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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

McBlogging at the fleadh

Here is something I’ve been wanting to share for a couple of years, but I could never figure out a way to work it into one of these weekly missives. It is my personal definition of globalization. To me, globalization is a woman in a McDonald’s in the west of Ireland, yelling in a thick eastern European at her two screaming kids, “Shut up and eat your Happy Meal!”

Ever since I witnessed this scene, the memory of it has been my personal emblem of what a strange world it has become as the earth has shrunk in terms of trade, migration and culture. It happens that, somewhat reluctantly, I have been spending more time at McDonald’s than I would care to acknowledge. In fact, I am sitting in one right now, as I type this. And, no, it is not (entirely) because I have a six-year-old. It is because McDonald’s in Ireland has turned out to be a reliable (and in some places in my part of the country, rare) source of wireless internet. And it isn’t fair. If I were living in quite a few other countries in the civilized world, it would be Starbucks that I would be turning to for this resource. I would be downing lattés instead of French fries to justify my seat. But, as far as I know anyway, there are still only two Starbucks in the Republic of Ireland, neither very close to me, and as far as I know they do not yet offer wifi.

So, I commune with the clown. I am spending a good deal of time at the golden arches this week because that is where I write in between films during the ongoing Galway Film Fleadh. But it’s not so bad. The people are generally friendly. Some of them have even got to know me. And, by being here, I have made a remarkable discovery. Believe it or not, Andy Kaufman is still alive and is working, all the while in character as Latka Gravas, at a Galway McDonald’s. Latka (or Vinny, as he prefers to be known now) never fails to ask me a question about my laptop or get a tech support pointer for himself. But he never tries to shoo me away, no matter how many hours I have taken up a table, and sometimes he even lets me plug my power supply into the electrical sockets meant for vacuum cleaners.

But enough about fast food joints. Let’s discuss something more interesting. Like the fact that it is quite likely that I could run into Kathy Bates this week.

No, I am not stalking her on one of those web sites where people report to the entire wired world when they spot a celebrity in public. She is a special guest of the film fleadh and, well, Galway is comfortably small for a great city and the fleadh (which, by the way, is the Irish Gaelic word for festival and usually refers to a music festival but, in this case, refers to a film festival) is comfortably small for a great film festival, I mean, fleadh. So, it is entirely possible that I could run into Ms. Bates in or around the main fleadh venue, the Town Hall Theatre. (But probably not at McDonald’s.)

And, if I do run into her, I won’t be stuck for something to say. I’ve already thought it through and I’ve come up with a great ice-breaking line. It is so cool and clever and I am sure nobody has ever thought to say it to her before. If and when I run into Ms. Bates, okay Kathy, I am going to say, “I’m your number one fan!” Isn’t that so cool?

Okay, even I do run into her, I probably won’t actually say that. Thank goodness I had this chance to think about it some more and see how lame that actually would have been. I guess I dodged the bullet on that one.

Bates will be interviewed publicly by Myles Dungan, host of an afternoon arts program on RTÉ radio. Never mind Bates, it will be interesting to watch Dungan since he has been doing these public interviews in Galway for years now, but this may be his last time, since his program appears about to be swept away in one of those major revamps that RTÉ do every once in a while, which causes a big flurry in the newspapers but which don’t seem to change the way the radio station actually sounds very much. It looks like RTÉ are finally going to get some nationwide competition for news and current affairs coverage, as a privately owned all-news Dublin station has gotten a license to go nationwide in the autumn. All I can say is, hallelujah! Not that it will likely make much difference. From the little bit I’ve heard of Newstalk during my infrequent visits to Dublin, it doesn’t sound that much different. But at least when I get fed up with one, I can switch to the other for a while. When I even listen to Irish radio, that is. Mostly, I will continue to listen mostly to the podcasts that I download from the BBC and various American sources.

But enough about Irish radio. As usual, the special guests at the fleadh will have some of their best-known films screened. In Bates’s case, they are showing Misery, Fried Green Tomatoes, Primary Colors and About Schmidt. She will also be conducting an Actor’s Masterclass. The fleadh has also gotten two other impressive film figures to do its Director’s Masterclass and Screenwriter’s Masterclass. They are, respectively, legendary British director Nicolas Roeg and veteran Hollywood screenwriter (and sometimes director) Robert Towne. Films to be aired from Roeg’s repertory include The Man Who Fell to Earth, Don’t Look Now and Track 29. Films written by Towne, which are to be aired, include The Last Detail, Without Limits and Chinatown.

Frankly, I am inclined to focus more on these retrospective screenings, which include the ones I just listed plus a fine selection of classic Italian cinema, than the newer ones. I would like to say the reason for this is my deep and studious interest in film history and my love and respect for cinematic classics. But I’m afraid it has as much or more to do with the fact that the retrospectives are showing in the Omniplex cinema, which has recently been remodeled with plush, comfortable new seats. For the past few months, I have been avoiding the Omniplex like an omni-plague because, rather than closing up while they did their remodeling, they continued doing business, despite the fact that that was scaffolding everywhere and electrical wires hanging in places like malevolent jungle plants and, most importantly, the restrooms were frequently inaccessible. The work is still going on, but at least the end is in sight and, most importantly, the toilets are functioning again. And the seats are very comfortable. Not quite as nice as the Eye Cinema, but much closer to it than before. The screenings have been fine, aside from a few projection fumbles and, during the matinees, occasional hammering on the roof. By contrast, the venerable Town Hall Theater, which is the fleadh’s main venue, does not appear to have had a remodel since the last Viking invasion. The seats are narrow and the seats tend to slant toward the floor. Yeah, old films sound good.

Now, I am sure that there is maybe one or two obsessive readers out there who are wondering if I managed to get my delegate bag on the first go this year. Yeah, right. Actually, things went pretty smoothly this year. On Tuesday evening, there was a sign clearly posted, which stated that the delegate bags would be available from 10 a.m. on Wednesday. So, all that was left for me to do was to track someone down to get me a ticket to the Tuesday night film I wanted to see and which I had already paid for. Amazingly, on only my third visit to the fleadh desk, a very nice woman ran right over to the ticket desk and printed out a ticket for me right there on the spot. She didn’t ask my name or look up anything in her files. She just trusted me. I thought that was kind of nice. The Cork and Dublin film festivals may be bigger and more organized, with everything on computer, but there is something reassuring about people just taking someone’s word and going and getting the darn ticket. I would like to think that, maybe, she remembered me from past years and that explained her friendly helpfulness. But, frankly, I haven’t seen anybody among the staff and volunteers that I remember from previous years. I am wondering if the fleadh has undergone an RTÉ-style revamp.

Well, that’s enough for now. This one’s ready to upload. Hey, Latka! I mean, Vinny! How about another order of fries!

-S.L., 13 July 2006

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