Above: A screen grab from the lost classic which is getting an outing this Thursday in the IFI.
Bob Quinn’s 1975 film Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire tells the story actors rebelling against their director. After a long period during which the negative was feared lost, it was recovered and restored in 2010. Rabble caught up with Bob Quinn to talk about it ahead of its showing in the IFI on Thursday the 17th of May.
For those of our readers who haven’t heard of this film, how would you describe it?
It’s a film based on the very fine poem Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire which was composed by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill and it was my favourite poem in school.
What can you tell us about the unusual structure of the film?
I grew impatient with the sual structure of films. They are for children – boy meets girl, boy and girl fight, boy and girl kiss, they make up. Very boring.
Besides, this was a very tiny budget film. So you haven’t got a predictable plan for a film when you haven’t got money.
I’m only interested in Connemara. I liked everything to be homegrown. I decided to use local actors. The main thing was the local actors speak perfect, beautiful Irish. I wanted to use that language, and that led me to the structure of the film – they are amateur actors doing a play in Irish. Because they are doing it in Irish, their thespian abilities are not challenged because we accept them as real people. That’s why I adopted this structure – Brecht didn’t like the idea of fooling people so he developed this alienation technique to involve the audience, to encourage them to use their imagination.
I had these ideas in my head, but it was more a practical solution to a practical problem.
The first comment I got on the film was from Ciaran Carty (the film reviewer of The Sunday Independent) said “This is the film I’ve been waiting for”.
What he meant that this wasn’t a “come all ye” film saying what a glorious race we are, isn’t Ireland beautiful with wonderful scenery and all that crap. It wasn’t a Bord Fáilte film, which most films were at the time. Or American versions of so-called Irish culture -The Quiet Man crap.
Has the movie been shown anywhere for Bliain na Gaelige?
Well, it’s shown occasionally here and there.
It’s never been shown on RTÉ. It’s been shown on TG4 a couple of times, but never on RTÉ. At the time it was made there was a war going on, and people thought it was support for the Provos.
Ironically, it was made in co-operation with the Officials. All I knew was one honest man named Eamon Smullin suggested it, and I thought “great, it’s my favourite poem”. At the time it was interpreted as support for Provos.
I have to say I had no interest to be honest, although I knew there was a war. It wasn’t just couriers and terrorists. I knew there was a war.
It’s now harmless, considered as a film with no political resonance. But it was just my reaction to the poem and to Irish history.
Would you care to elaborate on how it’s a reaction to Irish history?
Well, we’re always the victims. I just wanted to show the story of someone who wasn’t a victim and didn’t think of himself as a victim, and wanted to react against oppression.
Not as a freedom fighter, just personally. He was reacting against somebody oppressing him by taking his horse and treating him as an inferior being. There’s a parallel between that and people’s attitude to Connemara, people talking about how they’re brutes and wild men.
I had the story they were a most civilised people, and they even had their own language. I’d only got this impression in the first five years living here, and first impressions are best.
Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire is showing in the IFI at 18:30 on Thursday the 17th. Bob Quinn will be introducing the screening.