Even before the birth of cinema, literary and visual forms of cultural creation and expression had a rich history of intertextual interaction. This year’s section includes reviews of two books (one monograph and one edited collection) with a heavy focus on literature alongside some illuminating scholarship on visual forms. Both books also deal with Irish identity and masculinity on a local and world stage. The first is Val Nolan’s study of Neil Jordan, a towering figure in Irish cinema, known internationally for work made both in Ireland and in Hollywood. Neil Jordan: Words for the Page explores Jordan’s writing, a largely underscrutinised area in scholarly critique (which has mostly focussed on his cinematic output). Jordan has always been a literary filmmaker: in some cases his screenplays are based on literary sources he has adapted himself, on other occasions he works with notable authors as writing collaborators. As Gough points out, Nolan demonstrates how Jordan’s writing explores literary traditions in tandem with his filmmaking, and it is this approach that secures Jordan’s reputation as one of Ireland’s leading “multi-faceted creative[s]”.
The second book with a focus on literature is Ageing Masculinities in Irish Literature and Visual Culture, edited by Michaela Schrage-Früh and Tony Tracy. The collection brings together scholarship based on a range of primary texts and interdisciplinary methodologies, covering theatre, poetry, prose, poetry, art, music and media. The reviewer, Barry Monahan, expresses a desire to see more filmic analysis on the topic; he won’t have to wait long, since the editors’ new collection Ageing Masculinities in Contemporary European and Anglophone Cinema (Routlege, 2023) is hot off the press!
This section also features Stephanie Rains’s review of Tony Tracy’s monograph White Cottage, White House: Irish American Masculinities in Classical Hollywood Cinema. Based on close textual analysis, the book examines figures like the Irish-American cop, the priest and the boxer, as well as considering the careers of actors who took on such roles (like Pat O’Brien and Barry Fitzgerald as well as Hollywood stalwarts James Cagney and Bing Crosby). Thematically, Irish-American whiteness and masculinity are considered within the context of mid-twentieth-century American socio-political norms, and the book offers a rich historical account of the era under scrutiny.
Stephen Boyd describes Stephanie Rains’s Advertising and Consumer Culture in Ireland,1922-1962: Buy Irish, as “an informed study of the relationship between consumer culture and Irish social and political history” and a core text for anyone interested in the history of Irish advertising and marketing. Based on a diverse range of archival research into print and image sources and touching on home ownership as well as gender and class politics, the book demonstrates how consumer culture formed a core part of Irish identity in the four decades after independence.
Michael Lydon reviews John O’Flynn’s Music, The Moving Image and Ireland, 1897-2017. Covering over a century of creative history, the book explores the relationship between Irish composers and musicians and the screen, with a focus on films produced in Ireland or with an Irish theme. Given the challenges associated with defining “Irish cinema”, determining the parameters of this study must have been a challenging task, never mind the sheer volume of artists to be considered from Seán Ó’Riada to Sinéad O’Connor. Lydon outlines how the book encompasses “multifarious influences, approaches and resources” as well as extending beyond narrative cinema to consider more marginalised forms, such as newsreels, tourism and information films.
Tadhg Dennehy explores Stephanie Schwerter’s study of filmic representations of three iconic sites of conflict: Belfast, Beirut and Berlin. The book considers the shared tropes of division associated with each city, as well as the distinct characteristics embodied in cinematic narratives centred on each location. Alongside textual analysis of over thirty films, a contextual account of the development of each local film industry is also provided.
In the midst of awards season, Irish film has been highly visible on the world stage, particularly with the vibrant discourse associated with The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh) and the intensifying critical acclaim for An Cailín Ciúin (Colm Bairéad). In October 2022, Screen Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen both hosted high-profile events to celebrate recent successes and unveil current priorities and objectives. Screen Ireland’s industry days For the Storymakers were hosted in Galway and Dublin, while Northern Ireland screen launched its new four-year strategy Stories, Skills and Sustainability in Belfast. As well as seeing the encouraging growth of the local creative sector it is also heartening to see increasing access to our audiovisual heritage, spearheaded by Northern Ireland Screen and the Irish Film Institute. The work of the IFI Irish Film Archive has been part of the recent To Save and Project series at the Museum of Modern Art. MOMA’s International Festival of Film Preservation included a screening of a digital restoration of This Other Eden (Muriel Box, 1959), an Ardmore studios film produced by Emmet Dalton. Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Film Archive team has also been busy producing The Looking Glass Anthology, “a collection of beautiful, thought-provoking, audio-visual works by a range of musicians and poets that capture what the archives mean to them on a personal level”(“Arrival”). The anthology is an example of the potential of creative reuse to fashion new narratives from archival footage, powerfully demonstrating how artists can comment on twenty-first-century Irish identity by exploring the audiovisual material of the past. It too, recently found an international exhibition space at the Video Art and Experimental Film Festival in New York.
Ireland continues to be the site of groundbreaking initiatives in screen education. In 2022 it was the first to roll out a pilot course on Neurodiversity in the Screen Industries. Spearheaded by Eleanor McSherry (Adult Continuing Education, UCC) and sponsored by Screen Ireland, it brought together professionals from the creative sector to learn about cultivating a more inclusive space on set, as well as considering how screenwriting could move beyond restrictive and stereotypical representation of neurodivergent characters. Another pioneering initiative, Immersive Wexford, offered cutting-edge seminars on the latest developments in AR, VR and Virtual Production, a rapidy growing sector with a large skills gap. Coordinated by Linda Curtin and sponsored by Screen Wexford, Screen Skills Ireland and Wexford County Council, the online programme of leading speakers in the field drew an audience of over 1,000 participants from all over the world and will run again as Immersive Ireland in 2023.
All of this activity supports academic teaching and research, as well as sharing important historical material with the general public through programming and community outreach. Perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to maintaining and supporting a strong and inclusive national film culture.