Tuesday, 28 April 2009


Despite some fine cinematography, symbolic juxtaposition of images and an excellent soundtrack this 1994 film somehow doesn’t come together. It focuses on two brothers, Patrick and Dominic who live a carefree existence in the west of Ireland until they meet Anje, a German girl who they both fall for.
The first part is filmed in Co Kerry (I think) and it is beautifully shot. The brothers live in a ramshackle house, fishing and hunting for their food and generally having an easy time of it. Authority figures, including the parish priest and an aunt, try to interfere, insisting that Dominic, who is in his mid-teens, should be attending school, but the brothers manage to thwart their meddling.
Things change when Anje arrives and agrees to give Dominic lessons at home. She is initially attracted to the older Patrick, although it is clear that Dominic is also infatuated with her. The return of the brothers’ mother, played by Marianne Faithful, from Africa where she had been teaching disrupts the delicate series of inter-relationships, although she is welcomed by Dominic her presence is resented by Patrick who accuses her of having abandoned them only to come sailing back in unannounced.
Patrick and Anje become lovers in David Leane-esque scene (Dr Zhivago/Ryan’s Daughter), intercut with Dominic trying to stop his greyhound Uisce chasing after a white hare and killing it – the symbolic death of the innocence of the three-way relationship and the rural idyll in which they have lived.
The brothers and Anje move to Dublin where Patrick gets work in a shop that supplies churches – candles, statues, chalices and priestly vestments. The urban setting of the big city and Patrick’s tedious job contrast with the earlier rural idle. Things between him and Anje are souring and she is more drawn to Dominic. Patrick realises what is happening and vents his anger on his younger brother who decides to run away to sea, securing his passage on a ship after he bets on the greyhound Uisce winning a race.
First Dominic returns to their west of Ireland home and, in another heavily symbolic scene, torches the cabin where Patrick and Anje consummated their relationship.
Despite Anje’s advances he refuses to become her lover because he does not want to betray his brother, although Patrick still blames him for the break-up when Anje returns to Germany. In the end the brothers are reconciled as Dominic heads off to sea, leaving Patrick with only their dog in Dublin.
The soundtrack is the music of Van Morrison – Moondance, Madame George, Cyprus Avenue and Poetic Champion’s Compose – with the vocals being provided by Brian Kennedy, Shanna Morrison and Marianne Faithful herself with a fine version of Madame George.
The story is based on an early novel by Francis Stuart – The White Hare –the theme of a small utopian community set up as a counter-current and eventually being ripped apart by the waves of consumerism reflected in the rural/urban settings and the fracturing series of relationships between Patrick, Dominic and Anje is typically Stuartian.
Unfortunately the film suffers from some hammy acting and the story seems unsure where it is going and what themes it should be running with. I was left with the impression of a series of well-executed set pieces, linked in with some frankly cringe-worthy scenes and an extended video for the music of Van Morrison – no bad thing, but just not fitting in to the narrative.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

What did the Romans ever do for us?

I am now an official member of a lesbian club in Rome. I went in for drink with Sinead and two of my best friends and their wives on Friday night after a fine meal of calamari and octopus in a restaurant just across the road. We were attracted by the name, Hippie Hour, and psychedelic décor and so went straight in and sat down before I really looked around and noticed that the entire clientele were female and giving us bemused looks. Never-the-less the bar manageress came over and explained that because it was a club we all had to join before we could be served a drink, which we did and after our drinks were brought to us we were each handed a membership card.
Rome as a city is a bit like New York in the sense that a first time visitor gets the distinct feeling that he has been there before and knows intimately the famous landmarks such as the Colosseum, St Peter’s Square, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps from movies, travel shows and photos. In the space of three days we managed to cover all the major landmarks, eat quite a lot of pizza and pasta and indulge in some fine Chiantis, beers and a few shots of grappa.
For me the highlight was the remains of ancient Rome, particularly The Forum where it is possible to visualise how the city would have looked 2,000 years ago at the height of the Roman Empire. I have always been a sucker for history and my imagination gets carried away as I try to visualise myself as a participant walking through the paved streets of the city which stood at the centre of a huge empire which dominated most of south western Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, North Africa and England, although they never managed to invade Ireland. Wimps.
Although we went to the Vatican we only wandered around St Peter’s Square for a while – the massive queue and the ‘mixed’ make up of our little party being the main factors for not going inside. There was much mirth from the other members of the party, including my beloved wife, as they pointed towards a tall, gangly man in his mid-forties walking in a slow, loping gait with fair hair and glasses who they said was my doppelganger. They even made me go walk towards him so that they could take a picture of me standing close to him. I couldn’t see any resemblance myself but it kept them amused.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh

If the word Zen could ever be applied to an Irish traditional musician then Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh is the man. My ivolvement with Zen is that of an interested outsider rather than a practitioner but from what I understand it is a school of Buddhism based on meditation that often involves contemplating a single theme and a lot of introspection.
That seems to sum up Ó Raghallaigh's style of playing where he grabs a musical theme or motif and explores its, repeating it and draws out its various nuances in an almost abstract manner.
His album Where the One Eyed Man is King is a series of stripped down musical mediations featuring Ó Raghallaigh bowing and plucking at his fiddle with occasional piano or whistle accompaniment.
It is a distant musical land from the more popular ensemble playing that typifies much of Irish trad these days – Dervish, Lunasa, Kila, Altan, Chieftains.
Sometimes is not even clear if the tune, or rather musical passage, you are listening to could even be classified as Irish traditional as it is more like something from a contemporary free-form experimental piece as if Ó Raghallaigh is trying to catch at something he has heard in the wind that will then segue into a familiar-sounding air.
I came to Ó Raghallaigh via this solo album (Where the One Eyed Man is King) and it led to me to an earlier collaboration with Uilleann piper Mick O’Brien called Kitty Lie Over which is more overtly traditional but with experimental flourishes.
His collaborative work is probably more accessible but Where the One Eyed Man is King becomes strangely addictive and provides a little aural oasis of calm with space for some introspection at the end of a busy day. You can listen to some of his tracks at www.myspace.com/oraghallaigh and visit his website www.stateofchassis.com

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Taratuta by José Donoso

I’D never heard of Chilean José Donoso until I saw this novel on the bargain shelf at No Alibis in Belfast and bought it after just a quick scan through it. The blurb name checks Vargas Llosa, García Márquez but not Borges - yet it was the Argentinain’s writing that struck me as the best comparison to Donoso.
Taratuta is the name of a Ukranian pre-revolutionary associate of Lenin’s, and Donoso’s narrative flashes back to this period and to a modern day Taratuta from Buenos Aires who is living in Madrid and who may or may not be descended from the Bolshevik.
The novella is as much about the process of storytelling and creating fiction from a speculative scenario. The narrator constructs stories about both the historical figure and the young man who he meets in Madrid. The modern-day Taratuta knows only that his father was a drifter and so was his grandfather. When the narrator learns this he starts to construct a family history, linking the young man to his historic namesake.
When new facts emerge the narrator changes his speculative narrative and constantly challenges his own version of events by acknowledging that there may be no link between the two men at all.
Taratuta is loosely constructed and has the feel of being almost experimental and unfinished as if Donoso was toying with the novella form, which is possibly why it made me think of Borges who often took an idea or scenario and toyed with it to create a short narrative piece rather than fleshing it out into a full-scale novel.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Let The Right One In

This Swedish movie takes the vampire genre and twists it on its head so that instead of fearing the blood-sucking scourge you end up feeling sorry for her. The vampire in this movie is Eli, a dark Balkan-looking child who says she is 12 years old and is living in a soulless apartment complex outside Stockholm. She befriends Oskar, a lonely and bullied schoolboy who is the same age and who day dreams about violently attacking his tormentors.
Låt den rätte komma, the film’s original Swedish title is starkly shot – the cinematography reminded me of Kieslowski’s Dekalog, possibly because of the functional apartment block and the snow – and the child actors who play Eli and Oskar are superb, particularly Eli who combines innocence with twitching animal instincts when she is about to strike.
The film is true to the vampire genre in a number of aspects – Eli must be invited into Oskar’s house before she enters and she can not come out in daylight. One of her victims who survives is infected with vampire virus and craves blood but rather than succumbing allows herself to be exposed to daylight and spontaneously combusts.
Other vampire traits are ignored – there is no aversion to garlic, crucifixes, or at least they aren’t mentioned.
Eli’s vulnerability is exploited by the director and wins our sympathy even when we realise that the older man she lives with is a servitor who strings up victims and cuts their throats to bring her back blood. His failure means that she has to kill for herself, starting with a drunk staggering home from a bar and killing several times after that in some truly horrific set-pieces.
However, a scene with Eli’s childlike and innocent face smeared with the blood of her latest victim is a superb juxtaposition that numbs the horror of what she has to do to stay alive. She is not evil and did not choose to be a vampire, that is what she is. She urges Oskar to imagine what it must be like to be her and to quell his urge to kill his tormentors.
“I kill because I have to,” she tells him.
Apparently a Hollywood remake is already on the card and it will be interesting to see if it can sustain the cinematic lyricism and understated horror of its carefully paced Scandinavian original.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Jung and Moriarty

John Moriarty strikes me as a Jungian figure although he never really mentions the Swiss psychologist in his writings. Yet he is constantly drawing upon archetypes to illustrate his philosophy. His autobiography Nostos could also be read as a diary of individuation during which the floodgates to his unconsciousness are opened and almost sweep him away in a deluge of libido.
Jung defines an archetype as an image that exists within the collective consciousness in-potentia. Incarnations of these archetypes keep recurring throughout history that can be seen as a representation of human experience and which are personified in the stories and characters we find in religions, myths, legends and art. Woman as temptress whose actions result in the down fall of a male hero, for example, can be seen in the archetypes of Eve, Delilah, Salome, Cleopatra and Morgan le Fey.
In Invoking Ireland, Moriarty, who died in 2007, focuses almost entirely on Irish myths to try to illustrate his belief that there has been a schism between what we as humans instinctively are and what we have become and how we choose to live. In it he becomes a character living in a parallel Ireland called Fódhla lamenting the wrong turn that his fellow countrymen, and the rest of the Western world has taken.
For Moriarty the mythological peoples of the Tuatha Dé Dannan and The Fomorians personify the schism. The Tuatha Dé Dannan where a magical people who “spent their time acquiring visionary insights and foresights and hindsights, acquiring the occult knowledge and the occult art of the wizard, the druid, the witch, these, together with all the magical arts, until, masters in everything concerning them, they had no equals in the world”. (Invoking Ireland P25). It was their “particular delight to be of one mind with the wind and rain”… “you could walk through the land and not know they were in it”.
By contrast the brutal Fomorians are out to exploit nature, rather than be a part of it. They had features “hanging like seaweed when the tide is out, their tongues the colour and shape of cormorant tongues, the clamour of the ocean their talk”. Their arrival in Ireland saw "forests cut down, rivers rerouted, towers everywhere, it was soon clear it must come to a fight.” (P28).
But in the battles that followed it was ultimately the Fomorians who were victorious and who dominate the psychic and physical makeup of the modern Irish while the Tuatha Dé Dannan became spectral figures “harmonised to all things [they] were of one mind with the wind and rain. Now again, you could walk through the land and not know they are in it." (P28)
Despite the Fomorian domination of modern Ireland, Moriarty contends that there is still enough of the Dé Dannan in us that we can sometimes hear and see beyond the coarse world of Ireland to the more subtle one of Fódhla and to the parts of us that still inhabit it.
“Yet we a rougher people who came later to Ireland, out alone in lonely places we will sometimes hear their [Tuatha Dé Dannan] music”.
It is not just the music of the Dé Dannan that Moriarty believes we can still catch snatches of, but also their wisdom.
He quotes WB Yeats: “I know now that the revelation is from the self, but from that age-long memoried self, that shapes the elaborate shell of the mollusc and the child in the womb, that teaches birds to make their nest; and that the genius is a crisis that joins that buried self for certain moments of our trivial daily mind.” (Invoking Ireland P92)
Moriarty plunders the writings of philosophers, poets and mystics to reiterate this. On page 215 of Invoking Ireland he quotes Jacob Boehme: “In man is all whatsoever the sun shines upon and heavens contains, also hell and all the deeps.”
Moriarty elaborates: “In other words, we aren’t only a microcosm, the universe in little. In us also are the transcosmic immensities as heaven and hell, and the deeps as well, all of them.”
On the same page he quotes Hopkins: “O the mind, mind has mountains, cliffs of fall/Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed…”
Joseph Conrad: “The mind of man is capable of anything, because everything is in it, all the past as well as the future.”
And, as he has often done in his other books, repeatedly, from Friedrich Nietzsche: “I have discovered for myself that the old human and animal life, indeed the entire prehistory and past of all sentient beings, works on, loves on, hates on, thinks on in me.”
Moriarty’s life, as depicted in his books seems to me to be a Jungian exercise in integrating the unconscious (Dé Dannan) aspects of himself with the coarser conscious (Fomorian). And it is a venture fraught with risks and which, as described in Nostos, left Moriarty floundering on the verge of one of Hopkins’s precipices and occasionally tipping over into psychosomatic chaos that left him both mentally and physically debilitated.
But while the process is a risky one it is something that Jung argued is a necessary one if we are to reach our full potential. For him consciousness is comprised of the ‘ego’ that aspect of us that is defined by the world we live in and and a result of experiencing everyday reality, while the unconsciousness is the domain of the ‘self’ – in Moriarty’s world the ego could perhaps be personified by the Fomorian archetype and the self by the Tuatha Dé Dannan.
In his commentary on Jung’s work Anthony Storr, quoting the psychologist writes: “The goal toward which the individuation process is tending is ‘Wholeness’ or ‘Integration’: a condition in which all the different elements of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious, are welded together. The person who achieves this goal possesses 'an attitude that is beyond the reach of the emotional entanglements and violent shocks – a consciousness detached from the world’. Individuation, in Jung’s view, is a spiritual journey; and the person embarking upon it, although he might not subscribe to any recognised creed, was nonetheless pursuing a religious quest. By paying careful attention to the unconscious, as manifested in dream and fantasy, the individual comes to change his attitude from one in which ego and will are paramount to one in which he acknowledges that he is guided by an integrating factor which is not of his own making.” (The Essential Jung, P229).
While the archetypes (personifications of aspects of the unconsciousness) that dominate Invoking Ireland are predominantly Irish, Moriarty also draws copiously on myths, legends and religions from all over the world. Again and again he reiterates his central message that humanity has taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and is not paying attention to what those myths and the characters who are inhabiting them are telling us about ourselves. We are more than the base Fomorian (self) that inhabits this world and exploits it for our own benefit, we are also Tuath Dé Dannan and can access vast untapped reserves within ourselves if we so choose.
Moriarty quotes Rilke: “However vast outer space may be, yet with all its sidereahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifl distances, it hardly bears comparison with the dimension, with the depth dimension of our inner being, which does not even need the spaciousness of the universe to be within itself almost unfathomable.” (Invoking Ireland P201/202).
Invoking Ireland for me it is a symbolic journey of Jungian individuation in which Moriarty opens his consciousness to unconsciousness content and casts himself a man who lives in Fomorian Ireland who is given a glimpse of Fódhla and occasionally even ripped out of everyday reality and relocated into the Ireland of the Dé Dannan.
Involing Ireland by John Moriarty is published by The Lilliput Press

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


Leonard Cohen is playing in Belfast this summer but it is unlikely that I'll get to see him. The cheapest tickets for his concert are apparently around £82. Is he worth it? Yes, very probably from what I have heard from those who saw him in Dublin last year.
The problem is I've blown my concert budget for the year. When my brother-in-law asked if Sinead and I wanted to go with him to see U2 in Croke Park in July we thought why not. It has been a long time since I actually liked them, but you know U2 - Dublin. Its as much about the spectacle as the music and anyway I've great memories of some fantastic performances by the them in Croke Park back in the mid-1980s.
I first saw U2 play in Maysfield Leisure Centre in Belfast in 1982 when they were still relatively unknown. I remember Bono ranting on for ages about a song they had just written and which they were going to play for the first time. It was about the North and the Troubles and despite its title he was adamant that it was not a rebel song and if the audience in Belfast that night didn't like it then they would never play it again... but most definitely "this song is not a rebel song..."
Anyway the Belfast audience gave 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' their seal of approval and it and U2 moved on to bigger venues. Next time I saw them play was in Phoenix Park in Dublin when the hairdos where bigger and the songs were more bombastic. Support that day came from Simple Minds and The Eurythmics. Then came a concert in Croke Park with Squeeze and The Alarm and a little known American band called REM at the bottom of the bill.
A year or so later I saw U2 in Dublin at a concert called Self Aid (must have been around 1986) where a who's who of Irish acts played and acts who were Irish by association - Rory Gallagher, Van Morrison, The Pogues, Clannad, De Dannan, In Tua Nua, Paul Brady, Christy Moore, The Chieftains and Moving Hearts and Elvis Costello... even Chris de Burgh (God help us) was there singing about Patricia stripping and the like. Bob Geldof had just been beatified following Live Aid the previous year and The Boomtown Rats played for the last time that day. The finale, after U2 had left the stage, was former members of Thin Lizzy - Gary Moore, Brian Downey and Scott Gorham - coming on to pay tribute to Phil Lynott who had died earlier that year, with Bono and Geldoff helping out with the vocals.
U2 at that point had become superstars and were on the verge of releasing the The Joshua Tree. The following year I saw them back at Croke Park with Lou Reid and the Pogues warming up. It was more than a decade until I next saw them in Botanic Gardens in Belfast and I'd long stopped buying their albums, but still they put on a great show.
So anyway, when the notion of going to see them in Dublin was mentioned I thought fine, why not for old times sake? What I didn't realise was that my brother-in-law, being much more pragmatic than I am, realised that they only way to secure tickets was to apply for as many options as possible and ofcourse, as luck would have it, secured the most expensive tickets going.
Anyway, 131 euro to go and see a band I used to quite like is the upshot... that is 131 each for me, Sinead and her brother. We are paying - 393 euro.