John Butler’s Handsome Devil and the hollow promise of “it gets better”

The following article contains some spoilers for the recently released Irish film Handsome Devil, directed by John Butler. The film explores the friendship between a social outcast and the star athlete at a rugby-obsessed, all-boys private boarding school. The film stars up and coming Irish actors Fionn O’Shea and Nicholas Galitzine as the central characters. 

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/the-official-trailer-for-irish-comedy-handsome-devil-1.2980780

In a key scene of Handsome Devil English teacher Dan Sheery, played by Andrew Scott, attempts to ease the fears of a young gay student struggling to come to terms with his sexuality with the promise of “it gets better.” Seeing the difficulty of reconciling his sexuality with his status as the star athlete in the hyper masculine world of an all-boys private school the character of Conor is left increasingly isolated and frustrated. On the surface Sherry’s advice seems solid enough. In the restrictive and highly pressurized world of his school it seems sensible to tell Conor to keep his head down and look forward to a time in the future where he is free of the constraints of school life. “It gets better” serves as a mantra, used to instill hope in young people like Conor that while it is impossible for them to fully be themselves in their current environment, at some point in the future they will be free to start fully inhabiting their own lives.

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[Credit: joe.ie]

In an interview for Jarlath Regan’s An Irishman Abroad podcast Butler questions the logic behind reassuring young people that their lives will be better once they leave school. For the character of Sherry school is seen a necessary and often brutal rite of passage that young people must endure before they reach the freedom of adulthood. Although undoubtedly well-meaning Sherry’s advice is revealed to be deeply problematic. In asking Conor to compromise his own identity, he is also accepting that the world he works and lives in is incapable of adapting to accept gay students or any pupils that feel like outsiders. The central contradiction in a character like Sherry is that while he demands that his pupils find their own unique voice, he compromises his own identity by hiding his sexuality from his students and co-workers. His promise that “it gets better” is proven to be pretty hollow. For Butler the failure of Sherry and the other authority figures in the film lies in their inability to recognize that it can be possible to claim your identity when you are still young rather than waiting for school to be over. Instead of encouraging students to adapt to their surroundings they should be looking at how the world of the school can change to accommodate students struggling with their own identity.

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Fionn O’Shea and Nicholas Galitzine as Ned and Conor in Handsome Devil [Credit: diff.ie]

As well as exploring the need for young people to be authentic to themselves the film also challenges stereotypes surrounding gay characters. During an interview on The Late Late Show in April 2017 Butler described how the film “stems from a memory” and recounts his own issues reconciling his love of sport with his identity as a gay man during his school years at Blackrock College. The real strength and originality of the film lies in its exploration of the danger of separating the world into binaries, questioning why the audience and school can’t see Conor as both an athlete and a gay man. In a more traditional film Conor would abandon the casual homophobia and hyper masculinity of school’s rugby and retreat into the creative and seemingly more inclusive world of music and literature opened up by Ned and Sherry. However the film shows that despite his apparent sensitivity Ned has plenty of his own hang-ups and prejudices, and his contempt for his school and peers, although understandable, is ultimately shown to be shallow. His disdain for rugby players makes it initially seem impossible to him that Conor could become a friend. Keeping with Sherry’s diagnosis of his “persecution complex” Ned constructs a literal barrier, his Berlin Wall, between him and his new roommate. He views his school and classmates in completely hostile terms and instead of attempting to form friendships he instead resigns himself to daydreams about getting expelled.

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[Credit: dailyedge.ie]

Despite being based on Butler’s own school years the exact time-setting of the film is left ambiguous and the central theme of the need to challenge archetypes continues to have resonance for modern day cinema-goers. Instead of abandoning rugby Conor challenges the prejudices and perceptions of his coach and teammates by returning for the final match. The need to define someone by one aspect of their character is ultimately undermined. In confronting his coach and teammates Conor forces them to see him as both a rugby player and a gay man. The tendency to define characters by their sexuality is also challenged in the fact that Ned’s own sexual orientation is left ambiguous. In the end the film becomes about the importance of not compromising when it comes to personal identity. Seeing the futility in attempting to hide his sexuality from his co-workers Sherry decides to confront his own fears by introducing his boyfriend to the bemused school principle. His earlier reassurance to Conor that “it gets better” is shown to be problematic but not totally untrue. Rejoining the team Conor leads the school to victory and seems to find acceptance among his teammates and peers. The film doesn’t discount the possibility of life getting better for young people like Conor and Ned but instead challenges the reasoning that they should have to wait until adulthood for their lives to properly begin.

Sources

Butler, John. Handsome Devil. Treasure Entertainment, 2017.

Butler, John. ‘Episode 189.’ An Irishman Abroad, 30 Apr. 2017.

Butler, John and Andrew Scott, interview. The Late Late Show. RTÉ, 28 Apr. 2017.

Images

Credit for cover photo to joe.ie. https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiP69qk_trTAhUpI8AKHXn_DeAQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.joe.ie%2Fmovies-tv%2Ftrailerchest-first-look-handsome-devil-potentially-best-irish-movie-2017-577120&psig=AFQjCNGdk8j7Ikog4l_oTsU9HuAhgGakBA&ust=1494150439427562. Accessed 6 May 2017.

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What Richard Did: A film about failure

In his 2012 film What Richard Did director Lenny Abrahamson depicts the downfall of a rugby playing ‘golden boy’ following an act of violence. The film’s serious subject matter, and the fact that it’s plot was inspired by the real life events surrounding the death of a Dublin teenager, meant that it’s production was a heavy undertaking for Abrahamson. However by focusing in on the central theme of what happens when someone’s expectations of themselves and what their life should be are too high, Abrahamson is able to put together a contained and deeply affecting film.

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[Credit: totallydublin.ie]

Throughout the early scenes of the film the character of Richard is established as young man who has everything going from him. Screenwriter Malcolm Campbell has described Richard as being someone who is able to “walk between the raindrops” (Director’s Commentary). Handsome, intelligent and charismatic Richard is respected and adored by his group of friends, his coach and his parents. What Richard Did is a departure from Abrahamson’s previous work. While Adam and Paul (2004), Garage (2007) and the mini-series Prosperity (2007) revolve around social outsides, Richard is the definition of an insider. He is at the center of his social world and clearly comfortable there.

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[Credit: tribecafilm.com]

Though undoubtedly the Alpha Male among this group of privileged South Dublin teenagers rugby player Richard is not depicted as a typical jock. He has a keen sense of right and wrong and looks out for his friends. In his 2011 study of Abrahamsons’s work with Mark O’Halloran Dióg O’ Connell observes that the characters in these pieces are shown to be passively existing and have little agency in their own lives (119). Richard by contrast is a doer, someone who is able to take control of situations. He does not hesitate to step in when he sees a member of his group in danger, shown in the scene where he intervenes during an attempted sexual assault on his coach’s daughter Sophie. As team captain of his schools rugby squad he has a sense of decorum, making sure that younger members of the team like Jake feel included and accepted and attending the birthday party of a team member he dislikes: “Conor’s a team mate of mine and that actually means something.”

“Are you gonna play professionally and study full time?..

You’re like the Rose of f**king Tralee.” Lara in What Richard Did (2012)

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[Credit: whatricharddid.ie] 

Focused and ambitious Richard is determined to excel in all areas of his life. For Richard failure is not an option, whether it is in the pursuit of his love interest Lara or on the rugby pitch. However as Richard father points out “failure’s not an opinion, it’s a certainty” and as an audience we become aware that Richard’s controlled nature will eventually lead to his downfall. Lead actor Jack Reynor sees Richard’s undoing as being a result of his intense self-awareness and the pressure he puts on himself: “it’s those people who become so tightly wound that when they break it’s so monumentally disastrous that it can really shake the foundations of their lives” (Bantercast 24: Other Voices).

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[Credit: brianorndorf.com]

For Abrahamson Richard’s inability to deal with any kind of humiliation or failure is what leads to his undoing (Director’s commentary). A series of awkward interactions and minor embarrassments results in the character becoming increasingly tense and frustrated. After a good start, his relationship with Lara quickly starts to crumble due to his jealously and the high expectations he has of her and the relationship. He is annoyed by her behavior during a dinner with his parents and becomes infuriated when she appears to snub him at the party. His underlying rivalry with Conor, his teammate and Lara’s friend/ex-boyfriend, is present throughout the early part of the film. Irish speaking and hinted to be from a rural, less privileged background Conor is portrayed as being somewhat of an outside among the group. However from early on Richard seems to view him as a rival. In the pub scene he appears annoyed at the attention Conor gets when singing. His close relationship with Lara is a constant annoyance for Richard and is what eventually leads to Richard’s violent assault on him.

“Part of what What Richard Did is about is about a kid who doesn’t know how to fail, so that when he does it’s kind of catastrophic.” Lenny Abrahamson, An Irishman Abroad: Episode 38

In the aftermath of Conor’s death all the qualities that Richard seemed to value within himself are stripped away. He ultimately avoids taking responsibility for what he has done and appears to have escaped justice. His relationships with his father and Lara, two of the few people who know what he did, fall apart. The reaction of Richard’s father Peter to his confession results in another characters failure. Although initially shown to be good father and a moral person, Peter eventually decides that Richard should not hand himself in or tell his mother. Though he helps his son escape prison Peter is clearly disgusted with what he has done and their previously close relationship is destroyed. His failure to either forgive his son or allow his to face justice shows Peter’s own weakness. Lara also allows Richard to get away with his crime and stays silent about what she witnessed.

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[Credit: tribecafilm.com]

At the closing of the film Richard is left an isolated figure, drifting through his college lectures with no interaction with other people. He has avoided prison but we are led to believe that he will never really come to terms with what he has done. In his interview with Jarlath Regan for the Irishman Abroad podcast Reynor outlines his final take on the character of Richard: “Really it’s a film about a young man who has all of these ideas about himself. He thinks he’s grown up, he thinks he’s coming into fruition as a man… someone to be reckoned with…Then all of a sudden this one thing happens and you have to strip all that away… and he’s just eighteen year old kid who’s sh**ting himself.”

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[Credit: moviesub.net]

Works Cited

Abrahamson, Lenny. An Irishman Abroad: Episode 38, 8 June 2014.

Abrahamson, Lenny. What Richard Did. Element Pictures, 2012. Featuring directors commentary with Abrahamson and screenwriter Malcolm Campbell.

Barrett, Gerard and Jack Reynor. Bantercast 24, Other Voices, 9 June 2014.

O’ Connell, Dióg. “Immersed in Two Traditions: The Narratives of Adam and Paul, Garage and Prosperity.” Contemporary Irish Film: New Perspectives on a National Cinema, edited by Seán Crosson and Werner Huber. Braumuller, 2011. pp. 115-126.

Reynor, Jack. An Irishman Abroad: Episode 25, 9 Mar. 2014.

Images

Credit for cover photo to entertainment.ie. https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjovtH82f3SAhVlAsAKHfPZDyEQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fentertainment.ie%2Fmovie-review%2FWhat-Richard-Did%2F139273.htm&psig=AFQjCNErVTe86QDJFzJauSC9bm0Jnf-BiA&ust=1490945235717842. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwilqI-u2v3SAhVnDsAKHYP2CEYQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftotallydublin.ie%2Ffilm%2Ffilm-features%2Fwhat-richard-did-lenny-abrahamson-and-jack-reynor-interviewed%2F&psig=AFQjCNErVTe86QDJFzJauSC9bm0Jnf-BiA&ust=1490945235717842. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

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Beyond ‘Hip Hedonism’: The darker side of urban Celtic Tiger Ireland

In his 2007 essay “Cinema, city, and imaginative space: ‘Hip hedonism’ and recent Irish cinema” McLoone outlines how the relative prosperity and optimism of the Celtic Tiger years led a cultural rebirth of Dublin and a re imagining of Ireland’s capital in film as a space of “sexual freedom and exploration” (213). Films like Goldfish Memory (2003) and About Adam (2001) depicted Dublin as being a city that represented “freedom and sexual liberation” (215),where attractive young Irish men and women enjoyed the relaxed morals and prosperity of the new Ireland. However McLoone has criticized the “smug complacency” of these films (216) highlighting their failure to acknowledge the darker side of urban Celtic Tiger Ireland.

One film that undermines the clean cut and optimistic depictions of urban Ireland in the early noughties is David Gleeson’s Cowboys and Angels (2003). Gleeson’s film is rare example of an urban Irish film set outside Dublin. Set in Limerick city during the boom years Cowboys and Angels depicts the friendship between a socially isolated and insecure young man and a gay fashion student, and shows the difficultly faced by young people who are trying to establish their identity in a modern city.

“Not everyone is a winner in Celtic Tiger Ireland but in the films that have attempted to reconfigure the cinematic image of the city in Irish culture, the camera seem to have had time only for the conspicuous winners” (McLoone, 216).

Cowboys and Angels is unique among Celtic Tiger cinema for having a central character who is detached from the optimism and prosperity of those years. The central character Shane cannot be seen as one of the Celtic Tigers “winners”. Isolated from his peers, stuck in a monotonous job and lacking confidence and a good dress sense, Shane is adrift in the faced pace life of the city. While the titular character of About Adam is able to shift his identity to fit in with anyone he encounters Shane is unable to assert any sort of stable sense of self.

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[Credit: hotflick.net]

While films like About Adam and Goldfish Memory seem determined to completely re brand Ireland’s cities as modern, trendy urban centers Cowboys and Angels paints a more realist picture of the world of the city. While Vincent and his friends frequent the fashionable city center clubs Shane and his older co-workers patronize older, more traditional pubs. The casting of Michael Legge as the central character is interesting  because of the fact that his most famous role at that point was in Angela’s Ashes, another Limerick set film that lingered on a grimmer past image of the city.

McLoone has criticized the fact that the “the camera in the hip hedonist movie avoids looking in the conflicted spaces” (215).While Adam and the sisters in About Adam appear confident and connected with the city they inhabit Shane finds himself adrift. Throughout the film Shane is shown to be disconnected from the people and places around him. At work he is out of place among his much older co-workers and made to do menial tasks like making tea. His only meaningful friendship is with a much older co-worker. Not attending college and his general social awkwardness leaves him detached from people his own age. We frequently see him in settings where he is out of place and ill at ease. He is displaced among the trendy decor of the apartment he shares with Vincent and questions why Vincent would want to live with him. He is rejected from the local nightclub and is visibly uncomfortable in the dive bar he attends with Keith. Cowboys and Angels can be seen as being a film about self discovery. The aerial shot of the city at the end of the movie signifies Shane’s newfound sense of belonging.

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[Credit: cineplex.com]

Ging has stated that a key characteristic of Celtic Tiger era films is a tendency to depict sexuality as being completely unhampered by prejudices and taboo (194). In About Adam and Goldfish Memory characters sexual lives are completely unhindered. However Cowboys and Angels does differ from these films. It is interesting to note that the film was released exactly a decade after the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Republic of Ireland. While the character of Vincent is comfortable with his sexuality and free to openly express it this is not true of other gay characters in the film. Due to his tough-guy image drug dealer Keith feels compelled to suppress his sexuality. The police inspector that Vincent has a brief sexual encounter with is also shown to be hiding his homosexuality and is easily susceptible to blackmail because of it.

“We all pretend to be something we’re not” : Keith in Cowboys and Angels (2003)

Gleeson’s film portrays a far more realistic representation of Ireland’s modern cities than other films of that era. While Cowboys and Angels does show the excitement and energy of a  modern Irish city it also shows the disorientation and alienation of life in Celtic Tiger era Ireland. As McLoone points out while “the city might well represent freedom and sexual liberation but it can also signify enslavement, exploitation and vice” (215).

WORKS CITED

Ging, Debbie. Men and Masculinities in Irish Cinema. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

McLoone, Martin. “Cinema. city, and imaginative space: ‘Hip Hedonism’ and recent Irish cinema.” Genre and Cinema: Ireland and Transnationalism, edited by Brian McIlroy. Routledge, 2007. pp. 205-216.

Gleeson, David, director. Cowboys and Angels. Wide Eye Films, 2003.

IMAGES

Credit for cover photo to hotflick.net. https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjE0Y_e1_3SAhViB8AKHZqCAJ4QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hotflick.net%2Fpictures%2Fbig%2F003CAA_Michael_Legge_106.html&psig=AFQjCNG2PgDXT0e7Ws3CwiUr8XpkLZNKkg&ust=1490944631804148. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiN-4rV2P3SAhWrDsAKHWVABsAQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hotflick.net%2Fpictures%2F003CAA_Michael_Legge_077.html&psig=AFQjCNHE_jcGPyVv38H0vdTLqjg34seR9g&ust=1490944874306053. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiNt_Km2f3SAhWrL8AKHbdJCIwQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cineplex.com%2FMovie%2Fcowboys-and-angels-2000%2FPhotos&psig=AFQjCNHE_jcGPyVv38H0vdTLqjg34seR9g&ust=1490944874306053. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

Solidarity Forever: Bridging the divide in Pride and Good Vibrations

Matthew Warchus’s critically acclaimed 2014 film Pride opens with the trade union anthem ‘Solidarity Forever’. A recurring theme throughout the film is that there is strength in solidarity, particularly when people from different communities unite. In a key scene striking Welsh miner Dai tells young Northern Irish gay activist Mark: “That’s what the labour movement means, should mean. You support me, I support you. Whoever you are, wherever you come from.”

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Welsh miner Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) and members of LGSM, Pride (2014) [Credit: candidmagazine.com]

Pride is a film promotes the idea of members of different communities coming together. The same principal can be found in the true story behind the 2012 film Good Vibrations. Based on the life of Terri Hooley, dubbed the ‘Godfather of Belfast Punk’, the film follows Hooley’s exploits as he establishes a record shop and label in Troubles torn Belfast. Disillusioned with the growing sectarianism and violence of 1970’s Northern Ireland Hooley attempts to breath new life into Belfast’s music scene by opening a record shop called Good Vibrations on Great Victoria Street, nicknamed ‘Bomb Alley’. Hooley quickly becomes enthralled by the city’s underground punk scene and decides to sets up a record label for young musicians, including Derry band The Undertones. Through Good Vibrations Hooley “sparked a punk revolution that put Belfast back on the musical map” (“Terri Hooley, Godfather of Punk”).

“If there was anywhere in the world that needed punk it was Belfast and punk in Belfast was a uniting force.”

Terri Hooley, “Good Vibrations – The Terri Hooley Story.”

The significance of the Belfast punk scene of the 1970’s and 80’s was not only musical, it provided a platform where young people from both Protestant and Catholic communities could find a common ground. In one key scene in the film Terri and a group of young punk musicians are accosted by the army while touring the countryside. On finding out that there are both Catholics and Protestants among the group an astonished soldier questions Terri, who flippantly states that he had never thought to ask them what their religion was.

Speaking in 2012 Hooley outlined the importance of the Belfast punk scene: “I think that the legacy of Good Vibrations is that it was the first time since the Troubles began that it didn’t matter if you were a Protestant, it didn’t matter if you were a Catholic… As long as you were a punk, that was all that mattered.” (Interview 2012).

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The real Terri Hooley with actor Richard Dormer [Credit: smh.com.au] 

“They used to say about the Ormeau Road, if you walked down the right-hand side of it at night going into town, you were a Catholic, if you walked down the left… well, we always felt that we danced down the middle.”

Terri Hooley, Interview Good Vibrations DVD Special Features, 2012

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Terri (Richard Dormer) and young punks, Good Vibrations (2012) [Credit: ragingfluff.wordpress.com]

As Terri and his band of punks were struggling to survive 1970’s Belfast, Pride depicts the story of two communities under attack uniting in 1980’s Britain. When Mark Ashton spots a news story about the miners strike of 1984 he is struck by the parallels between the treatment of striking miners and the gay community in Britain: “These mining communities are being bullied just like we are… Bullied by the police. Bullied by the tabloids. Bullied by the government.” Ashton decides to mobilize London’s gay community to offer support to mining communities, establishing the group LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) to raise money for striking miners and their families.

“When you are in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world.”

Dai Donovan, Pride (2014)

Both Pride and Good Vibrations argue against the splintering of society in separate groups who are only concerned for their own survival and well-being. Mark Ashton’s experiences growing up in Northern Ireland solidified his sense that for change to happen groups needed to work together. He tells Dai,”I grew up in Northern Ireland. I know all about what happens when people don’t talk to each other… what’s the point of supporting gay rights but nobody else’s rights… it’s illogical.” Both films push a message of solidarity and prove the power in members of different communities coming together.

Pride film still

[Credit: nme.com] 

Works Cited

Barros D’Sa, Lisa and Glenn Leyburn. Good Vibrations. The Works, 2012.

Warchus, Matthew. Pride. Pathé, 2014.

“Good Vibrations – The Terri Hooley Story.” YouTube, posted by villiansandheroes, 7 April 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9CPQvRjsMQ.

“Interview with Terri Hooley.” Good Vibrations DVD Special Features. The Works, 2012.

“Terri Hooley, Godfather of Punk.” Red Bull, 13 October 2014. http://www.redbull.com/ie/en/music/stories/1331684340045/terri-hooley-godfather-of-punk.

Images

Credit for cover photo to fatsound.wordpress.com. https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwidzdy51_3SAhWiLcAKHZzWDuAQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Ffatsound.wordpress.com%2F2014%2F03%2F02%2Fgood-vibrations-film-review%2F&psig=AFQjCNGz6r495wGqpA3x2_-AZcW1K67Asw&ust=1490944560060212. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiyzNON1f3SAhXhDcAKHSDsDzAQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Ffatsound.wordpress.com%2F2014%2F03%2F02%2Fgood-vibrations-film-review%2F&psig=AFQjCNEyilz9tIJbApo8TB_YMbuinc5Gaw&ust=1490943930897262. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjGqZ271f3SAhWqJcAKHTXUAdkQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fcandidmagazine.com%2Fpride-review%2F&psig=AFQjCNFnXlzleNydFmdhJuFsts6oOZimVQ&ust=1490944023595679. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjD1oHt1f3SAhVhLMAKHYyIDHAQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.smh.com.au%2Fentertainment%2Fmovies%2Fterri-hooley-the-peoples-punk-still-feeling-those-good-vibrations-20140603-zrvts.html&psig=AFQjCNF8rx-yxqqX04Lfj0nuAuRykaT8SA&ust=1490944093848886. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjN4peA1v3SAhUXM8AKHZiIAlgQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fragingfluff.wordpress.com%2F2015%2F03%2F09%2Fgood-vibrations-a-begorrathon-2015-post%2F&psig=AFQjCNHgMjtsD7M0D-ktQkmt39voyxyujA&ust=1490944163544077. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiEtIi21v3SAhUFIcAKHQd6CtoQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nme.com%2Fblogs%2Fthe-movies-blog%2Fthe-story-behind-the-making-of-pride-producer-and-cast-qa-765082&psig=AFQjCNGWQgAVStgqWfRoRF0tSVfXcLdAzQ&ust=1490944284102717. Accessed 6 Dec. 2016.

Tribute to a Troubadour: Remembering Mic Christopher

29th November 2016 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Irish singer/ songwriter Michael ‘Mic’ Christopher. Referred to as “one of the most charismatic musicians of his generation” (Miller) Christopher left behind a stunning musical legacy in the form of his posthumously released solo album Skylarkin’.

I discovered Mic Christopher’s music sometime in my mid-teens. By the time I got to my six year of secondary school Skylarkin’ was a regular feature of my journey to school playlist. In particular his signature song ‘Heyday’ was on constant replay on my iPod. My first encounter with Christopher’s music was probably through the medium of a Guinness ad featuring ‘Heyday’ and the song immediately hooked me.

A quick google search threw up a wealth of material on Christopher, with a collection of videos featuring him performing at venues throughout Europe and on the streets of Dublin, often accompanied by fellow musicians including Glen Hansard. I found out that Christopher had started his music career as a busker on the streets of Dublin in the eighties, before joining the band The Mary Janes and later embarking on a solo career with the release of his EP ‘Heyday’. However I also encountered the most startling fact about my newly discovered musical passion, that Christopher had passed away following a freak accident back in 2001.

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Glen Hansard and Mic Christopher [Credit: hotpress.com]

Mic Christopher was born in 1961 in New York to Irish parents and later moved to Dublin with his family at the age of three. Growing up in a musical household, by his teens Christopher had become part of an emerging scene of young Irish musicians who were busking on the streets of Dublin. Throughout the following years Christopher progressed from busker to lead singer of the rock band The Mary Janes. But by the late nineties he had developed a growing desire to become a solo artist.

It was an almost fatal accident that would lead to Christopher developing his most celebrated work. While working as a courier in Dublin Christopher was involved in a serious motorbike accident that almost left him paralyzed. Following three months of convalescing Christopher emerged with a new lease of life and a more optimistic, upbeat musical style (“Mic Christopher – Leargas – ‘Troubador’ – tribute”). Christopher released his solo EP Heyday in 2000. Ronan Casey described it as a “self financed, self released EP of curious charm and warmth.”

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Mic Christopher performing in Dublin c. 2001 [en.wikipedia.org]

With his solo career on the rise Christopher embarked on a tour with The Waterboys in late 2001 (“Mic Christopher – Leargas – ‘Troubador’ – tribute”). It was while Christopher and the band were staying in the Dutch city of Groningen that the accident that claimed his life took place. Late one night after playing a gig with the band Christopher fell down a flight of steps and slipped into a coma. Two weeks later Christopher passed away at the age of 32 surrounded by friends and family who had traveled to the Netherlands to be by his bedside.

“The intensity of the passing of a friend like that is something trans formative – and I think in Mic’s case it was magnified a couple of times over by the nature of the music and by him being such a charismatic figure, in this small music community”

Colm Mac An Iomaire, quoted in Miller

After Christopher’s death his sister Maureen and friends set about completing his solo album. Skylarkin’ was released on the 29th November 2002,the first anniversary of his death, at a sold out tribute gig in Vicar Street, Dublin. It would go on to achieve platinum status and win ‘Best Album’ at the 2003 Meteor Awards (Miller). In a review of Skylarkin’ Ciaran Wrenn noted that Mic’s untimely death left a sense of loss throughout an album filled with joy.

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Christopher’s posthumously released solo album Skylarkin” [Credit: en.wikipedia.org]

Christopher’s relatively short life and career continues to have a lasting impact on fans and members of the Irish music scene. His friends and family regularly host tribute gigs for him and perform covers of his songs. Those who knew him well speak warmly about his kindness, talent and charisma. Close friend Glen Hansard described him as being a “High King” of the Dublin music scene (“Mic Christopher – Leargas – ‘Troubador’ – tribute”). Lisa Hannigan, who befriended Christopher a few months prior to his death, described his kindness towards her during her early career (Róisín Meets Podcast).

Fifteen years after his untimely death Mic Christopher’s music continues to have resonance with fans. The lyrics of his most famous song ‘Heyday’, which he described as being about “everyday being your best day” (“Mic Christopher – Leargas – ‘Troubador’ – tribute”) are particularly powerful when thinking about the legacy he left behind.

“‘Cause we can make our heyday last forever
And ain’t that what it’s all about
Oh living, in our own terrible way.”

‘Heyday’ by Mic Christopher, featured in ‘Skylarkin,’ Loza Record, 29 Nov. 2002

Additional Material

Interview with Mic Christopher on Ireland AM in February 2001.“TV3 Mic Christopher Interview.” YouTube, uploaded by TV3Archive, 2 May 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuX5dW7xAzg.

Mic Christopher and Glen Hansard performing ‘Suspicious Minds’ on Grafton Street, c. 2001. “Suspicious minds – Mic and Glen.” Youtube, uploaded by donals, 29 Nov. 2007, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXT2D5qcFgo.

Mic Christopher tribute video featuring his recording of ‘Heyday’. “‘Heyday’ by Mic Christopher – Czech Republic 2001.” YouTube, uploaded by scanarama, 26 May 2008, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_iCt9GhmIg.

Glen Hansard performing a cover of ‘Heyday’. “Glen Hansard – Heyday.” YouTube, uploaded by colourscrash, 13 Jun. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTBfVBqwfs8.

Sharon Horgan shares a story about Mic Christopher followed by a performance of ‘Kid’s Song’ by Lisa Hannigan. “Soundings #14: Holy Trinity – Sharon Horgan, Giles Duley, Andi Oliver, Hudson Taylor & Gabrielle Aplin.” Soundings Podcast, 9 July 2015, http://podcast.soundingspod.com/e/episode14/.

Works Cited

Casey, Ronan. “Mic Christopher ‘Heyday’: Ronan falls for a worthy DIY release.” Cluas.com, http://www.cluas.com/music/albums/mchristopher.htm.

Miller, Margaret. “The Life and Death of Mic Christopher.” Hot Press, 29 Jan. 2016, https://www.hotpress.com/Mic-Christopher/music/The-Life–Death-Of-Mic-Christopher/16665676.html.

Wrenn, Ciaran. “Mic Christopher: A review of Mic’s debut album ‘Skylarkin’. Cluas.com, 2002, http://www.cluas.com/music/albums/mic-christopher.htm.

“Mic Christopher – Leargas – ‘Troubador’ – tribute.” YouTube, uploaded by irishmusiccentral, 4 Feb. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64O-gX07j-4&t=763s.

“Róisín Meets… Lisa Hannigan MUSIC MONTH.” Róisín Meets Podcast, 4 Aug. 2016, https://soundcloud.com/irishtimes-lifestyle/lisa-hannigan-music-month.

Images

Credit for cover photo to orderinthesound.com.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwioncXy0v3SAhUkBcAKHentARoQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.orderinthesound.com%2Fframes-gigs%2Fthe-frames-2011%2F29-november-2011-dublin-ie-vicar-street-mic-christopher-tribute&psig=AFQjCNGR2iG7Y8VC1bbwkdQB7UvDEFUXHA&ust=1490943337865708. Accessed 30 Nov. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjP0Z-10_3SAhUIK8AKHcthAN4QjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.hotpress.com%2FMic-Christopher%2Fmusic%2FThe-Life–Death-Of-Mic-Christopher%2F16665676.html&psig=AFQjCNFtU3UxQvoO1yXo4fULLkrLYM4jfw&ust=1490943440847712. Accessed 30 Nov. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjslsDK0_3SAhWMDcAKHQoTC70QjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FMic_Christopher&psig=AFQjCNFtU3UxQvoO1yXo4fULLkrLYM4jfw&ust=1490943440847712. Accessed 30 Nov. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjLr5iV1P3SAhVrB8AKHbqDBJwQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FSkylarkin%27_(Mic_Christopher_album)&psig=AFQjCNH1i98BR-ranfTl_bcwc0cSa5qS6A&ust=1490943633315392. Accessed 30 Nov. 2016.

‘Living, in our own terrible way.’* The disorientation of Ireland’s youth culture in contemporary film and television

Through a series of blog posts I will explore how contemporary Irish film and television portray the difficulties faced by young Irish men and women. The last few years has seen a string of Irish films and TV series that portray a darker side of Irish life with issues like depression, alcohol and drug abuse, alienation, unemployment and homelessness being explored. 

The recent RTÉ2 comedy-drama series Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope follows the exploits of two twenty-something women living in Dublin. The opening scenes of the first episode seem to set up the show as fun, upbeat look at life in modern Ireland, with the two protagonists immersed in the thriving Dublin nightlife. The central characters of Aisling and Danielle appear to be living a charmed life, with Aisling holding down a stable job in finance and Danielle studying at art college. They enjoy an active social life and have maintained a strong friendship. However as the series progresses the audience begin to catch a glimpse of the darker side of the characters lives. Their seemingly close-knit friendship is revealed to be increasingly destructive with Niamh Towey of The Irish Times remarking that “what seemed like a solid and equal friendship… shows its cracks as more of a toxic dependency.”

“We’re basically the same person… Fresher’s Week we woke up in a pool of vomit and we didn’t know if it was hers or mine.” – Danielle, Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope. 

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Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope [Credit: irishtimes.com]

Outwardly confident and bubbly, Aisling masks her insecurities and uncertainty about the future in heavy drinking and by engaging in a destructive affair with a co-worker. Towey notes that Aisling “uses drink to escape from her reality and doesn’t slow down to think about the effect it is having on her life.” A pattern of irresponsible behavior leads to her eventually being fired and contributes to the disintegration of her friendship with Danielle.

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Pure Mule (2005) [Credit: independent.ie]

Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope is not the first Irish drama to focus on young people caught up in a destructive culture of heavy drinking. The 2005 RTÉ2 drama Pure Mule focused on life in a small rural town, following the exploits of various characters over a series of weekends. Most notably the character of Jennifer finds herself caught in a cycle of binge drinking in an effort to escape the pressure of looking after her sick mother and the boredom of small town life. Her increasingly erratic behaviour leads to her alienation from her friends with her eventually deciding to make a new start in London.

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Cowboys and Angels (2003) [Credit: hotflick.net]

The theme of young people being adrift in the modern world is also central to David Gleeson’s 2003 film Cowboys and Angels. The central character Shane is shown to be detached from the fast-paced world of a Celtic Tiger era Limerick city. His inability to attend university as well as his deep-seated insecurities leaves him alienated from his peers, with his only friend appearing to be an elderly co-worker. Moving in with world-wise, confident fashion student Vincent seems to offer him a chance to breakaway from the monotony and loneliness of his life. However Shane soon becomes swept up in a world of drugs and crime which almost leads to his destruction. The film revolves around his struggle to find his identity in a world that is fast-paced and uncaring. The 2011 film Cherrybomb also explores the difficulty faced by young people caught up in a world of drugs, alcohol and casual sex.

“Maybe you don’t know it, but it sounds to me like you’re lonely.” – Vincent to Shane, Cowboys and Angels. 

Stefanie Preissner, the writer and creator of Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, has spoken about the importance of portraying the struggles faced by young people in Ireland today. In an interview with Aoife Barry from TheJournal.ie she stated that, “I don’t think it’s useful for young women to be watching characters on TV who always make the right decision, always land on their feet- it’s unrealistic.” Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope is the latest in a series of Irish dramas that seeks to shed light on the difficulties faced by young people living in Ireland today.

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Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope [Credit: presspack.rte.ie]

*Lyrics. Mic Christopher. “Heyday.” Skylarkin’, Loza Records, 2002

WORKS CITED

Barros D’Sa, Lisa and Glenn Leyburn, directors. Cherrybomb. Universal Pictures, 2009.

Barry, Aoife. “The woman behind Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope: ‘I was hell bent on getting this on screen’ (Stefanie Preissner).” TheJournal.ie, 24 September 2016. http://www.thejournal.ie/cant-cope-wont-cope-interview-2991090-Sep2016/. Accessed 31 September 2016.

Gleeson, David, director. Cowboys and Angels. Wide Eye Films, 2003.

O’Brien, Eugene, writer. Pure Mule. RTÉ, 2005.

Preissner, Stefanie, creator. Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope. RTÉ, 2016.

Towey, Niamh.”Can’t Cope Won’t Cope cuts a little close to the bone.” The Irish Times, 26 September 2016. http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/tv-radio-web/can-t-cope-won-t-cope-cuts-a-little-close-to-the-bone-1.2806618. Accessed 31 September 2016.

IMAGES

Cover photo: dailyedge.ie.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi04IG10P3SAhWFI8AKHaUpDVIQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dailyedge.ie%2Fcant-cope-wont-cope-rte-2987532-Sep2016%2F&psig=AFQjCNGe2eCSSVUylkgnuigm0eMXhkcvqA&ust=1490942668539319. Accessed 31. Oct 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjS9ozW0P3SAhVJDcAKHVAoDlQQjRwIBw&url=%2Furl%3Fsa%3Di%26rct%3Dj%26q%3D%26esrc%3Ds%26source%3Dimages%26cd%3D%26cad%3Drja%26uact%3D8%26ved%3D0ahUKEwjS9ozW0P3SAhVJDcAKHVAoDlQQjRwIBw%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.irishtimes.com%252Fculture%252Ftv-radio-web%252Fcan-t-cope-won-t-cope-so-well-written-that-it-was-hard-to-watch-1.2833367%26psig%3DAFQjCNGe2eCSSVUylkgnuigm0eMXhkcvqA%26ust%3D1490942668539319&psig=AFQjCNGe2eCSSVUylkgnuigm0eMXhkcvqA&ust=1490942668539319. Accessed 31 Oct. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjwlcmX0f3SAhXLLMAKHRzpBb4QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.hotflick.net%2Fpictures%2Fbig%2F003CAA_Michael_Legge_012.html&psig=AFQjCNF8_YoqDibYzAjJqNQhlRYmHXbsBQ&ust=1490942874864184. Accessed 31 Oct. 2016.

https://www.google.ie/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjz7oWz0f3SAhVqLMAKHZ7IDWQQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fpresspack.rte.ie%2F2016%2F09%2F19%2Fcant-cope-wont-cope-new-series%2F&psig=AFQjCNEK6kh2XuMQOJMbRmHCbEsBj3jFQg&ust=1490942931636038. Accessed 31 Oct. 2016.