Monday, March 12, 2012

Fiend of Dope Island: St. Patrick's Special Column! The Least-known, Least Seen Irish Movie Ever (Unless There Was One Called HOW TO BE SOBER AND IN CONTROL)

By Charles Cassady, Jr.

As a St. Patrick's Day treat I had thought of doing some kind of Irish-oriented clip mashup, but faith-n-begorrah, will you looka the trailer Republic Pictures put out for THE QUIET MAN! Dig the domestic violence already! Dowry fights? Hint of marital rape? You know, when John Wayne beats on a fiery Colleen in front of the whole community it's "great entertainment." But when a similar thing went down between Chris Brown and Rihanna, what happened? Hate-radio outrage, Oprah offering counseling and feminist candlelight vigils. I might wind up on Al Sharpton's side with this one, holy double standard, Batman.

For many THE QUIET MAN represents the quintessential "Irish movie," or at least the Hollywood notion of an Irish photoplay. Fighting, drinking, fighting, kissing, fighting, Maureen O'Hara, fighting, Barry Fitzgerald, fighting, green glades, fighting... Okay, well, to tell the truth I've never seen it outside of this trailer. And what's with the ad-copy narration?: "who came from America to forget his past in Innisfree." Okay, now that makes it sound like he wanted to forget an Irish village, so he left America. Come on, people, I learned in junior high to avoid poor grammar like that. And I've sent job applications to PR firms all over Cleveland; zero results. Looks like I should've tried Republic Pictures not long after WWII. I'd have made a better living there than here, even with my inevitable winding up on the Hollywood Blacklist, John Wayne himself reading my name off a list of suspected Reds to HUAC. And probably ending his sentence with a preposition.
Oh, what were we talking about again? Let's rewind: "Fighting, drinking, fighting, kissing, fighting, Maureen O'Hara, fighting..." Oh, yes, St. Patrick's Day. Guess you could say I'm not a fan. Maybe it's being cursed with this Irish-looking name, even though it's a variant spelling, and if anything I am Eastern-European mongrel by ancestry, outlook and well-seasoned persecution complex. Or maybe it's because I was traumatized by childhood viewings of that "Star Trek" where nice Capt. Kirk is beaten mercilessly by some Hibernian Starfleet bully named Finnegan.

(That's another thing: Even Starfleet has a bully problem? STARFLEET?! I'm starting to think the War on Bullying is kind of like the War on Drugs - unwinnable. For a long while there was talk of doing a "Starfleet Academy" TV show but it never flew. I'll bet one key dilemma for the writers was what in Starfleet Academy would constitute a "cyber bully" - the Borg kids, or teen Klingons or Romulans on Facebook?)

Point is that when it comes to things Irish I even avoid reading "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" for all the negative associations (not to mention liver damage). No, you won’t catch me at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Cleveland. Yes, I know it’s predicted to be the biggest ever, what with the combination of March 17 being a Saturday and NOBODY IN CLEVELAND HAVING A JOB ANYMORE.

So how can I still recommend for home-viewing enjoyment of Cleveland Movie Blog readers who aren’t too inebriated to drive their computers the most Irish movie I've ever seen that still has no scenes at all (that I can remember) of fighting and drinking?

Well, it helps that it's an ultra-obscurity, though most unfairly so. It's
GLENAFOOKA: GLEN OF THE GHOST, a documentary short feature from 2000 by Mary Sue Connelly - whom I must assume might be Irish. Or she might just be Slovakian-Bohemian-German like me, with the same name thing as a likewise cosmic joke. Nonetheless, her nonfiction feature essay got to me, and I hope it transcends the genre of Discovery Channel ghost-chaser kitsch to offer something truly special - more an object d'art than a narrative.

Video and high-grain 8mm footage (with the sound of a whirring projector) blend in a beguiling and poetic discourse on tuatha de dannan, or "otherworld spirits," recalling traces of the `Old Religion' of pre-Christian Ireland. Filmmaker Connolly speaks to a variety of Irish academics and the elders of County Waterford about such matters as curses, faeries, changelings, the "bean si" (banshee) and wonders worked by the saints.

In Ireland the old pagan traditions gradually merged with the new Christian strictures and teachings of St. Patrick and the imported Catholic church. Nonetheless - or perhaps, not surprisingly at all - a belief in (and respect for) spirit-haunted places continues on. A priest's curse is bad enough - but get cursed by a widow and you're really done for! If you mess with the Irish faeries there will be "consequences." 

As I've said, GLENAFOOKA: GLEN OF THE GHOST is not structured as the usual tabloid-TV paranormal expose, not to mention a Disneyesque take like DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE. The testimony and anecdotes (which are subtitled, assuming the viewers can't penetrate the accents) are often repetitious and devoid of data, CGI special f/x or `orb' photos. The intent is more to weave a spell of age-old oral histories and ancestral lore, folk-beliefs that explained the mysteries of life and death to these inhabitants of the Auld Sod. And, for many, still do.

Interviews with the old folk are practically ethnographic; one really gets a sense of fragile, esoteric things and Magical Mystical Tour concepts of the Emerald Isle being preserved here that may not have been otherwise, or would have gone terribly distorted (I think one of the theaters in the region is showing one of the LEPRECHAUN sequels for St. Paddy's, don't ask me which) if not for Connolly's camera. 

And, of course, it will mean lots more to you if ye are Irish. At least that's my opinion, from over here in the Carpathians.
Well, that’s the most Irish undeservedly ignored movie I can think of. Segments of GLENAFOOKA have been posted to YouTube but if you can, try to get ahold of the entire feature. All I can tell you is it was briefly distributed on VHS by Icarus Films. Maybe March 17 revelers confused the name with Glenfiddich and drank most every copy before realizing it wasn’t even liquid, just magnetic oxide on a ribbon of plastic emulsion base (but I’ll bet that was enough to be them drunk and fighting all the same). 

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