Sunday, 29 June 2014

Lee Miller/ James Joyce

In Dublin for a conference a couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to be surrounded by 'Bloomsday' excitement -- and felt drawn particularly to a new event at the James Joyce centre, 'Lee Miller in James Joyce's Dublin'. I've followed Miller's work in different ways over the years -- saw portraits of her by Man Ray at the National Portrait Gallery in London, visited Farley Farm House (the home she shared with Roland Penrose and a focal point for British surrealism), marvelled at those famous photographs of Miller in Hitler's bath -- but these small, quiet snapshots of life in Dublin in 1946 were somehow just as, if not more, affecting. In the photographs Miller traces the journeys of Ulysses and Dubliners but also encounters the people and places that shaped Joyce's life and work (he had died in 1941, previous to her photographic Odyssey), and she does so with stillness and grace. There is very little of the tourist gaze in these photographs, which makes the American photographer's work all the more valuable I think.

Advertising poster for 2014's Bloomsday Festival, James Joyce Centre, Dublin

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Faith, doubt, and the Passion: 'Calvary' and 'Rev.'

In the last month I've seen two extraordinary pieces of writing on faith, doubt and humanity focusing in on a protagonist who is a priest: Irish film-maker John Michael MacDonagh's wonderful, bleak and shockingly moving Calvary, and the (increasingly challenging) third series of the BBC 'black comedy' Rev. Both, I think, are brilliant for the ways in which the central characters, who themselves are flawed humans, try to believe in the good in people in ways that are sometimes uplifting, sometimes demotivating and other times completely heartbreaking. 

Both stories use the Easter narrative to brilliant effect too, allowing the trials of their protagonists to follow a recognisable journey: but it would be giving it away to say too much. The question central to both seems to be whether faith has consonance in the modern world. And just as they appear to answer that question, to get close to an ultimate response, they step back again: infuriatingly, perhaps, but brilliantly, of course. It helps, also, that Brendan Gleeson and Tom Hollander are both wonderful actors of 'face', for want of a better expression. Oh, and look out for Chris O'Dowd in Calvary as a butcher who's handy with a cleaver -- and Liam Neeson as a shell-suit wearing 'God' in Rev. (yes, really).