Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Irish-American Notes

Unkind commentators have, from time to time, suggested that certain sections of the Irish-American community tend towards sentimentality in their attitude to the old country and paranoid chippiness in their approach to the United Kingdom. What else do these rogues …

Wed, Jan 6, 2010, 23:19


Unkind commentators have, from time to time, suggested that certain sections of the Irish-American community tend towards sentimentality in their attitude to the old country and paranoid chippiness in their approach to the United Kingdom. What else do these rogues claim? Well, they say that, when not providing us with the means to blow each other to bits, the less sensible class of Irish-American spends his time plastering shamrocks on anything that moves and identifying every worthy in the United States as a fellow countryman. Johnny Cash’s folk are from Leitrim, you know. Sure, isn’t Jimi Hendrix a Waterford man. Jaysus, didn’t Charles Manson’s family spring from Roscrea. And so on.


Klaus O’Kinski in the best Irish film of 1972.

I don’t hold with this sort of gross generalisation myself, but it is true that, from time to time, Irish-America can allow its patriotism to get the better of its common sense. Consider my new favourite place Irish Central. Predictably shamrock-bedecked, the website, online home to Irish Voice and Irish America magazines, adds a number of surprising obsessions to the usual focus on the awfulness of the English and the brilliance of the Irish. No opportunity, for example. is wasted to eulogise Scottish MOR warbler Susan Boyle or to castigate skeletal heartthrob Robert Pattinson. Mind you, Rob is English and Subo’s parents are Irish, so I suppose this fits in with the site’s big-hearted ethos.

A typical recent entry raged about the London Film Critics Circle’s decision to include Irish talent — Michael Fassbender, Saoirse Ronan and (ahem) Anne-Marie Duff in the shortlist for the body’s best British actors awards of 2009. Let’s begin by pointing out that, though of Irish parents, Anne-Marie Duff was born and raised in London and, thus, that only the fascist British National Party would object to her being called British. That noted, we should acknowledge there is very definitely a problem here.  The amiable Jason Solomons, the LFCC’s awards chair, is nobody’s idea of a cultural imperialist, but the body should — for accuracy’s sake at least — consider retitling the awards.

I put this before you as a taster for the fabulous main course: Irish Central’s list of the best Irish films of the decade. Ready? You’re going to love this. Here goes:

1. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006)

2. Hunger (2008)

3. Once (2007)

4. The Departed (2006)

5. Brothers (2009)

6. Gone Baby Gone (2007)

7. The Magdalene Sisters (2003)

8. Hotel Rwanda (2008)

9. Atonement (2007)

10. Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

Atonement? Gone Baby Gone? Capitalism: A Love Story? I beg your pardon? If you’re still rubbing your eyes in disbelief, let me explain that, to qualify, a film must feature “an Irish director, theme or star”. Now, when you consider that Irish-Americans are, for the purposes of this list, regarded as Irish — that’s how Michael Moore’s Capitalism gets in — you quickly realise that Irish Central’s definition covers the majority of all films ever made in Britain or America. An exaggeration? Well, Saoirse Ronan has a medium-sized part in just the first half of Atonement, so obviously supporting performers count. Flick through a few cast lists on IMDb and see how many films you can find without Irish names attached. (Funnily enough, if they had included cinematographers in their criteria, they might have been on surer ground with Atonement. The film was, of course, shot by Armagh’s Seamus McGarvey.)

The hypocrisy here is really quite staggering. Irish Central gets its shamrock-covered knickers in a twist when (as I say, unwisely) the LFCC appears to label Saoirse Ronan British, but it still feels able to describe Atonement — directed by an Englishman in England, starring a largely British cast and based on an English novel — as an Irish film.

This, however, is not the real outrage. Michael Moore would probably chuckle ironically upon hearing his film redesignated as Irish. Ben Affleck, director of Gone Baby Gone, would take it on his big, square chin. The people who should be really upset are the directors (and writers and stars) of proper Irish films who have been left off the list to accommodate American and British product. Where are Lenny Abrahamson’s Adam & Paul and Garage? Where is John Crowley’s Intermission? Where is Lance Daly’s Kisses? We could go on for some time. Irish cinema is no longer a version of early 1990s football and we no longer need to point to a film’s granny — hey everybody, Inland Empire’s nan was from Letterkenny! — to locate top quality domestic product. Indeed, in this writer’s view, both of Abrahamson’s films are somewhat better than Atonement. Ditch the inferiority complex, chaps.

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