Saturday, November 25, 2006

John Boorman's Disaffection

According to the London Independent, John Boorman is about to release a film, which purports to examine the 'underbelly of the Celtic Tiger'. Entitled The Tiger's Tale, the film tells the story of a rapacious property developer, played by Brendan Gleeson, whom, it seems, Boorman cannot make a film without these days, this being their fourth collaboration in a row. Though Boorman's last two films have been ropey enough, he has enough calibre to produce a good film out of this and it may well be worth a look. I am a little dismayed however by a commentary on the film that he provides in the press package; Boorman laments the disjuncture between different realities, "the conviviality of the pub, and binge-drinking. The welcoming smile to the stranger, and the rabid xenophobia. The affection for children, and their sexual abuse. Poets and scholars, and the highest illiteracy rate in Europe. The new prosperity, and the vulgar flaunting of wealth. Longer life expectancy, and young men taking their lives. National neutrality, and the raging gun and drug wars. Stunning landscapes, and the plague of ugly bungalows." Much of which I agree with, though are the 'raging gun and drug wars' really representative of Irish society? Drug use perhaps, but Ireland still has a far lower crime rate than most other Western countries. And as for "the highest illiteracy rate in Europe", could Boorman please share his evidence with us? I am not about to doubt that the illiteracy rate in Ireland, as in most other countries, is a lot higher than official figures claim, but to say that we are at the top of illiteracy tables without furnishing us with proof is ridiculous. 'Rabid xenophobia'? Yes, there is xenophobia in Ireland, but it is hardly as widespread as the adjective 'rabid' might lead us to believe and for the moment at least there is no far-right party tilting at power as is the case in many other European countries.

I live outside of Ireland by choice, it is too expensive - and what you get for the expense is usually of pitifully poor quality - and there is a lack of civic-mindedness and interest in anything other than personal gain among many people. As bad as France might be at times, they still believe in the public commonweal; I asked my students the other day if they thought that taxes in France (much higher than in Ireland, by the way) were too high and they unanimously replied, no, that things had to paid for in some way. Can you imagine Irish people thinking that way? But statements like Boorman's, selective, sweeping ones designed to promote a film are not an appropriate assessment of the country either. The Irish can be ignorant, obstinate, indolent, overly deferential, philistine and crapulous, often to an alarming degree, and the survival of successive Fianna Fail governments is testament to this. But I do not think that they are any different from most other countries in this way. I look forward to seeing Boorman's film though. But did Johnny really think that Ireland was a country where poets and scholars took prominence? His old friend John Hurt left Ireland a couple of years back having lived there for many years citing his disillusion because 'when I first came, in pubs people talked about art and literature, now all they talk about is property prices'. I can understand Hurt's disaffection (even allowing for the fact that fluctuations in property prices would be unlikely to affect a successful actor) but, believe me, art and literature were not major topics of conversation in Ireland in the 1980s. Nor have they ever been before or since.