The film ‘Talking to My Father’ came about through an unusual set of events. The architect Simon Walker shared office space with my production company Loopline Film.Over the years we had endless conversations about the golden era of modernism in Ireland and I wanted to make a film with Simon at the helm that explored this era. I filmed sequences with Simon explaining how architecture and art was used by the government of the day as a kind of branding of modern Ireland. I intended the starting point to the time Michael Scott erected an elaborate pavilion for the New York World’s Fair in 1939 as a symbol of a new, modern Ireland. Then I discovered the film I actually wanted to make was elsewhere!
Loopline Film offices in Lad Lane Dublin closed after our landlord lost his shirt during the banking crisis. One of the rooms in Lad Lane was rented by my friend the architect Simon Walker. We found much smaller premises on Baggot Street and when Simon moved in I saw that he had boxes and boxes of architectural documents relating to the life’s work of his father Robin Walker. He filled me in about Robins life as a young architect, which included studying with Le Corbusier in Paris and a stint working alongside Mies van der Rohe in Chicago before returning home to Ireland in the late Fifties to work alongside Michael Scott who later made him a partner in Scott Tallon Walker. Scott Tallon Walker were at the forefront of Irelands rapid expansion after years of austerity and emigration.
As a partner in Scott Tallon Walker, Robin Walker became a key agent in this nation-building process. The film accompanies Robin’s son Simon, also an architect, on an exploration of some of the most interesting and iconic public and private buildings produced during this rich period of cultural optimism and civic idealism. Simon though a great admirer of his Fathers legacy also remembered with sadness the early seventies when his Father withdrew from the world of architecture and to some extent his family.
I was intrigued and began to think of how this might become a film. Our conversations became the basis for a short pilot I made for a submission to the Irish Arts Council’s — Reel Art Scheme. For the pilot I suggested that Simon write a letter to Robin and this devise worked so well that the film became a reality.
The first filming took place in Bothar Bui the beautiful villa Robin built for his family on the wild Beara Pennisula in Southwest Cork. Simon’s sister Sara looks after Bothar Bui and maintains its upkeep by renting it out. It is a very popular destination for artists and architects and for a few weeks the Walkers and their many friends and an army of young children inhabit this paradise. The magic of this wonderful architectural masterpiece was captured in all its glory by my longtime cinematographer Paddy Jordan.
The thread of Simon’s letter was the conduit for the films journey into Robins architectural legacy . As we began our journey to film Robin’s work, Simon told how his Fathers functional approach to architecture did not appeal to some and controversy dogged his early buildings like the ‘Opera House’ in Cork and his ‘Bord Failte Headquarters’ in Dublin. In one scene Simon took his students to the now empty ‘Bord Failte’ building and shed light on Robin’s intent to create harmony between his creation and the Georgian buildings that surrounded it.
This core tenet of Robin’s approach to site is stunningly demonstrated in our sequence at ‘The Weekend House’ in Kinsale. This modernist masterpiece stands on pillars overlooking Kinsale Harbour. The house went through a period of decline until the Healy family bought it and set about restoring it to Robin’s original design. Ironically they chose Simon Walker to oversee the work and this led to one of the best scenes in the film.
University College Dublin Restaurant
Simon’s journey unearthed many other magical architectural encounters with his Fathers legacy. He conveys how Robins Open Volume plan for the Restaurant at UCD has been blocked up with partitions and his radical plan for the students to sense freedom in the building is now sadly obliterated. The same image is conveyed when Simon visits Robin’s Art Building at Maynooth College. The building once sat like a jewel on the landscape but is now unloved and uncared for and can hardly be recognised as it is swamped by new ugly structures all round. Robin’s clarity of design can still be seen in all its glory when we witness Saint Columba’s Science Block and his campus at Wesley College.
Wesley College Dublin
Robin’s withdrawal from architecture coincided with the oil crisis of the early seventies when the ideals and ideas of the Moderns was abandoned for a more speculative approach to public buildings. Robin left the stage and concentrated on writing which are conveyed throughout the film by readings from the actor Patrick Bergin.
I designed the film as a lone journey by Simon into his Fathers life and I deliberately avoided ‘Talking Head’ interviews and let the buildings speak for themselves. The original music composed by Stano and the haunting Soundscape by Philippe Faujas fuelled the magical atmosphere of the film. We were also gifted to be able to feature the great poet Seamus Heaney recite his poem ‘An Architect’ which he wrote after Robin’s passing as a gift to his wife Dorothy Walker. The films primary focus was to bring out the human story of Simon reaching across two eras to understand his Fathers work and to mirror his own feelings about how todays society is willing to let these buildings disappear as if they have no value. I hope this film helps to highlight the important work that Robin and his contemporaries have contributed in Irelands first major beginnings in Nation Building.
The Weekend House Kinsale
Director: Sé Merry Doyle (Films inlcude: John Ford — Dreaming the Quiet Man; Patrick Kavanagh — No Man’s Fool; Patrick Scott – Golden Boy; Kathleen Lynn — The Rebel Doctor; Alive Alive O — A Requiem for Dublin; Jimmy Murikami – Non Alien)
The making of the documentary ‘Jimmy Murakami — Non Alien’
In this feature documentary I went on a journey with Jimmy Murakami, the famous Japanese American animator of classic films like ‘Snowman’ and ‘When the Wind Blows’ and revealed the tragedy he and his family endured in a Japanese Concentration Camp in Northern California during WW2.
“My name is Jimmy Murakami. Teruaki is the Japanese name I was born with. It was taken from me in America after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor’.
Jimmy Murakami painting of the Camp he spent 4 years in at Tule Lake Concentration camp during WW2
My feature documentary ‘Jimmy Murakami — Non Alien’ has been doing the rounds at film festivals across the globe for the last couple of years, so it feels timely to shed some light on the background to how I came across the story of Jimmy’s tragic childhood in Tule Lake Concentration Camp.
I first came across Jimmy in the mid eighties when I began my career as a film editor in Dublin. In the early 70’s Jimmy came to Ireland to work on the feature film ‘Von Richthofen and Brown’ where he met his future wife Ethna and set up roots here. He was an exotic character on the Dublin film scene and I was in awe of the Oscar nominated Japanese American animator whose credits included ‘When the Wind Blows’ and ‘Snowman’. While assisting him on his films I got to know him reasonably well and viewed some of his early experimental work like his Oscar nominated ‘Breath’ and ‘Death of a Bullet’. In the Dublin bars Jimmy told wonderful stories about his film life: directing ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ for Roger Corman, working with David Bowie and Roger Waters from Pink Floyd on the soundtrack for ‘When the Wind Blows’. But Jimmy also had a secret from his childhood that he never shared with any of his friends in Ireland.
Jimmy Murakami and Japanese Internment Camps WW2
The main focus of ‘Jimmy Murakami — Non Alien’ is on Jimmy Murakami’s childhood trauma, when he and his family were interned in an American concentration camp after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1942. On the signature of President Roosevelt, 140,000 people of Japanese ancestry were given the new label of ‘Non Alien’ and lost their homes and their civil rights. After four years in camp, Jimmy’s family settled in LA. He went to Art School and then joined an animation studio and the rest is history.
Sé Merry Doyle & Jimmy Murakami
I would bump into Jimmy Murakami at various film events and we would swap stories. One night he told me that he was writing his memoirs and also doing some new paintings concerning his childhood in America. I immediately asked if I could come out to his home and film with him. He showed me his memoir and when I read the section dealing with the concentration camps I knew I had to tell his story. The genesis of the completed film is built around the nine paintings Jimmy showed me that day. They became the basis for some wonderful animation sequences created by Jimmy’s great friend Guido Orlandi. The paintings are mainly representations of Jimmy’s imprisonment in Tule Lake Concentration Camp in Northern California. He had tried to block this tragic episode out of his mind but was now going to confront it in the only way he knew how, through his art!
‘Leaving Home’ Murakami Family packing up to go to Tule Lake concentration Camp. Exclusive to ‘Jimmy Murakami — Non Alien’
The first painting in the series shows Jimmy’s dad loading all his earthly possessions onto his 1954 yellow Ford, moments before his wife and 4 young children would begin their long journey to Tule Lake Camp in Northern California. They would never see their little farm again. Jimmy was only 8 years old but still has vivid memories of this time. Signs appeared everywhere informing all people of Japanese ancestry to assemble for transportation to concentration camps. Tule Lake became the biggest camp holding 40,000 inmates. Jimmy’s personal stories of the time are the heart of the film. How his older sister died in the camp from Leukemia. How tanks and military surrounded the camp and violence was endemic. How frustrated prisoners allied themselves to the Emperor and vowed to return to Japan. The majority of those interned considered themselves Americans and were angry at being imprisoned for crimes they had no part in. During Ronald Reagan’s stint as president he apologized on behalf of the American people for the injustice inflicted on the Japanese American community and awarded all survivors of the camp $25,000 . Jimmy wanted to buy a new Cadillac and put a sign on it saying “Is this what my life is worth?” and then driving it off a cliff. His wife Ethna pointed out that their financial circumstances were bad and persuaded Jimmy to reluctantly take the cheque.
Freedom Train painting depicts Murakami family leaving Tule Lake concentration camp.
Jimmy Murakami’s final painting was called ‘Freedom Train’ it showed the Murakami family huddled together on a train headed to LA carrying the same suitcases they had entered Tule Lake with four years earlier, they also had the ashes of Jimmy’s sister Sumiko. With lots of research done Loopline Film convinced the Irish Arts Council to award a grant and make a feature documentary on this dark episode in Jimmy’s life. We filmed in Ireland, and the States, met his brother brother and sister, and most pointedly, we followed Jimmy back to Tule Lake where every year there is ceremony for survivors and their children. In the end a chance encounter with an old friend took me on a journey back to Jimmy’s childhood through his painting and specially commissioned animation. The film premiered to great acclaim at the Dublin Film Festival and has gone to international screenings in America and Japan. The film won the ‘Directors Choice Award’ at the International Sacramento Film and Music Festival, voted second best film at the Dublin Film Festival and got a showcase screening in Hiroshima. We are currently making a one hour TV special for broadcasters. Plans are also afoot to release the film on DVD and Streaming.
I entered my new feature documentary ‘Talking to My Father’ to the Galway Film Fleadh. I will blog later about the film but for now I will tell you it had a very nice debut at the recent Dublin Film Festival and has been accepted to a very prestigious showing in New York in October. The film was funded by the Arts Council Reel Art scheme and normally these films do the rounds of Irish festivals and hopefully are enjoyed and the reviews they get helps them travel beyond these shores. Therefore I was surprised when I got a simple rejection letter from the Fleadh with the usual thank you for entering etc etc.! I felt sad, bad and mad and wondered should I enquire further or just let it go. I am used to the disappointment one gets when you have a film turned down at international festivals but 9 times out of ten the Irish festival say yes as they are committed to new Irish work. I decided to email the Fleadh and ask why it was rejected? Was it not liked, bad quality, unsuitable, whatever!. I sent an email! Surprisingly I got a reply saying that the Festival curator Gar O’Brien liked my film very much but as there was a shortage of screens available they had decided to only show premiers. I have been raising my voice over the last years in protest at Irish Film Festival competing with each other about premiers , arguing that the the local audiences they are serving should come first in their list of priorities and not be denied the chance to see new Irish work. I was also surprised when I entered the Fleadh that they had a rule that the film could not be entered into best documentary section if it had been shown at any festival before! Nonsense! If a film is the best film, so what if it has been shown before. Another festival Stranger Than Fiction in Dublin will not screen a film if it has been screened already in Dublin! Again an example of Festivals gone mad with their quest to be unique. Anyway, back to ‘Talking to My Father’. I replied to the Fleadh that their reason for rejection was inadequate and queried as to why did they ask for entry fee if they knew they were only showing Premiers. With a few discreet enquiries I found out that my film was actually accepted for the Fleadh and scheduled to be screened but that when a certain cinema withdrew their venue they had had an emergency meeting and dropped my film and I suspect a few others, but never alerted us as to why we were rejected. I suggest that the Fleadh should have contacted the filmmakers and brought them into the problem and I for one would have been happy to screen my film in a local bar, , or even outdoors. The the Fleadh and the filmmakers would have been making a point! The Galway cinema goers would not be denied. I am disgusted at the treatment my film has received. No matter what actions people may take, I have to fight for my film regardless! The biggest insult the Fleadh threw my way was to just say it was rejected but not give any reason why until I investigated. Needless to say I am a great admirer of the this festival and have screened many films there in the past but I must say in my estimation the present guardians are losing sight of the spirit of what a Fleadh is. Over and out. Thank you for reading Sé Merry Doyle.
Sé Merry Doyle’s award winning documentary ‘Jimmy Murakami — Non Alien’ gets a special release alongside Jimmy’s masterpiece ‘When The Wind Blows’s. Both films are now available in a special limited edition from Screen Archives
My film’Patrick Kavanagh — No Man’s Fool’ was commissioned by the Irish Film Board and RTE to celebrate the centenary of the poets birth in 1904. The notion to make the film began when I filmed a yearly gathering of Kavanagh devotees at his favourite spot on the Grand Canal in Dublin. Every year someone would make a speech in the spirit of Kavanagh and that year it was the poet Macdara Woods.
Near the end of his speech he implored everybody to write to the parish priest in Inniskeen where Kavanagh was buried and to plead with him to reinstate the headstone of Kavanagh’s wife Katherine Moloney to the poets graveside. Macdara to my astonishment explained how a few years after Katherine was buried alongside Kavanagh her headstone had been destroyed by persons unknown. My interest was piqued and I set out to Kavanagh’s birthplace in Inniskeen County Monaghan to investigate the mystery of the missing headstone. All I spoke to remained tightlipped but Barney Cunningham a local farmer told me that there was bas bad blood between Patrick’s brother Peter and Katherine over the legacy of his writings. In 1989 Peter removed the cross over Patrick grave because he disagreed with the opening of his grave for the burial of Katherine. Sometime after Katherine’s burial a memorial sculpture erected in her memory was destroyed and in 1998 Peter reinstated the cross. Peter denied all knowledge as to how Katherine’s headstone disappeared. To this day there is no marking to signify Katherine is buried there.
I edited the little material I had from the Canal gathering and in time the film was commissioned. Ironically the story of Katherine’s headstone being destroyed was not featured in the film. This was not because of censorship but more because the poets life took over my imagination. In the end the film concentrated on his extraordinary life. Kavanagh became known as the peasant poet and after good notices for his first published poems in ‘Ploughman and other Poems’ he quit the rural life he led and decamped to Dublin. Life was hard in the big city and he was always short of a shilling but against all odds persevered in writing the poetry that would immortalise him.
The film is littered with the highs and lows of his poetic life. The withdrawal of his first novel ‘The Green Fool’ because of alleged libel by Oliver St. John Gogarty. The police visiting him and giving him a warning about the overt sexuality in his epic poem ‘The Great Hunger’. The collapse of his weekly newspaper ‘Kavanagh’s Weekly’ which was financed in the main by his brother Peter. He was a thorn in the established intellectuals of the day and never let a chance go to throw a witty barb their way. Worse tragedy of all happened when in his final years he sued a magazine ‘The Leader’ for libel and as a result his health deteriated. Out of this dark period he wrote his greatest poetry known fondly as The Canal Bank Poems. This little stretch of water was his tranquil space that was a short walk from his home and that he called Baggotonia.
We filmed a lot in Inniskeen and Dublin. We interviewed his friends, John Montague, Macdara Woods, TP McKenna and the wonderful Leland Bardwell. We created visual sequences to convey the poetry which was read by the actor Gerard McSorley. Stephen Walsh wrote and narrated the film. A 52 minute version aired on RTE but the longer version of 70 minutes is the film I wanted everyone to see. That version went on to win best documentary at the Boston Film Festival. The film now lies in the vaults of the Irish Film Archive and gets the occasional outing.
Patrick Scott passed away on Valentines Day 2014 which was the eve of a major retrospective on the artist’s life in Dublin at IMMA and at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Carlow ‘Patrick Scott Image Space Light’ begins on 15th February and will run till mid May. Mermaid Film are proud to announce that my film ‘Patrick Scott — Golden Boy’ will screen on a loop at both venues. RTE will screen the film on Thursday March 6th on RTE at 10:55 pm
In 2003, I was invited by the producers Maria Doyle Kennedy and Andrea Pitt to direct a film on the Irish artist Patrick Scott. Patrick was born in Kilbrittain, County Cork in 1921 and is considered today as the Godfather of modern art in Ireland.
I had previously filmed Patrick for an as yet unrealised film that would tell the story of the history of modern art in Ireland. In the interview Patrick recalled the time when he represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale in 1960. Although very proud to represent Ireland, Patrick was treated shoddily by the Department of Foreign Affairs. No government representative showed up at his opening as was customary with all the other nations. To make matters worse he had to pay for his own catalogue and press reviews.
I thought that this interview would never see the light of day so I was delighted when it was used in ‘Golden Boy’. Golden Boy traced Patrick’s early childhood in Cork, his journey into architecture alongside Michael Scott and his eventual decision to become a full time painter in the early 50’s. Patrick’s first recognition as a painter came when he had his first exhibition with the White Stag Group in 1944.
The White Stag Group was composed of mainly pacifist refugee painters fleeing Britain and France during WW2. Patrick honed his craft with the White Stag Group and had his first recognition internationally when he won the Guggenheim award in 1958 and then went on to represent Ireland at the Venice Biennale in 1960.
Today Patrick is known mostly for his series of Gold paintings which he embarked on in the 70’s and continues in the same vein today. The film reveals the wide range of styles he underwent before he got the Gold bug!
His Devise paintings were a protest against the nuclear devices that were being tested in the 60’s. His Bog paintings were inspired on his train journeys to John Huston’s home in Galway. Huston later opened an exhibition of Patrick’s work in Dublin.
I began the filmmaking process by interviewing Patrick over a period of three days in his home and studio on Baggot Lane, Dublin. It was just me and Patrick and his cats. I journeyed with him to his family home in Kilbrittain, his school, Saint Columba’s in Rathfarnham and his cottage in the Wicklow Hills. We filmed the poet Seamus Heaney when he visited Pat’s studio. Other contributors include the potter Stephen Pearce and the art critic Bruce Arnold. But it was Patrick himself who took centre stage in our film and over several months he revealed the thought processes behind his work. On the personal side he recalled his life long relationship with his partner the actor Pat McClarnon and the depths of despair he underwent when Pat passed away. In the end it was Art and Zen Buddhism that kept Patrick on track and though now in his nineties his indomitable spirit still shines and inspires. ‘Golden Boy’ is one of the most enjoyable experiences I had had as a documentary filmmaker. The film was screened on RTE and had many successful festival screenings.
Jimmy Murakami at the exhibition of his Tule Lake Paintings in Dublin.
My life over the last few weeks seem to have revolved around Jimmy Murakami, the director of ‘Snowman’ and ‘When the Wind Blows’ and also the subject of my documentary ‘Jimmy Murakami — Non Alien’. Dingle Film Festival innaugarated a new annual award ‘The Jimmy Murakami Award’ and asked me to present the first one to Jimmy. Dingle also hosted a special focus on Animation so all the leading players like Jam Media, Brown Bag and Cartoon Saloon were in Dingle to give workshops. So the venue was packed with animators who would consider Jimmy to be the man that gave this art form a kick start in Ireland. Jimmy arrived in Ireland 40 odd years ago to work on a feature film and met a young lady called Etna and from then on Ireland became his home.
I organised a screening of a short film made by Jimmy in 1969 called ‘The Good Friend’. It was the first film awarded a grant when the American Film Institute was established. I also showed a short clip from ‘Non — Alien’ which told the story of Jimmy’s incarceration in Tule Lake concentration camp in Northern California after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. He was only 8 years old at the time. He and his family spent 4 years locked up and Jimmy still sees it as one of the great scars in American history. Jimmy took the stage and gave a great talk that took us through some highlights of his wonderful life. Jimmy is at an advanced stage of pre — production on a feature film based on the Atomic destruction in Hiroshima.
All thanks must go to Dingle for honouring Jimmy’s great contribution to the Irish Film Industry. LONGOVERDUE. A few days later the Dublin Branch of Royal Television Society invited Jimmy to give a keynote speech to its members on the grounds of RTE. The man is in great demand.
All the studios told Ford: ‘The Quiet Man’ was a silly little Irish story that nobody would pay to see, boy were they wrong!” Maureen O’Hara.
Why it too 7 years to make ‘John Ford; Dreaming the Quiet Man’ documentary.
It took John Ford almost twenty years to raise the finance to make his most treasured project ‘The Quiet Man’, so I should not feel too discouraged that it took a mere seven years for this feature documentary to reach the screen. By the time of its completion, it featured luminaries like Maureen O’Hara, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jim Sheridan, and narration by Gabriel Byrne. The stunning locations and people of the West of Ireland where Ford shot his film in spectacular Technicolor in 1951 enveloped the storyline. Add to the mix the music of Ger Kiely and Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains and you have a film that has attracted a lot of people who wanted to take part in a documentary celebrating John Ford’s most personal film ‘The Quiet Man’ .
“You had this sense of tremendous personal involvement in the film from Ford. It’s hard to define but beneath all the comedy and the energy and the tremendous beauty of the landscapes, beyond all that there was a sense that Ford was creating a whole world out of his head, out of his heart, and molding it into something that he wished to be true”. Jay Cox
“The Quiet Man is poetry. Jack Nicholson said when we were doing The Departed, “God gave the Irish the words, the Italians the music”. I said, “Yeah”, you know, you just listen to it and it sounds like music and that film is filled with it, The Quiet Man”. Martin Scorsese
Like all good Irish stories, the origins of the documentary found its beginnings in the aftermath of a heated discussion. A colleague was arguing that ‘The Quiet Man’ was a lot of romanticised rubbish, that stereotyped the Irish race across the globe as a bunch of no good drinkers who loved nothing more than to drink themselves senseless, followed with a big brawl. Here was someone ridiculing a film that I had grown up with, like so many people across the world. Year after year, ‘The Quiet Man’ is lovingly rolled out on TV at Christmas or Saint Patrick’s Day to the delight of its many fans. I found myself defending the film, clutching at uneducated guesses as to its merits. Giving it my best shot, I answered that it was directed by John Ford, recognised as one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, and furthermore, his parents were born in Ireland, so why would he make a film that would, in effect, shame and mock his own heritage?
“Some Irish people hated it for a long time because they thought it made us look like puckoons and idiots but I would say it’s portraying fairly accurately an Ireland of the time where people were contained within a fearful religious world and Ford was coming back to kind of say, look here’s the guy, he’s been to America, he’s John Wayne, he’s coming back and he’s not coming back to free Ireland politically but he’s coming back to free the soul of Ireland and Maureen O’Hara from the oppressive bloody family that she lives in.” Jim Sheridan.
“I was raised by people who their thinking came from maybe a small village in Sicily very similar let’s say to a small village in Ireland, you have to understand where the relationships between men and women, male and female come from in that world in order to accept the behavior of the characters in The Quiet Man.” Martin Scorsese.
The argument with my colleague on the merits of ‘The Quiet Man’ ended in stalemate but, coincidentally, an unlikely event was to occur, one that was to capture my interest and imagination: ‘The Quiet Man’ fan club had announced an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the film. Suitably intrigued, I decided to attend and went along with camera in hand. I met with what can only be described as a bunch of ‘Quiet Man’ maniacs! They not only showed the film but also announced the winners of the Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne look-alike competition. It was all a bit of harmless fun, but you could not help but be taken in by the enthusiasm and zeal of this group of people and their unfailing love for a film that had become so treasured in their lives. The basic story of ‘The Quiet Man’ revolves around a Yank, Sean Thornton (John Wayne), who has returned to his parent’s homeland ‘Innisfree’. He harbours a dark secret and wishes to start a new life when he meets with the girl of his dreams, Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara). The only obstacle is her jumped up farmer of a brother, Red Will (Victor McLaglen), who attempts to thwart Thornton’s desire. Sean Thornton’s secret is that he killed a boxer in America and has promised to never fight again. He is faced with the dilemma of losing Mary Kate if he does not fight her brother.
“The picture has an extraordinary feeling right from the beginning. A warmth, an intimacy, a personal commitment that’s a rare in pictures. You just feel that Ford’s heart is in this picture, more than in any other picture he ever made I think. He never made a film remotely like it. Nobody ever did.” Peter Bogdanovich
In many ways the plot of ‘The Quiet Man’ mirrors Ford’s own life. His parents’ poverty forced them to emigrate from Connemara in the West of Ireland to America in the aftermath of the Great Famine but they never let their children forget the traditions, stories and rituals of their homeland. Ford was obsessed with his Irish roots and throughout his career made several Irish themed movies in America like ‘The Informer’ and ‘The Plough and the Stars’ but in the ‘little story’ by Maurice Walsh he found the perfect vehicle to make his most personal film, in the very location where his parents grew up. He revised the story and made the hero a successful Yank, like himself, returning to Ireland to claim his heritage.
“The Quiet Man is very deceptive, before the film begins Wayne has killed somebody in a fair fight in America. So he comes to Ireland as a killer, as an Oedipal character coming back to the land of his birth, like Oedipus in the Greek Myths”. Jim Sheridan.
“I think on some level Ford wanted to go back to Ireland, and I think he identified very, very strongly with Sean Thornton. I mean, his real name is Sean. The idea of an American who comes to reclaim his land, reclaim his heritage and finds strife and money problems and obstacles and also falls in love. It’s kind of a legend. It’s kind of a mythic picture. It has a feeling of a fable. It isn’t totally realistic and yet it plays realistically but it has a kind of a fable like quality”. Peter Bogdanovich
I traveled to Cong in County Mayo, which had served as the prime location for ‘The Quiet Man”. With no resources for research or development, I arrived in the small town aided on camera by my friend Colm Hogan who lived nearby and more importantly had waived any fees, happy to settle for food and drink as recompense! We stood on the main street which was like a shrine to ‘The Quiet Man’. Every shop, pub and restaurant, was named after characters or aspects of the film. I was quite literally dropped into Quietmansville!
I asked a passerby if they knew of anybody who had worked on the original film. It was suggested that I track down Jack Murphy, owner of the local shop ‘Cohans’ which was used as the main pub in ‘The Quiet Man’. During the filming, John Ford had commandeered Murphy’s shop, renaming it ‘Cohans’ and Jack had understandably left the sign up when the filming ended.
With camera rolling, I knocked on the door of Cohans pub. Out came Jacks sister, Nancy, whose first immortal words were: “What’s this documentary for, is there a festival or something?” She invited me into her shop and while we waited for Jack, she showed me some of the memorabilia from the film that she had on sale. She had a vast array of T‑shirts, mugs, trinkets and photos, all relating to the film. The camera loved Nancy and she was immediately a star, amusing and endearing in the way she interviewed a busload of Americans who came into the shop. “I think the Americans love coming in here to hear us telling them lies, I really think they do!” Her brother, Jack, finally arrived and presented me with a little book he published on ‘The Quiet Man’ and told stories of how he was an extra and had transported the cast in his station wagon. As the sun went down on a wonderful day, Jack recalled Ford as a man “you didn’t want to mess with” and how difficult he was, but he admired him because “he was such a perfectionist and got the job done.”
Buoyed up by the material and ideas we had captured on film I went into the edit room and created a small trailer to show potential investors the merits of a documentary on ‘The Quiet Man’. The idea was rejected by every broadcaster and funder in Ireland. Five years later, Alan Maher from the Irish Film Board was in our office to talk about another project and just as he was leaving I asked would he have a look at the short promo. Bingo, he immediately loved the idea and within months we had a full budget. With additional finance from the BAI and TG4 in place, interviews and location filming in Ireland went into full swing. We captured Des McHale the author of several books on ‘The Quiet Man’ taking a bus load of tourists around Cong and telling them how he had studied every frame of the film and sourced all the original locations. In Ford’s ancestral home of Spiddal in Connemara, we met Ford’s cousin, Nora, a native Irish speaker. Nora worked on the film as a linguist and remembered Ford coming to Spiddal, during breaks from filming, visiting his cousins and his father’s cottage, “he spent hours looking out to sea and tramping the very same roads his father walked”. A stone’s throw away from Nora’s home, Ford’s cousins the Feeney’s’ showed us Ford’s father’s dilapidated cottage which became the model for Sean Thornton’s ‘White O’ Morn’. We met more surviving extras from the film, like Bob Foy, who had the role of delivering the overly large marital bed to Thornton. Stories of the film abounded: John Ford ceremoniously turning on the electricity supply which was rushed in specially for the film, replacing the oil lamps; the extras getting double the average wage; the excitement of Hollywood lighting up the sleepy village and the many stories of Ford and how he oversaw the whole thing like a general in the field of battle.
“He knew that Ireland was a metaphor for a form of life that he thought was rapidly disappearing and he knew that if he went to Ireland he could find those forms of life still alive and that they could be remolded into an imaginative form that would awaken echoes in a lot of bosoms and so it was the imaginary island of The Quiet Man that he knew would withstand the test of time.” William Dowling.
The final hurdle I had to overcome in order to make the documentary was getting to America to conduct some prime interviews. The problem was that I have a long held fear of flying, that began when an aircraft I was on caught fire and ended my Jet Set lifestyle. My producers came up with the solution! They booked me the cheapest berth on the Queen Mary to New York from where I then traveled by car with my cameraman Patrick Jordan to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to capture some stunning imagery in Monument Valley in Arizona, Ford’s home away from home and the setting for most of his westerns.
“He shot nine films there and it was kind of his place really. He discovered it for Stagecoach. It had never been used before. It was so identified with him that a lot of people thought they couldn’t use that location because it would be like plagiarism.” Peter Bogdanovich.
We captured several interviews with Ford’s friend, the director Peter Bogdanovich, Joseph McBride, author of ‘Searching for John Ford’, Martin Scorsese a long time admirer of Ford and Professor William Dowling, who has to be the most passionate writer on ‘The Quiet Man” I have ever encountered. All the conversations we had built up a picture of Ford as a complex genius who, by creating a public persona of himself as the most difficult director in Hollywood, managed to hide his most personal feelings from the world, but who bared his soul in ‘The Quiet Man’.
“The Quiet Manas it came out, is a permanent way really, in John Ford’s career, of saying about all the other films, and I mean here ‘The Grapes of Wrath’and ‘How Green Was my Valley’, I’m not that John Ford. I remember where I came from and I remember the values of where I came from and I’ve made a film to show you what those values are. It will survive me and it has”. William Dowling
Peter Bogdanovich, a close friend of Ford, had made a documentary on him, but admitted that he was the most difficult person he ever had to interview. We acquired wonderful archive from Peter showing him failing miserably to elicit a direct answer to any of his questions:
Bogdanovich: “How did you film Stagecoach”? Ford: “With a camera”.
Bogdanovich realised that Ford hated talking about his work in film and preferred that you figure it out for yourself, but he also knew that Ford was highly intellectual and that his films were laced with subtle but profound comments on society at large.
“He didn’t talk much about what he believed in but in his films, family and tradition and respect for the past, belief in traditions, he honoured that. He wasn’t a great family man himself. I mean that was the irony of it. His family life was sort of difficult I think. Both his son and his daughter were not happy people and I don’t think the marriage was that happy but in his movies, it’s a different story.” Peter Bogdanovich
Bogdanovich gave an illuminating insight into Ford’s mind and what was personally at stake for him by revealing his inner self in ‘The Quiet Man’. He pointed out Ford’s enduring love affair with Katherine Hepburn, whom he called Kate, and how he could not bear breaking up with his wife Mary. “It is no coincidence that Maureen O’Hara’s name in the film is Mary Kate”. He gave the background on how John Wayne is Ford’s alter ego in the film and why Ford gave Wayne the name of his Irish cousin, Sean Thornton. Ford once showed Wayne some footage and asked was he happy with his performance Wayne replied “I’m just playing you, Pappy!”
The core notion coming out of the Bogdanovich interview was that ‘The Quiet Man’ was a film littered with scripted allusions to Ford’s life and reflected his desire to create his own personal ‘Innisfree’.The imaginary world of ‘Innisfree’ and the importance of family and tradition was a central theme for the writer Joseph McBride:
“Mothers are very important to John Ford. In ‘The Quiet Man’ there’s a beautiful little scene where John Wayne comes back and he sees the home where he was raised and he hears the voice of his long dead mother and it’s his imagination. It’s very beautiful but it’s sort of what motivates him to come back home. He’s coming back to his mother in a sense even though she’s gone but her voice emanates from the landscape. It’s almost like Ireland is his mother”. Joseph McBride
In New York, Martin Scorsese told us how greatly Ford’s films have influenced him and how the boxing scene in ‘The Quiet Man’ had a big bearing on how he shot his own film ‘Raging Bull’. He teased out the tensions that the returning Yank, Sean Thornton, is living through as he tries to come to grips with the strange Irish customs of the dowry and why he must fight Mary Kate’s brother, Will Danagher, if he is to succeed in winning the woman he loves. “He kills a man in a ring and he’s a good man, Sean, you know, and it’s hard to live with himself after that so he goes back to his roots and then he has to be accepted within those roots and he has to then play out the ritual, and the power of the woman in the picture is very strong, the nature of her resistance resulting in the best kiss in motion pictures. All the resistance and the acceptance is there, all in one, but she has to deal with it that way. He’s got to deal with it that way. That’s the nature of who they are and where they are. He, of course, is the outsider and wants to forget where he’s been and what he’s done but he’s got another boxing ring to deal with, not her but the lifestyle, the people. He’s also got to deal with himself. He’s got to come to terms with himself.” Martin Scorsese
William Dowling believes that in ‘The Quiet Man’, Ford was making a statement about the new mentality sweeping across America after WW2. He detested the country’s new found love of the dollar and power and felt it to be a betrayal of the American Dream that the early settlers, like his parents, believed in. Dowling explains how Ford articulates this is in the dowry sequences in ‘The Quiet Man’. He believes that Thornton’s refusal to fight for the dowry is the most misunderstood scene in the film. Dowling really lights up the screen when he describes Sean Thornton dragging Mary Kate through a field and drops her at the feet of Red Will Danaher, declaring: “you can take her back, its your custom not mine!” and then proceeds to burn Danaher’s money in the furnace.
Many feminists at the time regarded this ‘dragging’ scene as a chauvinistic act on the part of Ford, in particular, the moment when a woman runs up to Thornton and says: “Here’s a stick to beat the lovely lady with”, but Dowling sees this as Festive Comedy, the build up to welcoming Mary Kate and Sean Thornton as fully fledged members of the community of Innisfree.
“‘The stick to beat the lovely lady with’, That was John Ford’s type of direction, which the whole audience understood and knew what it meant. Maybe you didn’t but the audiences did (laughs)”. Maureen O’Hara.
The most important interview I had was with the wonderful Maureen O’Hara which came about after several years of unsuccessful requests. Luck arrived after I interviewed her nephew, Charlie Fitzsimons, in LA and he put in a good word for me and on my return journey on the Queen Mary, word came through that Maureen would be available for an exclusive interview.
We filmed Maureen at her home in Glengariff, West Cork. It was an honour to have an exclusive interview with the only living member of the main cast. There are too many incredible nuggets about her memory of the film to catalogue here but needless to say, Ford and his obsession with ‘The Quiet Man” was never far from her mind: “He could be the meanest, the hardest, but he was the greatest director of them all”.
Maureen O’Hara & Sé Merry Doyle
Maureen recalled the one time she lost her temper with Ford was in the horse racing scene where he kept telling her to stop blinking and she replied: “What would a bald headed son of a bitch like you know about keeping your eyes open in the sun and when I said it I thought I was going to be assassinated. Everybody thought that’s the end of Maureen but he started to laugh and everybody thought, thank God Maureen’s safe”.
Maureen elaborated on one of the most important aspects of the making of ‘The Quiet Man’ family: “Well I don’t know of any other films that were ever made that involved so much of a family. They were all in love with the one thing, Ireland, you know. It was a love affair”.
It really was a family affair: Maureen’s two brothers played the IRA parts; John Wayne’s children had a cameo in the horse race scene; Barry Fitzgerald was the Matchmaker and his brother, Arthur Shields, was the Reverend Playfair; Victor McLaglen’s son, Andrew, worked on the production end; and Ford’s own brother, Francis, played Dan Tobin and his son, Pat, worked as a production assistant. To round it all off, Ford deployed the famed Abbey Players for all the minor roles. “It was like a home movie in front of and behind the camera, I think the whole world felt that”. Martin Scorsese.
Maureen, alongside her brother Charlie and John Ford, composed the lyrics for the film version of ‘Innisfree’ and she recited them for me on camera. She became very emotional that she could remember them so well:
“Oh Innisfree, my island I’m returning, from wasted years across the Irish sea and when I come back to my own dear island I’ll rest beside you grá mo chroí”.
Before leaving Maureen, I had to ask her about the great controversy that has built up over the years in regard to what she whispered in John Wayne’s ear at the end of the film that got such a startled reaction from him. Bogdanovich reckons it had something to with sex. When I asked Maureen what she said, she replied: “You can ask but I will not tell. Ford instructed me to say something to Duke and I said, ‘ok, on one condition, that you swear that never in any time in your life will you reveal what was said.’ I did what I was supposed to do and to this day they never told and I will never tell, but Ford got the look from Duke that he wanted.”
The making of ‘John Ford – Dreaming the Quiet Man’ threw up a lot of revelations about Ford and what motivated him into the making of his film. In the end it was a film where Ford surrounded himself with his family of actors and technicians to make his most personal film. Our documentary had its world premier at the Cork Film Festival with Maureen O’Hara as our special guest. The Opera House was packed to capacity breaking the record previously set by Werner Herzog’s ‘Grizzly Man’. The night was an overwhelming success with several standing ovations but the enduring message to me was the desire of so many, young and old, expressing their desires to see or rewatch the film ‘The Quiet Man’ with a new sense of interest in Ford’s personal motivation in making it. The film the had it’s American premier at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, presented by Gabriel Byrne. Last but not least the Irish language version had it’s premier on TG4. The journey was now complete.
“The whole point of ‘The Quiet Man’ was to make a film that would stand permanently as a comment on his entire career as a Hollywood director, and it was to annunciate his freedom from that world. ‘The Quiet Man’ as it came out is a permanent way really in John Ford’s career, of saying about all the other films, and I mean here The Grapes of Wrath, How Green Was my Valley — all the so-called great films, the ones that are shown in film societies, I’m not that John Ford. I remember where I came from and I remember the values of where I came from and I’ve made a film to show you what those values are. It will survive me and it has.” William Dowling.
I was sitting under the Daniel O’Connell Monument in Dublin one summer morning about 3am and my gaze wandered up to the edifice above me. There stood Daniel in all his swagger and all these interesting characters surrounding him. I did not know then the story about the monument and how it came about, but the next day I started researching. Funding came from the Broadcasting Association of Ireland and TG4 and the quest to unravel the many mysteries of John Henry Foley, the man who created the O’Connell Monument began. I found out that Foley was regarded as. the world’s most powerful sculptor of public statuary in his day, that he was born in Dublin, learned his craft at the Royal Dublin Society, and at a very young age was noted for his genius. As his fame grew his work was being erected all over the British Empire, in particular Britain, Ireland and India. He became a personal friend of Queen Victoria and her husband Albert. He created Albert and Asia for the Albert Memorial in London. He was working on Albert at the same time as Daniel O’Connell, so it must have been strange to see both these works representing different ideologies, present in the same studio. There is a dark side to the documentary. Long after Foley died a lot of his work became contentious because of his association with the Empire. The IRA attacked Lord Gough in the Phoenix Park. Ireland’s most famous Equestrian statue was blown up, later restored by the Irish Government and then smuggled out of Ireland and Gough now stands forlorn in Chillingham Castle. Robert Guinness who arranged the transfer has stated “Ireland can have it back anytime but they must taker the rider as well as the horse”. There is a hilarious moment in the film where Senator David Norris reads ‘The Ballad of Gough’ by Vincent Caprani. Another oddity is how Foley’s Dublin statue of Prince Albert was hidden in the car park of Dail Eireann, with specially planted trees concealing him, for fear of attack by republicans. Still, Foley has more works on display in Ireland than any other artist. Father Matthew in Cork, Benjamin Guinness, in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke in Trinity College, and Edmund Burke outside Ireland’s old Parliament on College Green. India took a different response than Ireland to it’s Empire statues. After independence they rounded up all the statuary imposed on them and moved them to sculptural graveyards. I discovered great archive of this and used it for the film. India made one exception and released Foley’s statue of Lord Outram from captivity. This statue of Outram on his horse was so loved by the people of Calcutta that by public pressure he was moved to the Victoria museum and is now enjoyed for the art rather than the symbol. The motivation for the film started on that summer night many years ago and the result, I hope, is a challenge to us all, of finding a way of preserving our past heritage, good or bad, so that future generations can learn their own history.
I am still studying the recent Creative Capital Report on the Irish Media, but was heartened by the recommendation that content producers should retain copyright of their ideas. I have been campaigning for this for a long time. At last we are being heard. It is interesting that the oldest reference to intellectual copyright comes from Ireland in 576 when Saint Colmcille wrote ‘To every cow it’s calf to every book it’s cover’. Confirmation of the long wait.