(Irish, 1979, 98 minutes, color 35 mm)
Directed by Joseph Strick
following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers
Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
at Pennsylvania State University:
The film was new, it had no earlier associations, and it offered occasionally, in an episode or a single shot, some framework for our dreams. We felt we could state our convictions honorably in this twentieth century form of art, and it appealed to the popular internationalism of those so few years because ‘the silents’ offered a single language across Europe.
These first films—trains arriving at stations, fanciful trips to the moon, restaged boxing matches, primitive animation, actualities of the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake, long shots of New York harbor, even an elephant being electrocuted at Coney Island (!)— were a tapestry of modernity’s joys and follies, and they made a remarkable montage when storefront cinemas ran them together as part of a long program with song slides, vaudeville acts, and musical accompaniment. When D. W. Griffith pitched his flashback-rich version of Enoch Arden (called "After Many Years") to the Biograph studios in the early ’teens, the confused response of studio bosses would have gladdened Joyce: "How can you tell a story jumping around like that?" The movies were (and remain) able to educate their viewers in a constantly evolving mental process of interpreting the moving image. Tied though it was to a ruthlessly commercial industry, the language of the movies validated even the most provocative of the modernists’ claims about language and the disjunctures of daily life.
James Joyce’s enthusiasm for the cinema, of course, shows in the very textures of his work, in their collisions of ideas, epochs and allusions, and in their exuberantly free association of words and images. But Joyce demonstrated his affection for the young medium in more tangible ways. He opened a cinema, the Volta, in Dublin in 1909, as much for his own amusement as for the scanty profits it generated. And in one of the most remarkable meetings in the history of art, Joyce met the brilliant, experimental Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein in late 1929, to discuss filming Joyce’s Ulysses. Regrettably, nothing came of it; Eisenstein was then experiencing the first stages of a deadly backlash against his radical a storytelling style among Soviet cultural officials. Joyce turned his attentions to the Americans, and briefly negotiated with Warner Brothers to film Ulysses in the early 1930s. Hollywood’s brief fling with experimental fiction ended with its adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s STRANGE INTERLUDE in 1932, and, for the movies, Joyce was thereafter remaindered.
Joyce’s hope of matching his style with the singularly appropriate medium of the film was not to be realized in his lifetime. His work proved simply too daunting in its scope and length, its elliptical interior monologues mystified even the most scholarly of screenwriters, and as if all that was enough, Joyce’s jaundiced glances at sexuality and the clergy made the prospect of a film based on his work seem doomed to failure. Joyce himself would have found this ironic, for, like many of his colleagues, he had allowed the devices of the cinema to enter his work, and alter its course, to take it on a vector away from the traditional novel. Now, said the movies, Joyce couldn’t be filmed because his work wasn’t traditional enough.
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.