Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

May it be

Forget March Madness. May seems to be the maddest month, as far as I am concerned.

Too much stuff is going on all at once. There is the Festival de Cannes, recently concluded, which means that the celebrity-covering press goes crazy. And this year, two of the most high-profile heads of state in the world decided to come visit the Emerald Isle within days of each other, which means that Ireland went crazy. And, of course, Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows has gone into production and, at the same time, we are now more or less halfway through a new series of Doctor Who—all if which means that I have gone crazy. On top of that, we once again have a volcanic eruption in Iceland—and it’s not even the same volcano as last year.

I’m sure there is plenty of fodder for psychologist arguments for years to come to try to explain all the emotions the Irish collectively went through during the back-to-back state visits. With the British monarchy, of course, there are some eight centuries of contentious history and it’s as though now, nearly 100 years after the uprising that led to the ultimate separation of the two nations, the Irish have actually given themselves permission to like the Queen—and they have found that they actually like her quite a lot. Who knew? As for the reception Obama got, I really cannot explain it. The attention was focused on the County Offaly village of Moneygall (the most perfectly named place in a bankrupt country to welcome the leader of the world’s wealthiest nation), from which one of the U.S. president’s 32 great-great-great-grandparents emigrated from more than a century and a half ago.

As I watched the coverage of quaint and colorful locals getting the village spruced up for the big event and as everyone shared their hopes and dreams for what the visit might bring, I had the nagging feeling that I had seen this all before. But where? Then it hit me. It was exactly like the movie Bye Bye Birdie. But crossed with one of those shaggy dog story movies, like Waking Ned Devine for the Oirish color. But it wasn’t just the locals that got caught up in Obama fever. Hard-boiled journalists, who otherwise would have no trouble mercilessly grilling an Irish politician or CEO, became like tiny children seeing Santa Claus arrive with gifts. The climax was a concert cum speech in the heart of Dublin, wherein the main act was opened by nearly every name actor and musician in the country, including the buoyant Jedward, hot off their non-failure in the Eurovision. For the Irish it was like a self-administered boost of self-confidence after an economic fall of Shakespearean proportions. For Obama, it had to be a politician’s dream in terms of campaign footage.

But there were a few strange moments, the oddest of which came during the speech of the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny who, as it happens, is practically a neighbor of ours, coming from Castlebar, which is less than an hour’s drive away. As the Missus watched Kenny on television speaking at College Green, she wondered why Obama kept snickering. Could he not handle the pint of Guinness he had quaffed in Moneygall? It turned out that he couldn’t contain his amusement because Kenny (and I’m not making this up) gave the same speech that Obama gave in Grant Park in Chicago upon winning the presidency in 2008 (but substituting “Ireland” for “America” throughout). Kenny later explained that it was his way of paying tribute. Wish I had thought of that when I was back in school.

As for Doctor Who, things are looking good. While the first series to star Matt Smith left me a bit disoriented, the second one seems to have settled into a comfortable stride consistent with the Christopher Eccelston/David Tennant years. The opening two-parter, as I’ve already noted, did my head in by introducing layer upon layer of time travel paradox stuff, but subsequent episodes have been more of the stand-alone mini-monster movie variety we have long been used to. Indeed, the fourth episode, called “The Doctor’s Wife” and penned by sci-fi writer Neil Gaiman, stands among some of the very best episodes of the revised show. The main gripe now is that the trick of sticking in the same snippets of visual references to be explained later (an ambiguous pregnancy test for companion Amy Pond and a mysterious woman with a eye patch who keeps popping out of holes in walls) is starting to feel formulaic. But at least we are promised (sometime) a proper explanation for who the River Song character is.

Sorry to descend into geeky fanboy insider-ism but, on the other hand, that makes for a great segue to Dark Shadows. We know the cast, and it looks interesting. Johnny Depp as Barnabas, Michelle Pfeiffer as his cousin Elizabeth, Jonny Lee Miller as her brother Roger and Eva Green as the witch Angelique. Burton’s main squeeze Helena Bonham Carter said in an interview that she thought he would want to cast her as Angelique, and come to think of it that could have made sense since she is after all Bellatrix Lestrange. But, no, he agreed with me that she should be Dr. Julia Hoffman who, in this version, is an alcoholic. That is a deviation from the original, but let’s see how it turns out. Other cast members: Chloe Moretz as a young Carolyn Stoddard, Jackie Earle Haley (great choice) as hapless handyman Willie Loomis, Australia’s Bella Heathcote (great name) as governess Victoria Winters, Gulliver McGrath (another great name and a veteran of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo) as young David Collins and Thomas McDonell as the young Barnabas. Looks pretty solid to me.

From the way Depp and Burton have talked about Dark Shadows, one might worry that they are taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to it. But I’m holding out hope that Burton, anyway, will take it as seriously as he has such other gothic renderings, particularly Corpse Bride.

And what of Cannes? Of course, once again I wasn’t there. But in my own twisted way, I imagine that I am there in spirit, through some connection with someone who is actually physically there. Like three years ago when J. Michael Straczynski was there in the capacity of screenwriter of the Palme d’Or-nominated Changeling and who is also my imagined personal friend by virtue of all the hours of pleasure I have derived from Babylon 5. Or this year with Johnny Depp, who is currently undertaking the role of my close personal friend, Barnabas Collins. But of course these connections really exist in my own fevered imagination.

But this year I am actually a bit closer to having an actual connection. A real live friend of a friend has actually made a significant contribution to a Palme d’Or-nominated movie in this year’s competition. Okay, that’s not the same as an actual friend. Actually, it sounds like the basis of an urban legend. But still, two degrees of separation ain’t nothing. You see, there is this movie called This Must Be the Place and it is directed by the Italian Paolo Sorrentino, whose Il Divo won the Jury Prize at Cannes three years ago and caused Sean Penn to express his desire to work with him. The result is a movie about a Robert Smith-like aging rocker called Cheyenne, who has retreated with his wife (Frances McDormand) to a mansion in Dublin. The story has him set off on a quest to find the Nazi war criminal who persecuted his father. Sorrentino ran into the musician David Byrne and convinced him to play himself in the movie. Byrne in turn looked for an Irish musician to sing on the soundtrack and found one on the internet. It turned out to be a man from County Meath, named Michael Brunnock, who has been living in New York for the past decade. Brunnock wound up singing four songs that he co-wrote.

It is not clear to me to me if Brunnock actually appears in the film or if only his voice does. (An article on The Sunday Tribune website last autumn made it sound as if he actually sang on camera.) At one point I was sure that I read that he was dubbing Penn’s voice for some songs, but I can’t find any evidence of that now. What I am sure of is that one of his childhood friends is over the moon for him. And that friend is one of our closest neighbors when we are away down in the wilds of southwest Ireland. This is a great break for Mickey, and hopefully it will lead to bigger and better things for him.

Okay, so he’s only a friend of a friend and not an actual friend. But I bet I have a much better chance of meeting him some day than I do Terrence Malick.

-S.L., 26 May 2011

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