Rabble-rousing on O’Connell Street

Some time towards the end of last year I saw Tom Murphy’s “A Whistle in The Dark”, a DruidMurphy production staged as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. The story centred on an Irish emigrant, his English wife and the Irishman’s dysfunctional family, all of whom had come to stay and none of whom showed any signs of leaving. But “A Whistle in The Dark” wasn’t a family vignette. It was a magnifying glass hovering over a combustible situation and shining a spotlight of white heat. It was insidious like a family argument and by the end I wanted to stand up, walk in and tell everyone to just STOP.

I was thinking about “A Whistle In The Dark” recently as I walked down O’Connell Street. In one of Whistle’s many heated scenes, a family member trying to talk up Dublin exclaims, ‘O’Connell Street is the widest street in the world!’ That line provoked giggles from the audience and circled the family’s ignorance and insecurity with a thick felt pen.

Of course, O’Connell Street is not the widest street in the world; it’s the widest street in Ireland. I walk up O’Connell Street most week mornings, then down again that evening. My trip starts at Daniel O’Connell and ends at Charles Stewart Parnell. And between these two figures stands (amongst others), The Spire, Jesus in the box, and, my favourite, Big Jim Larkin.

(image via bangortobobbio.blogspot.com)

George Bernard Shaw famously described Jim Larkin as being the greatest Irishman since Charles Stewart Parnell. Sadly, if a statue’s appearances were a measure of greatness, then Parnell’s legacy would presumably be about as inspiring as a bowl of rice. What’s more, Parnell’s outstretched hand – historically a sign of excellent oratory skills – now looks slightly fascist, as though he were half attempting a Heil Hitler salute. It’s only a coincidence but it’s an unfortunate one all the same.

Jim Larkin however, erected some 68 years after Parnell in 1979, by Oisin Kelly, is a life-size bronze stationed on a 4.5 metre granite plinth. The statue, which is modelled on a photo of Larkin addressing a crowd on O’Connell Street in 1923, captures a variety of emotions: his wide-set stance and high-flung arms electrify him, as though he has reached the end of an invigorating and rabble-rousing speech. But the statue also has a sense of jubilance about it, as though some hundred years after the Dublin Lockouts (a century this August!), Larkin is celebrating a truly historical victory.

Oisin Kelly’s figurative statue was the second and last commemorative statue to be erected on O’Connell Street in the twentieth century, only preceded by Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Charles Stewart Parnell. But unlike Parnell, where each little detail from his pulled jacket buttons to the loosely hanging and creased trouser cuffs are delineated; these intricacies are virtually overlooked in Larkin’s case. Funnily however, the exclusion of these minutiae makes the statue’s impact more effective over all.

There’s a timeless maxim that goes, ‘show not tell’. Jim Larkin lacks any pernickety details, for example it’s difficult to attribute any kind of age to the figure or tease out the kind of shirt he might be wearing or whether his trousers have pockets. Yet the hollowed out apple-size hole for the mouth; the cut-away hollows-for-eyes, and the hands, which morph into jacket sleeves and evolve into a loose garment that flaps outwards and articulates a body in motion at the height of an electrifying speech are more significant and telling than any ruching of fabric or button detail.

Public art is about engaging people in a sense of ‘place’. In secondary school I often found history tedious because without modern resources like YouTube, the subject seemed depersonalised. Oisin Kelly’s Larkin however is provocative and reiterates the power a stationary object can have in unravelling great scenes from the past.

There is a plaque included on Larkin’s plinth, which reads: The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.” One hundred years later, that quote combined with Larkin’s gaping, howling mouth, still stands to remind workers to free themselves from the tyranny of their employers.

Interview with Stephen Horgan, Director of Snatch and Bail

 “I went up to the people at the desk and said, ‘Hi, we’re the filmmakers.’ They just looked at us and said, ‘What?’”

Stephen Horgan, a first year student at UCD, has just completed his first feature film Snatch and Bail. “It’s hard to talk about or explain,” he says giving a shy laugh, “but I suppose it’s about two burglars who decide to frame a serial killer. It’s kind of a crime-caper, dark comedy film.”

Snatch and Bail, which will debut at the UCD Cinema tomorrow afternoon, currently runs at 90 minutes and stars two professional actors, notably Dave Duffy of Fair City. Yet despite sounding both professional and polished the film’s production was anything but, and in short proved to be a production nightmare:  It was produced with almost no money and the production team was tiny; the cameraman was also in charge of holding the boom while Horgan’s own parents starred as extras in the film, which took place in their family home. Was Horgan surprised that the film actually came into fruition?

“YES. Even, there was a moment three days into filming where I was going to say, ‘Look this isn’t going to work,’ and the only thing that stopped me from shutting the whole thing down was the actress, Nisha Kamat, who had travelled from Donegal to appear in the film.

“That was just the first round of problems we ran into. One day we were meant to film in a coffee shop and I phoned up the marketing people and arranged to film on the premise. We went in pretty early the following morning so it would be quiet and relatively empty. It wasn’t. In fact it was quite full. I went up to the desk and said ‘Hi, we’re the filmmakers,’ and they just looked at us and said ‘What?’

“That alone was one of those Oh-my-God moments but we also had actors on set who I’d never met before and who were filming scenes that day. They eventually let us go on with filming because they thought we were nice – or at least that’s what they told my parents who were extras.”

Image

Throughout our conversation it was clear that money was a big threat in terms of the film’s completion. Given the strains associated with filming on almost no budget, would Horgan say that Snatch and Bail is quite amateur or does it stand up to professionally produced films?

“I don’t know how it stands up to professional films but based on what people have told me, it looks good. It looks as though there was more money put in than there was. That said there are scenes where the boom has crept in and the shots have needed to be cropped. There’s one scene that we simply couldn’t include because the boom is in it.

“I’m way too scared to say that it will stand up to other professionally filmed movies but I’m really proud of it personally. I was watching it on my laptop – only bits of it because to watch the whole thing would drive me crazy. I was watching these bits to make sure that there were no mistakes because I do not want to cringe when I watch back over it. And it felt proper if you know what I mean. Well… There was one moment that didn’t feel right but that’s going to be edited.”

So, what inspired Horgan to make a film?

“When I started first year (Horgan recently completed a three-year degree in English and Film Studies) I had this image, which popped into my head; My sister and I had gone to a garage, probably to buy phone credit or something, and I got this image of two people – a guy and a girl – completely dressed in black and following someone. That image just stuck in my head.

“I had already been involved in a short film (Les Voyeurs), which is about two burglars who get themselves into sticky situations. I liked the idea, so I put the image of the two people from the garage into that burglar scenario and that really was the direction that the film went.  That was how the whole thing meshed together.

“It also came out of procrastinating for exams. After I made the short film (December 2010) I knew the characters and these funny moments just came into my head. I just got this real impulse to make a story out of it and write it down.”

Image

Given that Snatch and Bail was adapted from a short film but was earlier described as ‘hard to explain’, I was curious to find out if Horgan’s debut was complex or straightforward. The answer I received was, ‘It’s simple but complicated in parts…’

What?

“The story isn’t the most complicated thing in the world. There’s a back-story too but it’s not complicated either. The story lends itself to funny situations, which are pretty straightforward, but the way it’s structured might be a little confusing. Basically no one will know what’s going on for about the first six minutes.”

And were shots important or did the story take precedence?

“The shots were very important; I cared about those a lot and thought hard about which ones would go in. I had a few shots in my head for a long time including the two people dressed in dark clothes, which came to me at the garage. That shot’s in the film.”

And as a past Film Studies student, were there any notable influences?

“Have you ever heard of a film called Pierrot le Fou? Well I hate that film but reading about it really influenced Snatch and Bail.”

Throughout my conversation there were two emotions that constantly emerged: total exasperation at the lack of money and excitement over the actors’ performances. When describing the actors, Horgan used adjectives like ‘great’ and ‘brilliant’ and admitted that his own character was probably upstaged several times throughout the film.

“We had three cases of actors having to drop out though,” he told me. “One of those was a major character but that actor’s replacement was really good so I don’t really mind.

“We also have a character (played by Dave Duffy) that’s in Fair City,” he enthused. We didn’t even have to pay him and he was a really nice. Working with him was amazing and he’s great in the film. He’s enjoyable to watch too, and one of the few performances that I don’t get fed up watching – and that’s not me going on about anyone else’s performance – I’ve just seen the film over and over again but every time I watch it I still find his scenes enjoyable.”

Image

Inevitably, my last question asked what the future might hold for Snatch and Bail and if we might hear more about it going forward. “Well I’m going to try and put it into festivals but I need to edit (or pay someone to edit) the aspect ratios. I think if I get that sorted I’ll enter it to the Jameson Festival. I’d love it to go as far as possible although we have sound problems too, which also need to be looked at. But at the moment I’m just looking forward to the UCD showing. I’d hate to think that that would be the end of it. I’d like to think it’ll go further and be seen by a wider audience.”

Given the non-stop battle between the director’s enthusiasm and the limitations that come with almost no money or funding it’s difficult to know what to expect from Stephen Horgan’s feature debut. Last year, the movie’s tagline read, ‘A world where the only thing that outmatches a passion for crime is a crime of passion’. That has since been changed to a simpler yet somewhat ambiguous ‘You don’t know what you’re missing’.  That phrase rings particularly true. Until tomorrow’s showing, it’s hard to know what to expect.

Snatch and Bail will preview at UCD Cinema at 2.30PM on Saturday 17 November.

Image

Stephen Horgan completed his undergraduate degree at UCD last year, majoring in English and Film Studies. He has been making short films since 2009 and writes, produces and directs in his spare time. He is currently studying French and Spanish in UCD.

Palmerston Park: A Dickensian Design

Chinese Whispers: a game in which a message is distorted by being passed around in a whisper.

Last month I saw Lenny Abrahamson’s third directorial feature What Richard Did. It starred Jack Reynor as the titular character Richard and offered an intense psychological portrait of a depressed teen with a jealous streak who inadvertently kills a classmate.

In an article for The Irish Independent, one journalist wrote, “The film is primarily based on a 2008 novel by Kevin Power called Bad Day in Blackrock but the real inspiration will be obvious to anyone who has opened a newspaper over the last 12 years.” Inevitably I suppose, this was how the film was constantly marketed both in print and by word of mouth; it was about the guys who killed Brian Murphy.

Several days later I was on the bus and heard two strangers discussing the film. As they chatted and touched on the movie’s climax – what Richard did, exactly- they referred to the film’s murder scene as having taken place in Blackrock, a fair assumption given the constant real-event spoiler alerts and Blackrock-centricity that surrounds the public’s perception of the film.

They were however wrong. In fact the scene in question took place only ten minutes away from my house on Palmerston Road in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines.

I was thinking about this recently and decided to take a trip to Palmerston Park, which I rarely visit despite its close proximity.

Walking through the park, the diameter feels smooth and even and, for me at least registered as being probably rectangular or even square. Hours later I crosschecked this on a map and was surprised to discover it’s far from even. In fact it’s more of a crescent.

The park was opened in September 1894 and excluding the modern inclusion of a children’s play area equipped with slides and swings Palmerston Park has remained unchanged in the hundred years since it was designed. In fact it is a perfect example of a Victorian recreational park designed for all seasons and intended for all people.

If the park appears to mirror Stephen’s Green somewhat, this is because the landscape gardener William Sheppard designed both. Both use the same geometric and formally laid pathways while the pond in Stephen’s Green resembles the pond in Palmerston Park.

Occasionally when I’ve mentioned the pond, people have responded and said that they have no recollection of a pond, but it’s there, nestled at the base of a mound and marked with large limestone blocks and a waterfall. The only minor difference is that there is no water in the Palmerston Park pond. Instead it’s now used as a dumping ground for bark and debris.

On the west side of the park and facing onto a staid lawn is a red brick shelter, very much a period piece, bedecked with brick string coursing beneath the eaves, roll-moulded corners and prominent plinths.

The shelter’s interior is of glazed white tiles while the double pitch roof is made using terracotta tiles. The gables meanwhile are finished in a half-timber Tudor-revival style, similar to the nearby Tramway House on Dartry Road.

For me however, my favourite thing about Palmerston Park are the benches: across the park are cast iron timber benches whose legs and frame are moulded so as to look like the gnarled bark of a tree.

My other favourite detail – shared by pretty much everyone – is the pathway that cuts across the park and goes from Palmerston Road toward St. Philip’s Church. Now, in late October, this pathway surrounded with Gothic railings and finished with steel arches and hanging lanterns is covered with a mixture of crispy autumn leaves as well as the wet golden kind.

For a city that boasts more parks per square kilometre than any other European capital, Palmerston Park is unique: it is virtually unchanged and reflects, in conjunction with the surrounding Victorian properties, the ideas and ideals of Victorian architecture and recreational park design.

It’s also probably the only park in Dublin where you’ll have genuine problems spotting a mongrel. In fact I’m pretty certain I have yet to see one non-thoroughbred.

The Stone Roses, Phoenix Park, 5 July.

Never Mind The Pollocks, Here’s The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses’ 1996-split has been well documented, and the subsequent solo-careers of Ian Brown and John Squire have almost served no other purpose than to cement The Roses’ demise. But in October 2011, everything changed as Brown declared, “This is a live resurrection. You’re all invited, so you’d better be there!” After an almost two-decade hiatus, The Stone Roses had at last returned. The Second Coming was here.

The last time that Stone Roses performed in Ireland was 1995, and tonight, the group’s return feels almost religious. In the distance, an electric crucifix from the previous week’s Eucharistic Congress procession towers over the Phoenix Park. And in the stadium, 50,000 fans are knee-deep in muck, most of these kitted out in rain-hats and Stone Roses tees, or sporting haircuts that footnote The Roses’ front man. Ian Brown was right: this was a live resurrection. And everyone had read the invite card.

Incredibly, since The Stone Roses called it a day more than fifteen years ago, a riptide of pseudo-religious sentiment has carried the band away. Like crusaders who waged war against the unbearably cool Manchester music scene of the 1980s, the group toiled against the oppression of black clothes, bleak lyrics and the nihilism that came with Ian Curtis’ death and the Blue Monday synths that followed. And just like a miracle, the sense of disbelief and wonder that the band will soon be on stage and performing to fans of old and fans of new – many so new, they were not born at The Roses’ peak – settles in the air as The Wailers conclude a fantastic set, leaving a packed audience alone to shuffle and shift in the descending restlessness.

And then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, they’re here!

Ten minutes late, Ian Brown, one arm raised victoriously and grinning, followed by Mani, Reni and Squire, struts onstage. And then, in an instant, as sudden as a light switch turning on, a throbbing bass permeates across the park and a cheer of recognition runs through the crowd as fans bellow (and prematurely bellow) the lyrics of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’. Of course, the possibility that the group might be anything but adored by this lot is laughable.

As Brown works his front-man magic, striding between both sides of the stage and jumping down momentarily to hi-five and shake hands with the front row of cheerers and chanters, Reni, Mani and Squire show that age hasn’t caught up with or compromised their talent. In fact, Squire’s indulgent guitar outros are a prominent feature throughout the night and even through the sea of front-man charisma, Brown occasionally appears to be a little sceptical as to what to do next; a quick jaunt down to the other end of the stage perhaps? This is obviously the rock star equivalent of ‘What do I do with my hands?’

The night ends, inevitably, with ‘I Am The Resurrection’, and despite its almost ten-minute run time, this evening’s disciples are more invigorated than they were an hour ago. Because the closer we edge to the closing note, the closer we edge to a dream ending. A dream that so many people here have waited almost two decades to come true.

The four-pack assemble centre-stage at the song’s close and hug one another, pumping their fists in triumph, hugging again and thundering a farewell chant of ‘In Dublin’s Fair City…’ The lights turn on and with them the dream that no one thought could ever come true evaporates into the nightmare of Dublin transport.