Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Streets broad and narrow

It happened again.

Early Saturday morning I had a really strange dream. This time I was wandering around Dublin. But it wasn’t the Dublin of my waking hours. Ireland’s capital city had been transformed into some combination of Paris’s Montmartre and Latin Quarter. The streets were narrow and windy and cobblestoned and I was getting lost in a maze of buildings, searching for (what else?) a decent Mexican restaurant. (I actually found one in the real Latin Quarter a couple of months ago.) I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where I was, and then I came out on a hilltop overlooking Leinster House, where Ireland’s parliament (the Oireachtas) sits. But it wasn’t the actual Leinster House, which was (if I recall correctly) was modeled on America’s White House. It was a large domed structure resembling nothing so much as Paris’s Sacre Coeur church.

Now, this was an unusual dream—not the least because I could remember it so vividly upon awakening. I had to check the date on the calendar, and then it became clear. Of course, it was June 16. I had had another Bloomsday dream. Stubborn readers will recall that, in the last one that I had (that I can remember anyway), my Bloomsday ramble was in Seattle. At least this time I was in the correct city (changed though it was) for mimicking Leopold Bloom’s mythic trek in James Joyce’s immortal Ulysses. Of course, I didn’t follow Bloom’s route exactly and, I’m pretty sure, he wasn’t looking for a Mexican restaurant.

Another strange thing about this was that, a couple of hours after waking up from this dream, I was actually on my way to Dublin. Not to take part in the Bloomsday festivities or even to look for a Mexican restaurant, but to deliver the Missus to a hospital in the city’s north end for a visit to her ailing father. My next stop was to deliver the Munchkin to her cousins in County Wicklow (south of the city) and, in the spirit of the day that it was, I decided to drive straight through the city rather than take the outer motorway that circles it. Okay, my choice wasn’t entirely about literary symbolism. It also had to do with the fact that, on the way up, I had observed that the southbound lanes on the motorway were all parking lots. Still it might have been faster than driving through the city on a Saturday afternoon, as it turned out. So I had my Bloomsday trek across Dublin—although not on foot but as a prisoner of the capital’s infamous traffic gridlock. But the, ah, leisurely drive (while the Munchkin was engrossed in her Nintendo DS) gave me plenty of time to ponder the city’s role in literature, in general, and in film, in particular. More to the point: there are lots of movies set in Dublin, but which ones really capture a sense of the place?

Since I am not a Dubliner or even Irish, I may not be the best one to answer this question. But since I am the only one here typing, I can at least answer a question that I am eminently qualified to handle, i.e. what films best convey the Dublin that I know. But when I look back on all the movies I have seen in the past several years set in Dublin, it becomes clear that there are actually multiple Dublins. No one movie catches them all. So let’s approach this by examining each of these various cinematic Dublins:

  • Historical Dublin: There have been numerous movies that have dealt with Irish history and necessarily with its capital. And there have been numerous adaptations of the works of James Joyce, in which Dublin is necessarily a virtual character. For me, the film of recent years that comes to my mind when I think of historical Dublin is John Huston’s adaptation of the story “The Dead” from Joyce’s Dubliners. It was Huston’s last film and one of his finest. His daughter Anjelica and Donal McCann headed the cast. More snapshot than story, the film is beautiful, evocative and haunting. I have to confess that I flatter myself by feeling some sort of kinship with John Huston. Like myself, he was an American who based himself in the west of Ireland. He made the move and took on Irish citizenship because he was advised he would pay lower taxes. Another film that should be mentioned in this category is Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins which, while not exclusively about Dublin, sets much of its action there. The opening scenes of the 1916 Rising with the GPO on O’Connell Street, looking much the same as today, brings home how relatively recent those events are. Also, a personal favorite movie about historical Dublin: Mary McGuckian’s Words Upon the Window Pane, which is set in 1928 but also connects to the 18th century and the writer Jonathan Swift.

  • Working Class Dublin: The quintessential working class Dublin movie is also the quintessential Dublin movie. That would be Alan Parker’s The Commitments. Along with the books of its writer, Roddy Doyle, it introduced the entire world to Dublin’s Northsiders. Over the past few weeks, we have come to spend time in north Dublin and to spend time with a few of its residents, and they are indeed lovely people with their own unique manner, as illustrated so well by Doyle. Neither of the two sort-of sequels to The Commitments (The Snapper and The Van, both directed by Stephen Frears) clicked quite as well as the original, but then it was a hard act to follow. A technically better film about Dublin working class life was Jim Sheridan’s biopic of Christy Brown, My Left Foot, which was nominated for five Oscars (including Best Picture) and won two (for Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker). Honorable mentions in this category: Agnes Browne (Angjelica Huston again, based on Brendan O’Carroll’s The Mammy), Bruce Beresford’s Evelyn, Lance Daly’s The Halo Effect and Ronan Glennane and Nell Greenwood’s Pride and Joy, which I’m not sure anyone besides me has seen.

  • Underclass Dublin: There are a couple of films that deal with the bottom rung of Dublin society, which I’m not sure are actually movies at all. Family was a BBC series penned by Roddy Doyle, but to me it is a movie because I saw it in that format at a film festival. It presents a depressing portrait of life in the inner city. Perry Ogden’s Pavee Lackeen started out as a documentary but wound up as a thinly fictionalized film about a family that is part of Dublin’s Traveller community. It too is depressing and not for altogether different reasons.

  • Screwball Dublin: In some movies, Dublin is a place of crazy characters in unlikely and amusing situations, sometimes romantic. The best of this breed is, once again, penned by Roddy Doyle and, apparently, at least a bit autobiographical. When Brendan Met Trudy is a variation on the old story about the cautious guy who gets mixed up with a not-very-cautious woman, leading to madcap adventures. Other entertaining looks at Dublin life include Conor McPherson’s The Actors, Liz Gill’s take on modern Irish romance Goldfish Memory and Ian Fitzgibbon’s Spin the Bottle, that is sort of a knockoff of a TV comedy series called Paths to Freedom and which does for Dublin what the Farrelly brothers have done for, well, basically everything.

  • Criminal Dublin: One aspect of Dublin that can’t be ignored is that there is a significant criminal element in it. This fact has been reflected in more than a couple of flicks. The best of Dublin crime movies? That would be John Boorman’s based-on-actual-events film The General, about the notorious Martin Cahill, as played by Brendan Gleeson. Runner-up would be another based-on-actual events flick, Joel Schumacher’s Veronica Guerin. Others in this genre: Fintan Connolly’s Flick and Shimmy Marcus’s somewhat inane Headrush. I suppose John Crowley’s multi-plotted Intermission (featuring Colin Farreell and Cillian Murphy) also fits in this category, although it can also be considered a comedy or even a rom com.

  • Magical Dublin: There are also a couple of movies that simply celebrate Dublin as a place where magic happens and love blooms. One would be the recent Sundance audience award winner Once, about street buskers following their dreams. But an even better example is Gerry Stembridge’s About Adam in which, as someone very clever once wrote, “[T]he biggest star of the film is a vivacious, radiant and happy Dublin that seems like something out of movie musical, a town where everyone seems to know each other and where customers flock to a Temple Bar eatery to hear a waitress croon old standards by Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn.” And, as he, I mean I, might have added, where it never rains.

    -S.L., 21 June 2007

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