Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson





Building façade in Cannes, France

Aliens in the old west

Most rural villages in Ireland seem to have one church and two or three or four pubs. That ratio seems about right to me, although sometimes I wonder if they really need all those churches.

My wife’s home village is a bit unusual. It has, at my last count, four pubs all right. But it has two churches. Neither has been used for years, and one is in complete ruins. That is because both are Protestant, and the population is overwhelmingly Catholic. The locals travel to one of two villages a couple of miles away, depending on which parish they fall into, to get mass. The village was originally purpose built to serve a British manor house. The great house stood deserted after the Irish war for independence and the ensuing civil war. It was the kind of stately manor that would have made a lovely tourist destination or even a museum. But the peasants, who were relocated onto the land, had little interest in British heritage. They saw the house mainly as pile of stones ripe for scavenging. Over time the crumbling structure became a hazard, and it was finally knocked completely. The tall spire of the adjoining church still stands and its cemetery still gets a new occasional Protestant client.

This little village has its quirks, but it has been hospitable enough to me over the years. The number of shops (grocery and miscellaneous) has ranged from zero to two over the past decade. On one of my first visits, I got up on a Saturday morning and wandered over to the one called Early To Late to get a newspaper. There was no sign of life there—or anywhere, for that matter except, of course, at my father-in-law’s filing station—so I took a paper out of the bound bundle in front of the door and left my money. As I wandered off, I glanced at my watch and at the name of the place and wondered, if 10 a.m. was not “early,” then what time would be?

I also had occasion to wander into the shop across the street and, as has happened many times since in small local shops, I got an interrogation that would do the lads at Gitmo proud. The opening gambit with an obvious foreigner is to inquire innocently, “Are you here on holidays?” Bernie, the proprietor, was a master who could parlay this opening into extracting your entire biography and credit history, complete with Social Security Number. Most critically, though, she was after whom you were related to and how you fit into things. Sadly, she is no longer with us, but I still remember the day the Missus and I met her on a walk down a country lane and she eyed all six feet four inches of me up and down appreciatively and gushed (as if savoring some fond old memory), “Ah, there’s nothing like a big man!”

The village holds a big festival every year on the first weekend of August, which is a three-day, or as it is called here, bank holiday weekend. Traditionally, this is called the Festival of the Saucer, although for a couple of years they experimented with other themes, memorably, one year, Christmas in August, complete with a boozy, potbellied Santa Claus and an Elvis impersonator. This year it went back to the Festival of the Saucer, which is better. Early on, I fantasized that the name came from some major, well-known UFO sighting years ago. (This village is, after all, only 25 kilometers from the location of an authenticated appearance by the Virgin Mary 129 years ago.) Were some of the locals abducted by a spaceship? Did aliens from another planet settle here and inter-marry with the local population? (That would certainly explain a few things.)

And the notion of extraterrestrials in the west of Ireland does not seem that farfetched. There is even a movie playing here this summer called Summer of the Flying Saucer, which is set in a small County Mayo village. An even better film on the topic, however, was Enda Hughes’s 1997 short film Flying Saucer Rock’n’Roll, which featured cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, who was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year for his work on Atonement. And, not to put too fine point on it, this idea of flying saucers in Ireland was also broached in Anthony Byrne’s wonderful 2003 short Meeting Che Guevara and the Man from Maybury Hill, which features actual archival footage of Guevara himself being interviewed for Irish television during a stopover at Dublin airport at the height of the Cuban missile crisis and alluding to the fact that one of his grandmothers came from the west of Ireland. I am only going off on this tangent because it recently came to my attention that a house belonging to that grandmother’s family (the Lynch family) is a mere two miles from my own house.

So, was the Festival of the Saucer actually named for some notorious extraterrestrial visit? Disappointingly, inquiries revealed that the festival is so called because it takes place on the village’s football pitch, which is called the Saucer. It is called this because it is located in a low depression that more or less resembles a saucer. Oh well. But it’s a nice festival, with lots of activities for kids, including various races, such as the egg-and-spoon race (although a lot of kids cheat and use potatoes instead of eggs), the three-legged race and various Gaelic football matches. Later on, there is a race of plastic ducks on the river and a tug-of-war in the river, in which at least half of the participants are guaranteed to get totally drenched.

As remote and foreign as this little village is to me, I am continually finding echoes from home. One of the pubs is called Cheers and even sports the same logo as the celebrated television series (something that Paramount may be interested in). The first time I went into that pub, a woman with a guitar was singing a country western song. It happened to be Buck Owens’s Streets of Bakersfield. I had come a third of the way around the planet to a place that was in the back of beyond only to hear a song about the place I was born. And the connections with western America didn’t stop there.

One day earlier this month, I happened to drive through the village and was greeted by a phalanx of U.S. flags on either side of the road. The entire place was festooned with the good old Stars and Stripes. At last, I thought, after more than ten years I am finally belatedly getting the welcome I deserve. But the flags were not flying for me. They were flying for the Virginian.

I’ll explain next week, as well as describe how this is all an elaborate, roundabout way of following up on my recent discussion of African-American presidents in the movies.

Lord Bowler (1952-2008)

I was saddened to hear this morning that the actor Julius Carry had died of cancer at only 56. The name may not ring a bell with you, but if you have watched a fair amount of television over the past quarter of a century, then there is a good chance you have seen him. An imposing, tall man with a rich, deep voice, he was well suited to playing various types of authority figures.

If the Variety article on his passing is any guide, most people will recognize him as Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, in the 1985 movie The Last Dragon. Personally, I remember him for his television work. He had a slew of one-off appearances on all kinds of television shows, ranging from Hill Street Blues to The Jeffersons to Spin City. He had recurring roles on Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place (as Bill), Boy Meets World (as one of the cast member’s no-nonsense military father), The District (as Reverend Garvey) and Do Over (as the principal). He also had a recurring role on Murphy Brown, as a network executive, who was briefly a possible love interest for the title character. And was one of the stars of the series Doctor Doctor.

But I am mourning him for and will always remember him for one particular television series, and you probably think you know where this is going. But, no, he was never on Dark Shadows or Babylon 5. He was a cast member of another favorite (and much missed) series of mine. Carry played the bounty hunter Lord Bowler on the under-appreciated 1990s show The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.. Carry was the rival and sometimes ally and overall general foil for the title character, played by Bruce Campbell. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was a wonderful mixture of good old-fashioned Saturday afternoon kids entertainment, tongue-in-cheek western spoof (with sci-fi elements thrown in for good measure) and live action cartoon. The entire series has been available on DVD for some time now and, if you have never seen it, you owe it to yourself to take a look.

-S.L., 21 August 2008


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