Ten things that helped make life worth living in 2012
CULTURE SHOCK:Here, not exclusive and in no particular order, are 10 things that helped to make life worth living in 2012.
Once on Broadway.The odds were that a musical of John Carney’s charming film, with its ravishing songs by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, would lose most of what made the movie so touching – its melancholy, its understatement, its under-the-radar unexpectedness. All the more wonderful, then, that Enda Walsh’s brilliant book and John Tiffany’s masterful direction managed to reinvent the film for the stage with complete conviction. It comes to Dublin in February – a treat to look forward to.
Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child.It sometimes seems as if the modernist tradition in Irish fiction has run its course. But Ridgway looks more and more a worthy inheritor of its best quality, the impulse to be fresh, startling and challenging without being wilful or arbitrary. Hawthorn and Child, with two policemen traversing London and trying to make sense of its crimes, is strange, disconcerting, often dark. It’s also superbly written and compulsively readable.
Patti Smith at Electric Picnic.Mesmerising, edgy, pulsing with energy, she conveyed absolute conviction in every moment. It was all about attitude, a word that has come to mean mere posturing but that Smith restores to its primal roots in rebellious insolence.
Philip Seymour Hoffman.Live on stage as Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman and on screen in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, he has all the marks of greatness. He’s one of those actors who can hide in plain sight, being apparently open and engaging, yet utterly mysterious. It’s perhaps significant that in both performances he was playing fraudulent men: Hoffman’s great capacity is to suggest that everyone is, to some extent, a fraudulent copy of some more authentic persona that lies just out of reach.
Cindy Sherman at MoMA in New York.This huge retrospective of Sherman’s career made it crystal clear she is one of the most important visual artists of the past 30 years. She has just one big idea – dressing up as different characters and taking photographs of herself – and it’s not especially original. Yet her images induce not boredom but the feeling of entering a twilight zone occupied by the ghosts of those who have never actually lived, the memories of things that never happened, the vestiges of nonevents.
Leonard Cohen at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham and Beethoven’s late string quartets played by the Emerson Quartet at the Lincoln Center in New York.I’m not comparing the two musically, of course. But there is a connection: the great refusal to accept the dying of the light. Cohen’s vigour, confidence and quiet joy in his own long musical life were exhilarating. Beethoven’s late quartets, so full of invention, daring, passion and pleasure, are a magnificent defiance of illness, deafness and advancing age.
The Boys of Foley Street.Using Ciaran Cassidy’s superb RTÉ radio documentary of the same name as a springboard, Louise Lowe’s Anu company continued its riveting Monto cycle. Simultaneously meticulous and wild, minutely calibrated and terrifyingly exposed, Lowe’s work is unforgettable.
DruidMurphy.Garry Hynes’s cycle of three Tom Murphy plays – Conversations on a Homecoming, A Whistle in the Dark and Famine – is a dark inner history of modern Ireland, an excavation of the roots of psychic disturbance. It was also a great vindication of the old-fashioned art of drama and of the power of an ensemble that has developed a practically telepathic understanding.
Dermot Bolger’s The Venice Suite.Poetry has come to seem for many people a marginal form, yet there are times in which it is the only form that’s adequate. Bolger’s slim collection, subtitled A Voyage Through Loss, is a kind of memorial card for his wife, Bernie, who died suddenly in 2010. He navigates that voyage with great skill and grace. In their deeply moving elegance, these poems will help many people dealing with loss.
Hubert Butler’s essays.Notting Hill Editions published two beautiful new editions of the essays of the great Kilkenny sage, with eloquent introductions by John Banville, The Eggman and the Fairies and The Invader Wore Slippers. Banville says Butler is “one of the great essayists in the English language, the peer of Hazlitt, Robert Louis Stevenson and George Orwell”. The amazing thing is that these volumes live up to that claim.