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Top 10 Irish Films March 10, 2009

St. Patrick’s Day (And, if you choose to abbreviate it; it’s NOT ‘Patty’s Day’- it’s ‘Paddy’s Day’. Patrick is a dude’s name, dummy.)  A day where everyone is Irish, mostly for the beer. That’s some impressive PR job, Mr. Whoever-Popularized-This-Day.  Just think…St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by the entire world. Japan and China may take over the planet with technology, the USA with McDonald’s and pop-culture, and India, just with their huge population alone but it takes a culture that stumped even Sigmund Freud (He famously said the Irish were the only people who could not be psychoanalyzed) to convince the whole planet, pretty much, to take part in their national holiday and to my knowledge, Ireland is the only country that can boast that claim to fame. Go othe_commitmentsn, ya good thing! *Now we’re sucking diesel! Here are some film suggestions for in between the ‘top of the morning’ toasts and the vomiting of green beer –

  • *To Suck Diesel – Irish slang; descriptive verb – in which one party is pleased with the performance of another party, where the advantage and/or benefit is accessible for many. EG, “did you see O’Neill score that goal? Now we’re sucking diesel!” (Has little or nothing to do with the ingestion of petroleum by-products.)

The Butcher Boy
Speaking of vomiting, it’s the incredible Francie Brady!! Neil Jordan’s genius work of the microcosmic world of small-town Ireland, where everyone knows everyone else’s business all the time, there are no secrets and neighbour will use them against neighbour when it’ll cut the deepest. This, in actuality, probably describes every small-town in the world, not just Ireland. Set during the rampantly paranoid time of the 50’s, when countries NOT called ‘America’, ‘Russia’ or ‘Cuba’ had to sit in the shadow of their combined atomic power and just …wait and pray and see. As the local shop-lady says; “Sure, if they want to push the button, push it they will. The likes of you and me won’t stop them but it’ll be a sad day for this town when the world comes to an end”.  Francie is the product of neglect. He carries the burden of his parents’ reputation and he finds escape in the Sci-Fi movies, comics and TV of the era and fanciful games with his best pal, Joe. As he starts finding it difficult to tell the difference between his imagination and reality, there’s no-one to catch Francie as he falls and he explodes in a big mushroom-cloud of his own internal pain. People say you have to be tough to make it in big cities but I think you’ve got to made stern stuff to survive the tiny towns where delighting in the gossip of other people’s misery but never lifting a finger to help, is considered a type of entertainment. Not by all, of course, but by certain folks who make their presence known – Oh, boy, do they EVER.

Eat the Peach
Going to school in the 80’s, I remember at least half of my classmates had fathers who were working in England due to lack of work in Ireland. In ‘Eat the Peach’, two guys who’ve lost their jobs, with no hope of getting another one, make a decision. They figure since they’ve got nothing, they’ve got nothing to lose. After seeing the Elvis Presley movie, ‘Roustabout’, they attempt to build their own Wall of Death.  In the meantime, the entire town goes from cynicism, to curiosity, to all-out enthusiasm for the project. The title comes from T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a favourite of the Irish school system. It was one of the first films made in association with Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board and, in Ireland anyway, it had a lot of meaning. It’s not the most accomplished of films but if you come across the opportunity to rent or buy this, I highly recommend you do so. Go back in time and see Ireland before the Celtic Tiger ran amok.

Eat the Peach

Last Of The High Kings
The Irish Leaving Certificate Exam – the strictest, most well-crafted torture device known to secondary school kids in the world. Not only do they keep you in school for an extra 2 weeks after everyone else has been let out for the holidays (which brings out the nicest, warmest weather you’ll get for those 3 months; back home it’s popularly known as ‘Leaving Cert weather’), they then make you wait the entire summer for the results. I tell you, someone who HATES 17-18 year olds came up with system. Will you get into the college you wanted? Will you get the points to study your chosen subject? (Those damn points!! What is this? The bloody Eurovision?!) Will you have to (*gasp*) repeat the year? These are the questions that follow you around and plague you for 12 whole weeks. Horrible. Personally, I would have taken anything they had on offer at Guantanamo Bay over the nagging, miserable feeling that continually reared its head the summer of ’93, just when I was beginning to enjoy my freedom. ‘LOTHK’ has Irish politics, inter-religion love affairs and the loud distant cousin from across the pond over for her vacation ‘to find her roots’.  However, what makes this film particularly special is our hero waiting with quiet terror for that stupid, ugly, brown, government-stamped envelope to come through the letter-box and decide his future.

The Commitments
The amazing thing about this film is that, 18 years later, the people who make movie trailers are still using the version of ‘Treat Her Right’ from this. It’s that ‘hey, hey, hey, hey’ chorus – apparently this denotes that something ‘wacky’ is a-go-go in the advertised film; usually someone is falling over or making a big mess in a public place or setting themselves on fire as the tune plays in the background. Fun! The other amazing thing about this film is that, 18 years later, it’s still a damn good time. In a brilliant script with tons of instantly quotable lines, it contains one of my favourite bits of dialogue ever: “What did yer man want?” -  “God sent him” – “Really? On a fucking Suzuki?”

In The Name Of The Father
I don’t want to make this list a sad old depressing list full of films about how mean and nasty Jolly Olde England was to us poor little Irish naïfs. I don’t want to play that game. I include this one more for the performances and the idea that this true story makes a great case for abolishing all death penalties everywhere. 3 young men and 1 young woman lost 15 or more years of their lives, each, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Several of their family members lost huge chunks of their prime years as well, just for being related to them.  Giuseppe Conlon died in prison and, to this day, has not been declared innocent of the false charges that were brought against him. It doesn’t sound like a laugh-riot and it isn’t but there’s a surprisingly large amount of joy and hope in this. I think Chesterton said it best – from his epic poem, “The Ballad of the White Horse”:
“For the Great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad.”

The Matchmaker
I come from Ballybunion, Co. Kerry and we have ‘The Ballybunion Bachelor Festival’. I’ve been told it’s fallen out of favour these past few years and what used to be a week of fun-loving single guys from all over the world running around our very small town and creating good old-fashioned mayhem is now just a weekend and considered kind of naff and embarrassing.  I have fond emotions for the festival though because without it, I might never have been born. My ‘Paddy’ Mum was on the committee in the 70’s (when it was still ‘The Gay Bachelor Festival’, bless) and she met my ‘Yankee’ Dad when he wandered into the town unknowingly and took part in a Tug-of-War contest with some of the (official) bachelors. He asked her out, she told him to get lost (“Some full-of-himself, eejit American…” she put it). He then successfully stole her from her escort that evening at a dance, the scoundrel.  They eloped 3 months later. Good story, eh? In ‘The Matchmaker’, an American girl goes to find her politico-boss man’s Irish relatives because he’s up for re-election and ends up smack-bang in the middle of a matchmaking festival, much to her annoyance. Can you guess what happens next? Also factoring into the plot; the long standing Irish industrial past-time of ‘Fleece the Tourist’ and the one bit of Irish that every kid knows, “An bhfuil cad agam dul go di an leithreas?” which means, “Can I go to the bathroom?” As is mentioned in the film; if you didn’t say it in Irish at school, you didn’t get to go. And if you didn’t get to go, then you went in your pants. Good, fun, silly; perfect-for-a-rainy-or-sick-day film.

A couple years ago at Sundance, crowds were milling at the various bars and asking each other what they liked at that year’s festival. So many times you’d hear; “There’s this little Irish film called ‘Once’ that I really loved”. And hence, a star was born. Was it the songs? The intimacy of watching two people come together for a shared dream? Seeing them leave one another to give that modest dream a chance? Like a song, you have to work out your own interpretation. That’s what I enjoy most about it.

The Field
When I was about 16 or 17, a lad approached me at a disco in Tralee with the memorable chat-up line; “I’ve loads of land”. He was not trying to be funny. Land is important everywhere but especially in a country that’s geographically the same size as the U.S. state of Maine. The Bull McCabe has poured his blood and soul into his field and when it’s threatened to be covered with cement by some foreign cowboy who has no love for the land, you best believe he’s going to get trouble for his trouble. The Bull, who can’t forgive the English, his own wife, youngest son or himself, cannot therefore be expected to forgive the outsiders that would dare rob him of his field.

I Went Down
The Irish Gangster Movie – it’s not the most well-known or explored of genres. They do exist though and this one, written by UCD Dramsoc alumni Conor McPherson, is probably the best example. It takes what audiences love about modern American ‘shoot ‘em ups’ and adds some Mick-wit into the mix. Oh, and so much cursing, Joe Pesci would blush. I can’t write much without totally giving the story away; safe to say that Brendan Gleeson is brilliant as always, the dialogue is sharp and funny and it’s worth your time.  Rent it, Dawbrain.

Father Ted – The Series
I am aware that this is not a film but to write this list and fail to include what is a seminal TV show would be a crime of semantics …or maybe it’s an ecumenical matter. On the surface, it’s a sit-com about 3 priests and their housekeeper living on a sparsely populated island off the coast of Ireland. Dig a teeny bit deeper and it’s the best satire of Irish life ever dreamed up and put on-screen. Not just of the priests and the how’s and why’s of what put them on this God-forsaken island but the community itself; the husband and wife who hate each other and are only civil when the priests are around, the head case who lives alone and has alarming hobbies, the rubbish weather, lack of contact with the rest of the world and the making and drinking of TEA – this magical Irish elixir and eternal problem solver. It’s hard to pick a favourite but if I had one chance to convince someone to watch it regularly with showcasing one episode, I’d pick ‘Rock-A-Hula, Ted’. It’s the one with the ‘Lovely Girl’ contest (“They ALL have lovely bottoms!”, cries Father Ted, judging the competition) and Sinead O’Connor substitute, Niamh Connelly, who sings songs about ‘Clit Power’ that shock the clergy, even if they don’t quite know what that means (“I know a Father CLINT Power; maybe she’s having a go at him”, says Father Ted, all confused). Go to the Channel 4 website and watch the episodes there. Feckin’ funny.  Thanks Dermot and RIP Father Trendy. (By the way, this column was only RESTING in my account…)

Click for short video tribute to Father Ted's Dermot Morgan
Click for video tribute to Father Ted
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