CRASHING WIND AND LASHING SEA

 

Probably most people who saw the rerun of Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran on RTE on Monday night, were aware that, made in the early 1930s, it nevertheless, even then, depicted a lifestyle that had long vanished. The islanders, in fact, had been using paraffin for their lamps for 50 years already. But the dangers the boatmen faced were real enough, and Flaherty well knew it. He was later to say: "I should have been shot for what I asked these superb people to do for the film, for the enormous risks I exposed them to, and all for the sake of a keg of porter and £5 apiece." He gives one example. "There was one scene which took place so quietly in the finished film that most possibly it wasn't noticed. When the currach is racing and trying to get to land, suddenly a jagged tooth of rock is revealed by the momentarily sagging waters and the currach comes to within a foot of it. If it had struck that tooth of rock, the currach would have been ripped from bow to stern and the three men would have been drowned before our eyes."

For so many people, the smashing seas and the dangers involved were not to be doubted. And the coolness of the young boy, casting his fishing line down the face of a cliff which must be all of three hundred feet. Islanders still point out the very spot, not far from Dun Aengus. The film was premiered in London on April 25th, 1934, but did not please all critics. Graham Greene, for example. He wrote: "Photography by itself cannot make poetic drama. By itself, it can only make arty cinema. Man of Aran was a glaring example of this: how affected and wearisome were those figures against the skyline, how meaningless that magnificent photography of storm after storm. Man of Aran did not even attempt to describe truthfully a way of life.

The inhabitants had to be taught shark hunting in order to supply Mr Haherty with a dramatic sequence.

Another critic said it was "escapist in tendency" - Sure. But it's still fascinating viewing in 1996. Quotes from The Innocent Eve by Arthur Calder Marshall, 1963. Read, too, Man of Aran by Pat Mullen.