Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

From Emerald Isle to Emma Goldman (1925-2006)

Since this is the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, I feel as though I should say something about the state of Irish cinema. Now cinema in Ireland is something I have touched on numerous times before. And, as always, the first problem with discussing Irish cinema is to decide what, exactly, is Irish cinema?

The problem is illustrated by my page of links to Irish films I have written about. The page is divided into 1) movies made by and/or about Irish people, 2) movies that aren’t really “about” Ireland or the Irish but which have one or more Irish characters, 3) movies that have nothing to do with Ireland or the Irish but were filmed in Ireland (e.g. Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan), and 4) movies that have nothing to do with Ireland or the Irish but which features Irish talent, i.e. one or more Irish actors or perhaps an Irish director. Given all these possibilities, what actually constitutes an “Irish film”?

The obvious easy answer No. 1 above. But even that is not as straightforward as you might think. Films made in Ireland are not always Irish productions. Or they might be co-productions with the UK or other countries. Or films that are set in Ireland might be filmed partly, mostly or entirely outside of Ireland (on a Hollywood sound stage, the Isle of Man, etc.). It we want to be sticklers, deciding which films are and are not “Irish” can be very tricky indeed. And why even bother to distinguish Irish films from any other kind of film? Well, because many, if not most, of us like convenient national labels to put on things (like port terminals, for example, which Americans seem to like to be American). But the world is not that simple anymore (if it ever was), and that is probably just as well.

As for the state of Irish cinema, according to the Irish Independent newspaper, it is on the move again, at least as a filming location. The Irish government attracted quite a few film projects with tax incentives in the 1990s, but filmmakers began to look elsewhere when the future of the tax incentives became uncertain. In the end, the tax breaks were finally kept on, but it takes a while for studio bean counters to start factoring that into planning for future film locations. (The other problem has been the euro, which compared to the dollar has been strong, making it expensive to film in the euro zone. Also, Irish wages have been rising a lot.) If not for the tax uncertainty, Cold Mountain and the TV miniseries Band of Brothers might have been filmed in Ireland.

Personally, I could sort of sense that things were picking up film-wise a couple of months ago, when we stayed at a hotel in County Wicklow, home of Ardmore Studios, and everyone at breakfast seemed to be discussing work they had done on movies.

According to The Irish Times, one movie, that was filmed in eastern Europe instead of Ireland for financial reasons, has come to Ireland for some filming anyway. Filming of Irish director John Moore’s remake of The Omen was aborted in Croatia due to objections of Catholic authorities. The new version stars Mia Farrow, Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles and is due for release, appropriately enough, on 6/6/06.

The Independent reports that John Boorman has started shooting a thriller in Dublin called Tiger’s Tale, starring Kim Cattrall and Brendan Gleeson. (Boorman and Gleeson previously collaborated on The General.) Nicholas Roeg is supposed to start filming his own thriller in Ireland soon. Called Puffball, it will star Donald Sutherland and Anne Hathaway. Although it will be filmed in Ireland, it will be set in England. Also in the pipeline is a feature film called Becoming Jane, which is described as being “about the relationship between English novelist Jane Austen and an Irishman.”

The article notes that Irish film has been given a shot in the arm, not only from the Oscar won recently by Martin McDonagh for the short Six Shooter but also from the high profile of hot Irish actors like Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Sounds like the Celtic celluloid tiger is going to start roaring again.

* * *

As long as we’re talking about Ireland’s national holiday, that makes it not inappropriate to take a moment to note the passing of Maureen Stapleton, who died on Monday. As it happens, she was an Irish-American (born in Troy, New York, and no relation to Jean Stapleton of All in the Family fame) and her Broadway debut was in 1946 in a once notorious Irish play. She had a walk-on role as a village girl in J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World.

Her acting career spanned half a century and she was nominated frequently for awards on the stage, the small screen and the big screen. And she held the distinction of having won a statuette in all three media. She won an Emmy for Truman Capote’s Among the Paths to Eden and Tony awards for Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo and Neil Simon’s The Gingerbread Lady. She was nominated four times for the Oscar, and she finally won it for her role as the anarchist Emma Goldman in Warren Beatty’s epic about the Russian revolution, Reds. That was only poetic justice. Twice she was the second choice, after the Italian actor Anna Magnani, to play heroines in Tennessee Williams plays on Broadway. Magnani declined both The Rose Tattoo and Orpheus Descending because she did not think her English was adequate. Magnani did, however, accept both roles for the film versions and won an Oscar for The Rose Tattoo.

Stapleton was a fixture in movies through the years. She moved easily between drama and comedies, in which she could be extremely funny. In fact, we saw her so often in mother and matron roles that it’s hard to remember that she started out playing “man eaters” in the aforementioned Williams plays and in her debut film Lonelyhearts, in which she seduced Montgomery Clift. But she was soon on to the roles that we more readily remember her for: Dick Van Dyke’s mother in Bye Bye Birdie, the wife of a plane bomber in Airport, the widowed grandmother unexpectedly finding love in Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. In Woody Allen’s dreary breakthrough drama Interiors, she played the woman that E.G. Marshall leaves Geraldine Page for. Stapleton was one of those actors who seems like she was always old. In fact, like Shelley Winters, she began to be cast as much older than she was fairly early in her career. Asked once if she minded, she shrugged, “I was born old.” It is hard to believe that it has been two decades since she was in the cast of Ron Howard’s Cocoon (and later its sequel), about eight geezers finding the fountain of youth.

The endearing thing about Stapleton as a person was that she was, by all accounts, an ebullient, earthy and fun-loving spirit in the face of phobias and a not-always-happy personal life. She admitted to a serious drinking problem and a fear of everything from heights to elevators to flying. After two failed marriages, the woman still could not get a break, as The Los Angeles Times recounted that she had “a long affair with Broadway legend George Abbott that began when she was 43 and he was 81 and ended 10 years later with the director ‘stepping out’ on her with another, younger woman.”

Stapleton’s career is a case where her most honored role is the one we (well, I, anyway) actually remember best. As Emma Goldman in Reds, she was earth mother, formidable intellect and force of nature, all rolled into one package. She stood out in a sprawling talented cast that included the likes of Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman.

-S.L., 16 March 2006

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