Tag Archives: Documentary

Film Review | The Beatles: Eight Days a Week Offers Valuable Insight into an Influential Band

This review was originally posted online on the HeadStuff Website on September 06th, 2016.

In the years following their break-up, John Lennon would say that the Beatles were in the crow’s nest of the ship that would discover the ‘New World.’ He was referring of course to the 1960s, a decade of discovery and experimentation. At this time support for the Civil Rights movement was proliferating, a nuclear threat would forever change the world’s geopolitical landscape, the Vietnam War was shaking America’s very confidence in itself, and ‘hippie’ counterculture encouraged youths to challenge the established order of their parents’ generation. It was a period of simultaneous excitement and unease, and this is the climate director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon) hopes to capture in The Beatles: Eight Days a Week. It is a film that looks at the band’s touring years of 1963 to 1966 and the ‘Beatlemania’ they inspired.

John Lennon’s quote is not without some merit: although Howard claims the Beatles’ touring years are his focus, it is apparent as the film unfolds that this is not entirely true. Yes, the film features live performances from the band and recounts their various backstage antics, but it also documents the social, political and cultural fallout from the Beatles’ introduction to the music scene. In order to emphasise their wide-ranging influence, Howard asks entertainers from every walk of celebrity life to describe how the band has influenced them: Richard Curtis, known for his work in comedy, describes their wit and charm; actor Sigourney Weaver describes the electric-energy of seeing them live (and even appears at a concert in archive footage); composer Howard Goodall emphasises the genius of their compositions.

The Beatles playing live at the height of 'Beatlemania.' Source

Most spectacularly, Whoopi Goldberg describes how the group transcended racial boundaries, stating “I never saw them as white guys!” This point returns later in the film: upon hearing that the audience at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida was to be racially segregated, the Beatles refused to play unless promoters desegregated the audience. Their wish was ultimately granted and on September 11th 1964, the Beatles performed to a mixed-race crowd of 23,000. The Beatles were also famously critical of the Vietnam War and were huge proponents of the hippie ‘free love’ movement. While watching the film it becomes increasingly apparent that the Beatles were important voices for the time – the 1960s needed the Beatles as much as the Beatles needed the 1960s.

The archival concert footage featured in the film is masterfully remastered, with the group sounding crisp and clear. This makes the Beatles live experience far more tangible than before. The film also does well to emphasise the importance of Brian Epstein and George Martin. The Beatles’ success did not occur in a vacuum: Epstein helped propel them to the top by honing their image, and Martin helped create their musical style in the recording studios of Abbey Road. The film ends just as, arguably, the most interesting period of the Beatles’ story is about to begin: tired of constant touring, social events, photoshoots and fan harassment, in 1966 the group retire to the studio to focus all their energy into making music, resulting in experimental albums like Sgt. Pepper, the White Album, andLet It Be. However, in not covering the band’s entire history, Howard utilises the shorter time span to create a focused, insightful piece into the most influential band in history.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week will be simulcast worldwide on September 15th with an exclusive showing at the Light House on that day. It will then be available to stream from Hulu. View the trailer below.

Featured Image Source

Advertisements

Filming a Queer Revolution: Conor Horgan

This work was originally printed in the University Observer in October 2015, both online and in print.

David Monaghan sits down with Conor Horgan to discuss his upcoming documentary about drag queen activist Panti Bliss, The Queen of Ireland.

Conor Horgan is the director of the moment. The man behind the woman of the biggest LGBT documentary to come out of Ireland this year, he has no doubt found himself inundated with interview requests and press junkets. Tapping away on his phone he breaks intermittently to apologise. “Sorry,” he says. “This week has been manic.” No doubt. One cannot make a documentary about the country’s most outspoken drag queen and the biggest social revolution we have experienced in the 21st century without experiencing some attention.

The Queen of Ireland maps the journey of Rory O’Neill from his childhood in the market town of Ballinrobe, County Mayo, to his accidental activism as Dublin’s charismatic Panti Bliss. Filmed over a number of years, it captures notable events in O’Neill’s life such as the infamous ‘Pantigate’ fiasco, as well as the viral sensation that was the Noble Call at the Abbey Theatre, where Panti Bliss made a rousing speech about the RTÉ controversy. The speech went viral on YouTube, amassing over seven hundred thousand views. And finally, he captures the historic marriage referendum in May 2015, which saw the Irish people vote overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage. “I always knew that interesting things would happen,” says Horgan. “We had no idea how interesting or what things indeed, but we started filming because I knew Rory and I knew Panti and I knew that we had this really interesting central character who’s very politically astute, extremely articulate, and wildly entertaining… Then when the actual story arrived, it arrived in spades,” he laughs.

“And another thing about Rory is that Panti is always camera-ready. Panti is always very sassy and very quick and very smart and very funny. There’s such a disparity between them as characters.” So at what point does this disparity become noticeable? “All of the front of house stuff happens through Panti, and Rory is really quite shy. If they were both exactly the same kind of character, just one wore a dress and the other one didn’t, I don’t think it would have been interesting.”

Production on this film began immediately after Horgan’s last feature film had been released, and was born of a meeting between him and his producer, Katie Holly. “She knew I knew Rory. I’ve known Rory since the mid-90s, when I started doing pictures of Panti for the Alternative Miss Ireland posters.” The Alternative Miss Ireland was an annual drag queen beauty pageant organised to raise funds for Irish AIDS charities. The very last one, held in 2012, is depicted in the film. “Rory, when we first approached him, said he’d been approached a number of times before but he never really felt like it, but he trusted me enough to say yes. I knew it was a big deal for him, not least because he comes from a small country town… He has a horror about being seen to have notions about oneself, which is a very Irish thing.”

The film ends, rather surprisingly, with Rory returning to do a show as Panti in his native Ballinrobe. Why was this ending chosen over the more obvious passing of marriage equality? “It was our decision [to do that]. When we first approached Rory, he said, ‘you’re not going to ask me to walk down the street in Ballinrobe wearing a dress, right?’ It was quite a big deal for him to agree to that… The film is about the intersection between the personal and the political, so you have a political climax, which is May 23rd, but then the personal. As Rory actually says himself in the film, the personal always trumps the political.”

In the film, O’Neill describes the secrecy that came with being gay in Dublin in the 1980s. As they danced in underground nightclubs, straight people went about their everyday lives, totally oblivious to what was happening. Gay people had to hide away and there are huge gaps in Irish LGBTQ+ history as a result. By featuring footage and interviews from this time, does Conor hope to fill this gap? “Basically, almost everything of that, that exists, is in the film. All a minute and a half of it. RTÉ would have gone in there with a camera crew maybe twice. We looked elsewhere to see what else there was, and there really wasn’t anything else. Does it fill a gap? I suppose any documentary, especially when it’s about, ultimately, how a country is changing is going to become part of the historical record of that country.”

The passing of marriage equality on May 23rd marked a significant turning point in Ireland. With overwhelming support for the ‘yes’ campaign, it signified to many that the country had finally moved on from a repressive past, 22 years after homosexuality had been decriminalised in Irish law. “I think the entire country was gobsmacked by just how big a deal this was,” Horgan says. “Everybody I knew had this emotional investment and really felt it when the thing went through, because it was about the country becoming a better place for everybody.” Conor had the privilege of being at the centre of events. “There was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been for that day, other than chasing Panti around with a camera.”

The Queen of Ireland is the director’s second feature film, following One Hundred Mornings in 2009. A post-apocalyptic drama filmed in the Wicklow Mountains, it details the breakdown of society and the loneliness that would ensue from such an event. “Of all the lies we tell ourselves,” he says, “the greatest is that there’s any world worth living in that involves the breakdown of society. A lot of people, especially younger people, just go, ‘well great, it’ll be like Spring Break forever, except with guns, and we can do whatever the hell we want and go tearing around the place and shoot people and all bets will be off,’ and it wouldn’t be like that. It would be boring, and cold, and lonely, and scary, and I just wanted to make a realistic film saying, ‘is this what you want?’”One Hundred Mornings won an IFTA for Best Cinematography and a Special Jury Award at the 2010 Slamdance Film Festival.

So what can we expect to see next from the filmmaker? “Nothing. I’m retiring now, that’s it,” he laughs, before his phone starts buzzing once more. “No, I’m working on a science-fiction love story with another writer called Pierce Ryan and we’re having a lot of fun doing that, so that might very well be my next film.” Quite a departure from following a drag queen around Ireland.

The marriage referendum created reverberations all over the world, as did the story of Panti Bliss and her noble call. This film captures that story and acts as a time capsule for this unique period in Irish history, and it is thanks to director Conor Horgan that it is on record. Whether he is detailing the breakdown of society, or following a man in drag, he undoubtedly has interesting things to say about the changing social landscape in Ireland.

The Queen of Ireland is in theatres now.

The Queen of Ireland: Review

This work was originally published in the University Observer in October 2015, both online and in print.

Director: Conor Horgan

Starring: Rory O’Neill (Panti Bliss), Niall Sweeney, David Norris.

Release Date: 21st October/Out now.

“My job as a drag queen is to commentate from the fringes, to stand on the outside looking in, shouting abuse.” This is the battle cry of Rory O’Neill, also known as drag queen Panti Bliss, the subject of Conor Horgan’s new documentary The Queen of Ireland. The director’s first feature-length film since his post-apocalyptic drama One Hundred Mornings, it details Rory’s journey from childhood in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, to international recognition as a key gay rights activist.

The documentary captures a huge moment of social change in Ireland, the passing of Marriage Equality on May 23rd 2015. While Panti was at the centre of events, and it plays a huge role in the narrative, it is simply used to punctuate the film by appearing at the beginning and end. Equal emphasis is placed on Rory’s upbringing, his anxieties about growing up gay in small country town, the club scene in 1980s and ’90s, and how he dealt with his HIV diagnosis. Any one of these subjects would have made for an interesting documentary, but The Queen of Ireland manages to balance all of the above without faltering; at no point does a discussion feel like it has overstayed its welcome.

Where the film really succeeds is the way in which humour is balanced with the serious. Comedy underpins every aspect of this film; after a very solemn opening that briefly recounts the events of May 23rd, we are immediately transported to a dressing room in which Panti is getting ready. She converses with herself in the mirror: “Panti,” she says, “you look fucking amazing.” “I know,” her reflection responds. This sets the tone for the rest of the feature. When Panti returns to do a show in her home town of Ballinrobe it is a significant, poignant, and emotional moment for both the character and the audience. When she gets up on stage, however, she immediately tells people that she is “crapping it.” Whenever moments of serious reflection are introduced, they are hushed almost instantly. These two aspects of the film never feel disparate or at odds with each other, instead they come to reflect the contrasting sides of the Ms. Bliss’ personality, and make for an emotional rollercoaster.

Another aspect of the film that must be commended is its editing. Conor Horgan followed Panti around and filmed the events in her life over a number of years, and likely had days worth of footage to sift through as a result. To condense all of that down and make it into a coherent 82 minute narrative is truly astounding; not once does it feel like a moment in Panti’s life has been skimmed or not treated with enough gravitas.

Also of note is the positive message the film carries for LGBTQ+ people. The drag queen’s power, as discussed in the film, comes from taking something that was once used as an insult (being too ‘girly’ or effeminate) and turning it into something powerful, and this is exactly what Panti does, meaning the greatest voice of the Marriage Equality Referendum was a man in a dress. And that’s nothing to be scoffed at.

In A Nutshell: The Queen of Ireland acts not only as document of a changing Ireland, but also as a powerful LGBTQ+ piece about our country’s most outspoken drag artist. Funny, emotional and poignant, this is an unmissable piece of work.