Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

As I was saying…

… before I was so rudely interrupted…

Did you miss me?

Let’s see, where was I? Oh, yeah, I was at the Galway Film Fleadh. In a clear case of Murphy’s Law (not surprising to me that that law is named after an Irishman) my computer ceased to function after I had experienced my first full day of the Fleadh, at that awkward point where I was about to upload the column I had written for that week. I was optimistic that my hard drive was intact but didn’t have much time to deal with the computer problem. It ultimately turned out to require my still-under-warranty machine to be shipped off to the Sony Repair Centre in England. I toyed with the idea of recreating all my source files for the web site on another computer, but it soon became clear that I did not have the time for that. Especially when there was a good chance the effort would turn out to be redundant once my computer came back. So I hacked into my own web site to post raw reviews, as I got time, and left the rest until my computer came home. And, frankly, I liked the break.

Last year I wrote about how much time I spent at McDonald’s, to avail of the WiFi network. This year I was freed from that link and, instead, could in good conscience spend time between movies eating burritos at a Mexican place and reading something interesting instead of trying to write something interesting. This definitely made for a more pleasant Fleadh experience—and it would have been even better if I wasn’t soaking wet.

Okay, I wasn’t soaking wet the whole time. Just the bits when I was outside. In a strange way, there was a certain appropriateness to this. You see, the signature art that was used for this edition of the Film Fleadh’s posters, programs, etc. was taken from an outtake of the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain. It was the one where Gene Kelly is holding the leg of the recently departed Cyd Charisse. If one wanted to find a movie title completely appropriate for a flim festival in the west of Ireland, it would be hard to be beat Singin’ in the Rain. The worst day was Wednesday. Like most of the days that week, it made me a true believer in climate change. Every time I came out of a cinema, the climated had changed from what it had been a couple of hours before. On Wednesday I actually changed my planned schedule and stayed at the Omniplex to see a different movie rather than venture out in the driving downpour to see my planned movie at the Town Hall Theatre, a good half mile away—which also happened to be in the vicinity of where I had parked my car. When I left my vehicle, the skies had been blue, so I had left my jacket and umbrella in the boot. When I came out of the next movie, the rain was still coming down in buckets. I toyed with the idea of staying up to some ungodly hour to watch another movie at the Omniplex, 1970’s Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, another entry in the Fleadh’s series of classic musicals. Given the hour and my fatigue, I opted to stoicly trudge to my car in the deluge.

Cover of Galway Film Fleadh program
Cover of the Galway Film Fleadh program

The weather aside, this was the best Galway Film Fleadh of the seven I have now attended, at least as far as I can remember. Which is not necessarily very far, but probably far enough. I have been coming to these things enough years that people actually seem to know me or at least recognize me. The staff and volunteers are very friendly to me and even give the impression that they think (mistakenly, if so) that I am actually somehow important. But friendly staff and volunteers would not count for much toward a successful film festival-going experience if the films themselves were not really good. And this year, practically all the ones I saw were quite good, if not really, really good. I got to see no fewer than six new Irish movies, and I could have seen even more if I were more anal about it. Of course, I missed the Irish movie that picked up the prize for Best First Feature, Macdara Vallely’s Belfast-set drama Peacefire. But I did see the two flicks that finished first and second, respectively, for Best Irish Feature, Lance Daly’s Kisses and Bob Quinn’s Vox Humana (notes for a small opera). I would say that the powers that be got those exactly right. If there were a third place, it should have gone to Ian Fitzgibbon’s twisted black comedy A Film with Me in It. The other three new Irish flicks I saw, if not aiming quite as high as the prize winners, still had their significant charms. Satellites and Meteorites, Alarm and Summer of the Flying Saucer were all nothing short of pleasing and entertaining.

Whether by design or accident, there always seem to be trends that run through the movies I wind up seeing in the space of a few days. This time the trend seemed to involve men dealing with loss resulting from horrible accidents. On the first night, the Polish movie Hope began with a wrenching scene guaranteed to devastate any parent or, for that matter, any feeling human being. This followed a tribute screening of Goodbye Mr. Chips (the Peter O’Toole version), which likewise featured a tearjerker development in the final third. The next day the whole premise of Satellites and Meteorites was about people in comas, resulting from traffic accidents. (It was a romantic comedy, in case you were wondering.) It was followed by Vox Humana, which featured yet another heart-wrenching scene involving a parent and a child in traffic. The trend peaked with the very next movie, Jennifer Lynch’s Surveillance, about which the less said the better. Suffice to say that parents, children and road traffic were again involved—this time with even more gruesome consequences. After that, the traffic/children paradigm seemed to have been exhausted, although, when it comes to movies offering up unlikely and unfortunate mishaps, A Film with Me in It certainly deserves a prominent mention.

One of the joys of film festivals is getting a look at creative people we have admired for years or ones we do not yet know but may know well in the future. Many of the directors got away with a few perfunctory words before the screening plus a promise to meet up with the audience afterwards in the pub. Some provided interesting and enlightening Q&As after their movie. Veteran director Bob Quinn had quite a bit to say before the screening of Vox Humana—and with reason. The movie was clearly an emotional project for him, not the least because a godson of his (the son of a friend who had recently passed away), Luke Cauldwell, had the lead role in it. Cauldwell, who did an excellent job playing a man living rough on the streets of Galway, was a bit emotional himself, as he was sitting next to his mother in the audience during the screening. Afterwards, I happened upon him giving a spur-of-the-moment press conference of sorts in the men’s toilet, explaining that, on top of everything else, he and his wife had recently had a baby.

After the screening of Kisses, director Lance Daly brought up its two young stars, Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry. It was a bit jarring to see the two, who had just been seen to be superbly natural and confident on screen, to demonstrate that at heart they were really just normal adolescents. O’Neill, who was dressed like nothing so much as Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, kept passing the microphone back to Curry, as the two stammered and made stabs at talking but ultimately gave up. On Sunday night, when Daly got his award, he brought O’Neill up again for a repeat performance.

One of the most interesting appearances was after the screening of Suveillance when star Bill Pullman fielded numerous questions from Fleadh chair Kate O’Toole and the audience. He had numerous stories about working with David Lynch on Lost Highway as well as with Lynch’s daughter Jennifer on Surveillance. He noted that he was originally supposed to be in her first film Boxing Helena but had to drop out because the movie kept getting delayed. He said that David and Jennifer were actually very different, although they had some common quirks—like the fact that people in their movies really like to drink coffee and, at some point, enjoy a really good smoke. He did a hilarious impression of David’s speaking voice, giving him direction as an actor: “You’re walking down a corridor… and it’s… really… weird!” Pullman was a veritable fixture around the Fleadh. He could often be spotted hanging out with the crowd waiting to go in the theater, chatting away with somebody. And on the final day, at the public interview with Peter o’Toole, he was sitting a couple of rows ahead of me, lapping it all up like any fanboy.

And speaking of the Peter O’Toole interview, that was clearly the Fleadh’s highlight for most of us. Among all living actors, it is hard to think of anyone, over the latter half of the 20th century, who has loomed larger on the movie screen as well as towering on the stage and as well as being fodder in his seemingly larger-than-life personal exploits. He is legendary in the way that few, if any, actors are any more. Not to be morbid about it, but I was not going to make the same mistake I made nine years ago. At the 1999 Seattle International Film Festival, as was always the case, I had to make a number of agonizing choices about what movie to see in any given time slot. One movie I passed up in order to see another was called To Walk with Lions. It told the true-life story of naturalist George Adamson and his efforts to save lions in Kenya. And it starred Richard Harris. I don’t even remember what movie I saw instead (it was undoubtedly some silly sex comedy), but I do remember that numerous friends, who did see To Walk with Lions, told me afterward that Richard Harris had been there and spoke at length after the screening. He was, I was told, charming and funny and full of wonderful stories that went on and on and got better and better. For Harris himself, it may have been just another evening of spinning his yarns, but for many, if not most, people there, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I have kicked myself ever since, and I promised not to miss the opportunity again. Of course, I never got the opportunity again. Three years and two Harry Potter movies later, Harris was dead. An entertainer to the end, he mischievously yelled, “It was the food!” to stunned onlookers in the lobby of London’s Savoy Hotel, his longtime home, as he was carried out by stretcher, never to return.

So I made a point of savoring every minute I spent in the presence of Peter O’Toole. The man didn’t disappoint, although I am sure he has been trotted out to tell his numerous stories enough times in his life that he can pretty much do it on autopilot. Perhaps the most revealing moment came when interviewer John Kelly asked him the standard question about whether, after all the years, he still got nervous before a live performance. As expected, O’Toole answered in the affirmative and added that he had butterflies before coming out on the stage before us in the Town Hall Theatre. What was revealing was not that O’Toole would still be nervous after all these years but that he regarded the interview as a performance. If there had been any doubt otherwise, the fact was that there was a mask of sorts between us and the great actor. Whatever his health was like in private, he had used his amazing thespian skills to temporarily make himself younger and heartier and for a few minutes give us the Peter O’Toole we knew of old. The man is a true professional.

When I finally heard the radio broadcast of the O’Toole interview, I was amazed at how many interesting details I had managed to omit in my write-up. You can hear the interview yourself by going to this RTÉ website, where you can also listen to last year’s Jeremy Irons interview.

-S.L., 31 July 2008

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