Nestling in the forest is a storybook village inhabited by storybookpeasants, so directly drawn from childhood ficction that the illustrator's paint still seems wet on the background detail. Forest and village were in fact built on a Shepperton set. But no sooner has he created this fantasy gingerbread land than Jordan proceeds to rub our noses in the dirt. Every cinematic resource is committed to convincing us that the earth shovelled onto a plain wood coffin is real, that the lives of the characters are hard and that the wolves, when they bite and rend, will draw blood and tear flesh.
In the depths of the wood, birds fly, outsize spiders spin their webs, rats scurry, snakes slither and hiss, gleaming frogs pulse and wolves lurk in the shadows, eyes aglow. The sheer density of unruly wildlife suggests that the arrival of David Attenburgh is imminent. But we are far removed from any comforting account of natural cause and effect, tooth and claw. We are trapped in the realm of the unconscious, and the rules are disturbingly different. Based on Carter's feminist re-write of the story of Red Riding Hood, both text and film are indebted to Bruno Bettelheim's psychooanalytical interpretation of fairy tales expound the book "The Uses of Enchantment",
Our viewpoint is that of the heroine, Rosaleen, a pubescent girl, played with verve and confidence by newcomer Sarah Patterson. To her elder sister she's a pest. Her parents, as her father ruefully admits, don't understand her. Withdrawn in her locked bedroom, surrounded by the trappings of a dissappearing childhood, she dreams, and the film is her dream.
Her dreamland is the tangled forest of her own mind, a fairy tale territory of ravenous, predatory wolves, dupliicitous charmers and staunch woodssmen. Her mentor is her grandmother Angela Lansbury as a bespectacled, rosy-cheeked caricature, full of cauutionary lore - who lives some distance away in the woods. Her grandmother is determined that Rosaleen should not come to the same sorry end as her sister, who ignored the instructions of her elders, strayed from the path and was set upon by wolves.
Rosaleen's affection for her granddmother is not uncritical. Secretly, she feels there is more to life than the black-and-white picture she paints, wherein men are evil seducers whose charm extends only to the point of surrender, when the beast emerges. Her mother, a wiser woman, notes that "If there is a beast in men it finds its match in women." And by dream, and film's end Rosaleen has found and, it is suggested, come to terms with the beast within herself. The object of her grandmother's fear (and to a greater and lesser extent practically every other character in the film as well), the werewolf, a combination of srnoothhtongued charmer and bloodthirsty beast, stands not only for the spectre of male lust, but Rosaleen's own developing sexuality and indeed sexuaality itself. All grandma's tales are preeparatory variations for Rosaleen's climactic confrontation with her seduucer (the splendidly hirsute Micha Bergese) and, as she comes to realise, with her own "wounding" and sexual identity.
In constructing a patchwork quilt of overlapping stories within stories, Jordan has crafted an exhilarating visual adventure, full of memorably beautiful sequences, a remarkably intelligent horror fantasy with a rich vein of ironic humour that puts milllions of dollars worth of Hollywood schlock to shame. In the process he has invested heavily in special effects himself. Considerable time, money and effort have gone towards convincing us of the reality of metamorphosis as men become wolves: pulsing muscle laid bare, lupine snouts issuing from human mouths and so on. The transsformations are gory and frightening where they are intended to be so; their impact on the audience considerable. Nevertheless, it is at such moments that the film threatens to falter and lose its confident stride, and become bogged down in its own technical prowess.
More impressive are Jordan's subtler achievements of visual magic, like Rosaleen's first illicit stroll through the woods, when she shakes off her young suitor, or the marvellous openning sequence (tellingly the only one shot off the set) in which the family's alsatian dog lopes powerfully through autumn woodland and, eventually, finds its way upstairs to Rosaleen's bedroom door, beyond which she is dreaming troubled dreams, a sequence that is brilliantly echoed much later in the plot.
The film's real achievem ent lies in the fact that both Carter and Jordan have recognised that, in Bettelheim's phrase, "The fairy tale carries within itself the conviction of its message," and they don't impoverish it by connverting its knowledge into information. Far from exhausting or diffusing the folk tale's metaphoric power, the film amplifies and enriches it, embellishing its core with a wealth of variation and insight. The magic of the fiction, and its usefulness, are enhanced.
The Company of Wolves "is showing at Savoy 1