So here we are again Spilldos... Spilllos... whatever. Another year and another Paddy's Day just around the corner. It's important to remember what it means to be actually Irish 'cause Hollywood has commited another act of cultural Black Face. Or as Leon put it in the audio review: the Irish Birth of a Nation.
Dammit Hollywood... Just, godammit.
So in order to right the wrongs of this past year I'm here to present a list of the films you should be watching this St Patrick's Day! You can thank me with your money. Or by watching the films. I'd prefer the money though if I'm being honest. Everything that you find underneath here is all pure, authentic Irish.
And just for the hell of it, I'll throw in some muscial interludes to spice things up a little bit. I'm fierce good to yis all aren't I?
Picking out Irish comedies is like picking out sensitive Jewish characters in a Charles Dickens novel, they're hard to come by. And some would argue they don't exist. There's a great tradition in Irish storytelling, be oral, literature, stageplays, films or TV, of screwing absolutely everyone over in one tragedy or another. It's rare to find an Irish story with an honest-to-god happy ending. Which makes finding straight comedies such a task. Add to that the difficulties in finding a actually decent comedy and you're searching for Dodos in Atlantis at this stage. Or maybe it's that there's just a lot of tragedies with a bit of comedy...
Anyway, there's really feck all in terms of films. So instead I'm going to give you a TV show: Father Ted. It's a cheat, but it's a funny cheat. The show, written by Irishmen, starring Irish actors, is owned by Channel 4, an English company. The show follows three priests on a remote island of the northern coast of Ireland where they've been consigned for... well, for being truly terrible Catholic priests. One's an alcoholic womaniser, the other a complete dullard, and the other? Well he's just constantly brought back to this dingy little parish of Craggy Island because of his own terrible luck.
The series is long since finished, a box set released several years ago, and the episodes are available online on YouTube for free. It's the only pure comedy Ireland's ever produced, and fuck it it's a classic.
There's also a new film which I think I should recommend. It's a low budget film, starring Irish comedic legend Dylan Moran, called A Film With Me In It. It's the sort of good natured black comedy where horrible things happen but it's very very funny. It had a very small release, essentially it was released at festivals and that was it, but it's available on DVD to buy on Amazon. The film's about a down-on-his-luck screenwriter (as if there's any other kind) Mark and a similarly down-on-his-luck actor (insert previous bracket comment here) Pierce whose lives get turned upside down when Mark's young, parapalegic brother and landlord are killed in quick succession in his flat... yeah I know this sounds like a tragedy, but trust me, it's very funny.
Finding a couple of dramas is a lot easier let me tell you. First up is The Crying Game. This film, made in 1992, is one of the most critically acclaimed Irish films ever made. The six Oscar noms emphasise that. It deals with an IRA soldier, Stephen Rea, who undergoes a crisis of conscience after an encounter with a prisoner. This picture, directed by Neil Jordan, is well worth a look for anyone who just loves quality films.
Next up I present to you My Left Foot, famous, if for nothing else, than for the fact that actor Daniel Day-Lewis had to rehabilitated after playing cerebral palsy sufferer Christy Brown. It's a hard film to watch, as Christy's life would be the plot of hard working class existence even if he didn't have cerebral palsy. However, if you haven't seen this film, don't worry about it being sentimental or overly depressing; Christy was a working class Dubliner and didn't take shit from people, and Jim Sheridan is too good a director to let the film sink into sentimentality. Pick this film up, and enjoy one hell of a story.
If these films aren't enough for you, well wait 'til we get into this next double punch to the gut. And I mean that in the most emotional of ways.
First though, a musical interlude:
In recent years there have been hundreds of testimonies given regarding clerical abuse. About children and young adults lost inside the walls of Catholic Church institutions. Those of you who've kept an eye out for Irish news items will no full well the kind of impact this revelation is having on modern Ireland. Decades of rapes, beatings and cover-ups are now spilling out into the Irish public consciousness and becoming part of Irish culture. No better is this represented than in the cinema.
First there is The Magdalene Sisters. The Magdalene Laundries were infamous in Irish minds for being the workshops where Catholic teenage girls, pregnant before they were married, were sent by their families. There their children were taken from them and put up for adoption while the girls themselves were forced into slave labour by the Nuns running the institution. The film, released in 2003, and set in 1964, makes for just a brutal and enthralling viewing. The film was received immensely well by the critics, and contains many incredible performances. Frankly, it would be just as easy to put this under horror but for the fact that this is completely real. It'd be kind of demeaning to put it there.
The second one is called Song For A Raggy Boy. Released in the same year as The Magdalene Sisters in many ways this covers similar themes, except this time it takes the male point of view. The film details another true story, of a Catholic boy's reformatory school for the 'dangerous of society'. Like Magdalene Sisters this film doesn't pull its punches and really makes you face the abuse in the institution and the powerlessness of secular teacher William Franklin to do anything to try and save the boys from the abuse they face. It's heart wrenching, and needs to be watched with someone else close by. 'Cause believe me you'll need someone's shoulder to cry into. The film isn't perfect, some of the editing choices are more than a little cliché, but when it gets down to business it's all muscle.
To make up for depressing you with the last two entries here's a more tragi-comedy. Or comedic-tragedy. It's kind of hard to place really. Either way, here's Adam and Paul. The story follows the day of Adam and Paul, two junkies who wake up on a mattress on a beach after a night of drug induced... something, they don't remember and you're never sure. The day is filled with adventure as Adam and Paul try to shake off their hangovers, find some money/drugs and escape the friends they've pissed off, and the enemies they've pissed off. The film is at tuns light hearted and dark, though nothing that happens ever feels truly out of place. For every laugh there's a tear. Sort of like life. Unless you're a manic depressive. Or on prozac.
And now for another magical muscial interlude:
Oddly enough there's no mask for 'family films'.
Frankly I think you'll need these films after the tragedy section so here we go, first up the one film that's most fresh in your minds thanks to its Oscar nomination this year: The Secret of Kells. Rather than simply gush about how frigging brilliant this film is I'll leave you a link to my review from last year and a clip. Review.
Here's the second one, directed by Jim Sheridan, was released in 2002 to much acclaim. It features two strong performances from Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton, along with two incredible child performances by sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger. It's the story of an Irish family emigrating, illegally, to the U.S to escape their past; the death of their son. The story is so uplifting and sweet it really has to be seen. The story is told through the innocent and magical eyes of Christy (Sarah Bolger). Some may find the story a little too coincidental and sweet, but those people have the tragedies and dramas up above. For everyone else, In America is a fantastic film, which is great for any Paddy's Day. Feck it, it's great for any day.
Another song for you all:
Okay, these aren't musicals in the strictest of senses, but there about as close as you're ever going to get. First up, we have the Irish answer to the Blues Brothers: The Commitments. This is often claimed as being a British film, but don't believe a word of it. The British steal films from Ireland all the time, they'd steal your country too if yis aren't looking. Regardless The Commitments is a fantastic film, and a fantastic adaptation (being based of the novel of the same name), with some fantastic acting and, most importantly, incredible music. The story follows Jimmy Rabbitte as he tries to escape the stale and dull music scene of Ireland and start up a band playing something never played on Irish stages before: soul music. And so begins a fantastic little film. When I said earlier that The Commitments was and Irish Blues Brothers, I should say that The Commitments is all about the music and the band, and doesn't meander into any kind of chase scene. The film is a lot more understated, and really lets the soul be the soul of the film. I apologise for none of my glorious puns by the way. No matter how terrible they may or may not be.
Second is the Oscar winning Once. This fantastic little film is about two people, an Irish musician just trying to sing his own songs while he busks for money playing the hits, and a Czech musician, just trying to sell some flowers on the streets of Dublin and get by with her mother and son in a new country. This musical romance is a very understated film, letting much of the emotional connection between the characters flow through the music they create together. The acting is fantastic here, provided by relative amateurs Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. The film is a soft, slow musically satisfying story all about love and music. Oh, and it doesn't end the way you think it will, so don't be thrown off by the romantic elements of the story. If there's one thing which doesn't quite work is that it's a bit of a Tourist Board checklist of all the things to be featured in an Irish tourism video. But as most of you have never seen Dublin I think you'll be able to let that go.
I like this video not 'cause the woman looks like she might just pop out of her dress but because... em... what was I going to say?
Considering the tragedy motive that runs through Irish fiction it shouldn't be any surprise to learn there are more than a fair share of Irish war movies to choose from. There are the films which deal with the conflicts in general, and the more personal stories which tell war stories filled only with innocent victims. This is going to be a mix of the two.
Michael Collins and The Wind That Shakes The Barley are two films which really ought to be watched as one film. Why you ask? Well because between these films both sides of the Irish War of Independence and Civil War are covered. They present two sides of the story, one which is still under debate to this day. Michael Collins stars the always wonderful Liam Neeson as the general, rebel, war hero, politician, diplomat and conflicted hardass Collins. It follows his story from the Easter 1916 Rising up until Collins' death in 1922 during the Civil War. It's a biopic which is probably the closest thing Ireland's come to producing a film of epic scope. No matter what though, it doesn't lose the story. Far from perfect however, it does have Julia Roberts producing an atrocious Irish accent. Thankfully she's only in the film for about five to ten minutes.
The Wind That Shakes The Barley presents the fictional story of young Damien, a doctor forced to fight the British during the same conflict. Joining with his brother and school friends they train in the mountains and launch attacks on British convoys. In many ways its the opposite of Michael Collins since it is an independent film, and thus has little to no budget. Also,as good as Cillian Murphy is in the role of Damien, he doesn't quite cut the same figure as Liam Neeson, though you could argue the character doesn't call for him to be. Both of these films are extremely good, dealing with heavy and complicated issues with sincerity and skill, while also providing different viewpoints on the Civil War.
Omagh is a film about the bomb which exploded in the town of Omagh in August 1998. The film follows the family of one of the victims as they try, so desperately, to get the police to do something about finding the Real IRA members who planted the bomb, and killed so many people. The film isn't one which takes sides in the manner of the previous two films mentioned. This is a film which says all that must be done is what is just, and what is morally right. It's a made for TV film, but really, you don't notice it once the characters and their emotions spill out across the screen. It's not too widely available, but you can find it online on YouTube easily enough.
So there you have it. A run through of so many films, songs, and a couple of TV shows here and here for you to watch this St. Patrick's Day. While some of you may bemoan the lack of anything purely fun and explosive to watch, all I can say to you is that Ireland has enough real violence to keep it from making films about stupid violence. Ireland's felt the consequences of its history in a real and bloody manner, hence so many films deal with action and consequence, more often than not tragic consequence.
If you're really stuck for just some fun shooting action then I could recommend the fantastic In Bruges released two years ago. But never will I say that Boondock Saints is Irish. It's American. It's Leap Year.
Whatever you do, see at least one film from this list. Trust me you won't be disappointed. Enjoy yourselves this coming Wednesday. From all the Irish people on Spill, all ten of us, Happy Paddy's Day, and see ya next year.
I was going to put in the national anthem here but frankly I hate that tune so there's the next best thing.