A Prescription of Joyce

Sweny’s, at the top of Westland Row, is a pharmacy featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce’s main character, Leopold Bloom buys lemon soap in the shop.

In recent years a team of volunteers have turned the shop into a shrine of sorts. They have restored the shop to appear as it would have done in Joyce’s time, with the lemon soap as the centre piece.

They also sell books and host weekly readings. “Thursdays are good,” one volunteer explained. “We read Ulysses, and afterwards we slip across the road to the pub.”

Joyce’s popularity is at an all time high. “I’m not a Joyce scholar now,” the same volunteer said, “I’d refer to myself as a Joyce enthusiast…It’s the breadth of his knowledge and reference.”

Whatever the motivations of such Joyce enthusiasts, celebrations of his work, and indeed of the man himself, seem to be increasing every year, but for those who aren’t interested in fancy dress and extravagant displays of Joycean verbosity – yet who admire the work – Sweny’s is the perfect halfway house.

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Jimi: All Is by My Side Review

John Ridley’s debut feature, Jimi: All Is by My Side, is a biopic of Jimi Hendrix which chronicles the year before he and his band were flung, slingshot style, into superstardom. His performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, which among other things is associated with the beginning of the 1967 Summer of Love, helped to bring him to public attention.

Ridley tries to do more than prop up an already established figure here. He attempts to plumb the depths of Hendrix’s characters and tries to present to us the man beneath the persona. We’re offered a glimpse of a fragile and damaged Hendrix.

Furthermore, he deviates from the tired trend of showing the excesses of a rock star, like what we see in Oliver Stone’s The Doors and instead focuses on human relationships. There’s nothing interesting in watching someone pretend to be high and it seems Ridley appreciates that.

He also has a good eye for cinema. He borrows jump cuts from the French New Wave style of film making. He disregards notions of linear story telling and conventions such as continuity editing. This is very much an art film, and contains flashes of beauty.

The film also is lifted by the casting of Andre 3000 in the lead role. His performance is superb; his nuanced portrayal of Hendrix is one of poise and is one of the real strengths of the film. He has perfected Hendrix’s mien.

Despite all this, one cannot help be disappointed. Being a fan, one goes into this film wanting it to be good but comes out wishing it was better.

Despite being interested in all things Hendrix, I was frequently bored. The plot lacks sufficient tension and the conflicts, when they come, seem bland and half-assed.

One also tires of the fawning admiration. He was just a rock star; one of the best, but just a rock star. One wonders how many scenes of slack jawed spectators, enraptured in the throes of worship, are necessary. All the characters that surround him seem pathetic and one dimensional.

“He’s bloody brilliant,” we’re told. Well yes, we knew that already. “He’s very cool.” Oh yes, we knew that too, anything else?

Image and video courtesy of Curzon World

Ireland’s writers celebrate the visual arts


Carravagio’s The Taking of the Christ. Picture: Aaron Hennessey

The National Gallery of Ireland is currently celebrating 150 years of existence. An impressive feat, I’m sure you’ll agree. So too is the manner in which they are celebrating this milestone.

The Gallery asked 56 of Ireland’s most celebrated writers to contribute a piece of work to a collection of theirs. This new collection is called Lines of Vision: Irish Writers on Art and contains stories, poems and essays. Each writer who contributed was asked to choose a painting from the Gallery’s collection to use as the source of inspiration for their piece.

The works chosen hang together in a beautiful exhibition which reinvigorates works of art which may have become either over-familiar or forgotten to visitors of the gallery. Not that we’re exactly spoiled for choice in comparison to some of our other European counterparts, but there is real beauty to be found here, or the representation at least.

Each painting is accompanied by a short bio of the writer who chose it. There is a 15 minute film at the end of the exhibition which compliments it nicely.

Also in conjunction with the exhibition, there are numerous talks and workshops happening in the gallery, most of which are free.

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’71 Review

’71 is a war film about a British soldier in Belfast during the troubles left behind on a routine mission gone awry. He’s stranded and is trying, for the entire film, to get back to his barracks.

’71 adds a fresh perspective on the Troubles, in that it is told from the perspective of a British soldier. This is no tired rehash of old material. Nevertheless, it does have certain similarities to the films that have come before it. The shaky realism and extreme close ups are reminiscent of Greenwoods’ Bloody Sunday or the solitary British soldier in dire straits: Jordan’s Crying Game the list goes on.

All the usual war film tropes are present. There are interesting, experimental techniques used by the director but the audience isn’t deprived their share of action and suspense. “Posh c**ts telling thick c**ts to kill poor c**ts,” one enlightened local tells Hook. “You’re just a piece of meat to them.” This we presume is the films message. War is bad. No controversy there.

It’s how the director tackles the issue that’s interesting, not the idea itself. The music and camera techniques all conspire to create an atmosphere of delirium. He has quickly found himself in a situation he doesn’t understand. The films style mimics his panic and disorientation, and forces on the audience a similar sense of unease. He is innocent and we fear for him. There are elements in the film similar to Tarkovsky’s, Ivan’s Childhood in that we root for a relatively innocent soldier behind enemy lines. In that case the soldier was a child, which increases our emotional commitment, but Hook is vulnerable and in many ways quite childlike, and we do want him to find his way, which adds to the suspense.

He blunders he’s way through the streets and Belfast that take on a nightmare quality. Death and hatred reside in every corner. The distinctions between good and evil, right and wrong, friend and foe, quickly dissipate and he moves through the complexity of troubles era Belfast like a Virgil-less Dante. It’s a dirty war. One’s motives and intentions rarely reflect their actions. Subterfuge is the norm.

Nonetheless we are enthralled by the violence: the old problem of the impossibility of an anti-war film rears its head.

The film ultimately succeeds in highlighting the perverse reality of the troubles, and by extension war itself. The contagion of conflict has spread into every home and can burst through any door at any time, and we’re there to watch as it does, gleefully.

Image and trailer courtesy of Optimum Pictures.


Rathmines gallery highlights Japanese problems


The Mart Gallery in Rathmines is currently hosting an exhibition by German based film-makers  Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani.

The show features two short visual pieces, both set a million miles from Dublin in Japan, but in the words of the organisers, “The works that have grown from specific sites, events and communities can also have universal consequences that resonate and can affect the daily lives of people in distant and far off places on the other side of the planet.”

And, resonate they do.

Narita Field Trip is the first piece in the exhibition and follows two students who visit a farming community locked in a legal struggle with a neighbouring airport. The airport aims to expand into the farmer’s land, evict them and destroy their livelihood, all of which the farmers rather predictably oppose.

The film has a certain lo-fi home-quality feel. This lends a sense of intimacy and ultimately manipulates the viewer into sympathising with the small farmers who live in such uncertain circumstances. One naturally sides with the farmers against the menacing, overbearing and faceless corporation. In this sense, while the film focuses on the specific, it can be viewed in a broader context, and without too much effort can be seen as an allegory for the progress of industry at the expense of  local communities worldwide.

While this all sounds like old hat the issues are dealt with with deftness and subtlety. The artists exhibit a refreshing reserve and one never gets the sense of an agenda or ideology being pushed; they allow enough room for the audience to reach their own conclusion relatively naturally.

In the second piece, Spelling Dystopia, there is an even more pronounced sense of objectivity; this piece has an emotional detachment to the extent that an inhuman, supernatural energy pervades early on and lingers throughout. The content further enforces this: there are virtually no people on-screen apart from an interesting aerial shot with school children. Through voiceover, we learn of the disturbing events which happened on Hashima Island.

This piece, stylistically, is more interesting than the first. It uses a split-screen stretched across the entirety of one of the walls. The action moves between the screens and while there is a wealth of information and visuals to process the eye follows it all naturally.

The two works together provoke quite a strong effect, and raise interesting questions on human nature, societal behaviour and our ability – or inability – to live amiably with our fellow-man. Yet, the artists don’t presume to answer any of the questions they raise, and that is much to the benefit of their art.

The exhibition runs until October 26th.