Archive for the ‘Film and TV’ Category

Re-evaluating Memory

14 December 2011

By Christina Morin

Two weeks ago I happened to catch a fascinating documentary on BBC4 about Abraham Lincoln. The show was called ‘Abraham Lincoln: Saint or Sinner’, and it set out to interrogate the politics of memory in relation to one of the most popular, if mythologized, figures in American history. Having grown up with a clearly romanticized image of ‘Honest Abe’ as a national hero who freed the slaves and is accordingly memorialized in countless ways today, not least in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and on the face of the five dollar bill, I appreciated the clear-headed objectivity of the historiographical process evident in the documentary. I certainly came away from the hour-long programme with a fuller, more complete and more objective sense of Lincoln as a politician, one that will encourage me, in future, to view Lincoln’s legacy a little more critically than I have hitherto done.

The programme got me thinking about the ways in which cultural memory can lionize certain individuals, to the point where the reality of their lives is buried beneath a kind of mythology produced by the cultural and social mores of a succeeding period. A literary case in point is Charlotte Brontë, whose life and legacy were constructed according to very particular Victorian-era strictures on female behaviour by her first biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell. The resulting image of Brontë held wide sway throughout the Victorian period and into the twentieth century, with readers regularly making pilgrimages to Brontë country to pay homage to an author about whom they had only vaguely realistic ideas and perceptions. The same might be said about many of our so-called ‘canonical’ writers, as well as famed historical figures. While we might argue that the contemporary context of such figures is central to an understanding of their actions, it seems equally essential that we acknowledge the context in which scholarship and historiography are produced. This would help explain why certain individuals and texts receive an inordinate amount of critical attention, while others remain marginalized. Much Irish Gothic fiction of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for instance, has suffered at the hands of the canonization of English writers like Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis, to the point where it often seems as if Irish writers simply didn’t engage with the Gothic aesthetic at all in this period.  That this is patently untrue is clear from the litany of Gothic novels produced by Irish pens in the latter half of the eighteenth century alone: The Adventures of Miss Sophia Berkley (1760), Longsword (1762), The History of Lady Barton (1771), Earl Strongbow (1789), The Children of the Abbey (1796), and Clermont (1798), to name but a few. Read more

The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce

10 October 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

This weekend I watched Australian/Irish production The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce (2008) about the infamous Irish convict turned cannibal.  Last year I had a complaint from an Australian tourist on my walking tour that I did not deal in enough detail with the Irish transported to Australia but I doubt this was what they had in mind! Alexander Pearce (played by Ciaran McMenanin in the film) is probably Australia/Ireland’s most famous cannibal and his execution in 1824 was reported on around the world. Pearce was born in Clones, Co Monaghan in 1790, and seems to have worked as a farm labourer in Co. Fermanagh. In 1819 he was convicted for stealing 6 pairs of shoes and was transported to Van Diemen’s land to serve seven years for theft.  The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce, a made-for-tv-film, looks at how this petty criminal turned into a cannibal. Pearce and seven other convicts escape from the prison and try to strike for the nearest urban settlement. Lost in the vast countryside, their provisions soon run out and the will to survive  takes over. Read more

The Tenements on TV3

22 August 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

I am currently watching the Tenements on TV3, presented by actor Brian Murray. If you haven’t been watching (you can catch up online), the programme is exploring tenements in Dublin by focusing on the tenements in Henrietta Street. Shockingly, there were tenements in Henrietta Street right up until the 1970s. The show features one brave family, the Winstons, who were born and raised in one of the Henrietta Street tenements who then return with their children to spend 3 nights in cramped conditions of a 1911 tenement not an easy- task they stayed last winter during the snow! While some of the introductory history in programme was a bit over simplistic, and so not necessarily accurate, the programme has maintained my interest.

Films of the French Revolution

30 June 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

I am about to begin writing some new lecture courses for next year including one that I am particularly looking forward to within my own period of interest, the eighteen century, and on revolutions in the transatlantic world. After my first year teaching I am still amazed at the response of students to films, documentaries and video footage which cover a topic or event on the course. With that in mind I am looking for a good concise and reasonably accurate film that covers some part of the French Revolution. I came across this Wikipedia entry that lists 28 films to do with the French Revolution (click here). I do not, however, have time to go through all 28 so I was hoping for some assistance. Could anyone suggest some good films or at least knock out the bad ones for me?

Just in case you’re curious the above image is by the English caricaturist George Cruickshank, its called ‘The Radical’s Arms’ and dates to 1819.

Oranges and Sunshine

27 April 2011

Contributed by Joanne Mc Entee

 ‘Did you want to come to Australia?’ ‘I thought I was going on holiday. They told me I was going on holiday. Said I would be away for six weeks. I didn’t know where Australia was.’

(Child migrant, Perth, 1988)

The holiday proved short lived. Within two days of arriving in Australia the child was scrubbing floors in an orphanage.

Oranges and Sunshine (2010) directed by Jim Loach tells the story of the children who were sent abroad under state-sponsored migration schemes to various parts of the British empire from the mid- twentieth century until 1970. Through the courage and determination of one social worker from Nottingham the issue was brought to international attention. This film is her story too.

In 1986 social worker Margaret Humphreys who was known for her interest in adoption cases, received a letter from a woman named Madeleine who claimed she had been sent from a children’s home in England to Australia over forty years earlier. She was requesting assistance in finding her family. Humphreys was intrigued by the letter and although initially a little sceptic, subsequent investigations corroborated Madeleine’s claims. Thus began the long and emotionally draining process of uncovering a heart breaking state secret that had been concealed for decades. Read more

‘Applause please’: Innovations in Irish electioneering

23 February 2011

Contributed by Ciara Meehan

Polling day is now almost upon us.  By this stage the leaflets of various parties will have come through our letter boxes, while the lucky (?) few will have been canvassed directly by the candidates themselves.  The usual gimmickry is evident: the election has produced a proliferation of campaign songs; Maman Poulet has collected some of them on her blog.  And although this has not been an internet election, twitter, Facebook and other on-line media have had a noticeable presence.  Ireland, it would seem, is embracing the post-modern or digital age of campaigning.  But the combination of traditional gimmicks with new techniques and technologies to reach a wider audience is nothing new.

In the late 1920s and early thirties, Cumann na nGaedheal took an innovative approach to electioneering.  The Dublin North by-election of March 1929 was an arid political battle that attracted little attention; the parties simply went through the motions.  One event, however, that did inject some life into the campaign occurred on polling day.  A private aeroplane flown by Colonel Fitzmaurice – one of the three-man crew that piloted the first flight from Europe to North American on board the Bremen aeroplane the previous year – flew over the constituency, dropping the leaflets of the Cumann na nGaedheal candidate, Dr Thomas O’Higgins.  Read More

Five of my favourite films

12 January 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Last term I had the opportunity to show a film to my early modern European history classes. Film and historical dramas have become one of the primary places that the average person experiences history. History enthusiasts of course have documentaries, but only a small minority of people who engage with documentaries. Viewing a historical film can be a thoroughly rewarding experience for those who are interested in history but these films often have to be taken with a pinch of salt. While taking tutorials, however, I became increasingly aware that students often take for granted the accuracy of very sensational historic films and television series.

While explaining the Tudor and Stuart family tree in tutorials there were constant references from my students to That other Boleyen Girl, Marie Antoinette, The Duchess and Young Victoria. In Ireland the legacy of Michael Collins has coloured most people’s experience of modern Irish history and the film and its romantic portrayal of the War of Independence seems unavoidable when dealing with Ireland in this period. As a tour guide I am also becoming increasingly aware of the lasting impact of The Wind that Shakes the Barley which many American people view before they come to Ireland. That said, The Tudors also seems to be a favourite amongst many of my visitors.

For good or bad Hollywood and HBO are the touchstone for many people’s basic knowledge on historical events. The fabulous costumes and dramatic plot twists understandably stick in people’s minds more readily than their study prep for junior cert history. But this touchstone can be put to good use in the class room. Students seem to react positively to film, even if it is just short YouTube clips. We are, more than ever, in a television age. Read more

Something for the weekend: the King’s speech

7 January 2011

By Lisa Marie Griffith

The King’s Speech is released today and getting promising reviews. The film has received seven nominations for the Golden Globes with Colin Firth receving some glowing comments for his performance. The plot focuses on George VI (Colin Firth) who takes the throne after his brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), abdicates to marry his divorcee girlfriend Wallace Simpson. Not expecting to inherit the throne, George VI suffered with a bad speech impediment and the story focuses on his battle to overcome this. The trailer for the film can be viewed here. We would like to hear what you think if you go to view the film and comments can be posted below.

South Sea Bubble

5 November 2010

Shared by Lisa Marie Griffith

The South Sea company was an English company which, in 1720, was granted a monopoly to trade with South America. In return for the monopoly the company lent £7 million to the English government and underwrote the national debt (which then stood at £30 million) for an interest rate of 5 per cent per annum. Demand for stock in the company grew overnight and conditions all of a sudden became ripe for one of the most famous bubbles in English history. Clearly the English had learnt nothing from the Dutch and their fanaticism for Tulips!

I came across this Rory Bremner clip the other day while looking for some material relating to early modern financial bubbles to show a class and thought I would share it. Not that we need an explanation of what a bubble is these days but I thought this explained it very well in the context of the early eighteenth century.

Something for the Halloween weekend

29 October 2010

By Lisa Marie Griffith

Film fans based in Dublin should check out the IFI Horrorthon taking place this weekend. The horrorthon is showing a host of new realises like Paranormal Activity 2 but is also screening a long list of classic films that would turn the head of anyone interested in the history of film. They include the controversial I spit on Your Grave (originally released in 1978 this is the 2010 updated version), Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, Carrie and Gremlin’s 2: the new batch. Who can resist the opportunity to see a classic film they love on the big screen? This is worth a look!

If you haven’t spotted it already, the IFI are now running a blog with lots of updates about their archive, film courses, talks and screenings. You can find it here. If you are outside of Dublin and would like to recommend something please leave us a comment and tell us what you are doing.