Frank : A Film Review

Stage emptyi
Frank. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. UK 2014. 1hr 35 mins.
Cast Michael Fassbinder, Domhnall Glesson, Magie Gyllenhall.
Inspired by Frank Sideebottom, loosely.
Who might be Frank?
The precipice Frank Sidebottom clings onto is at the edge of a wounded island. He holds on by isolation which gathered people in as his absence of apparent personality was directed into his enlarged squashed sphere of a paper dome, painted as a boy who resided within on the body of an apparent grown man. The shut out just beyond his skin.

Depictions of persona seeking interpretation in extremis of one kind or another are fairly common as a movie trait. Unlike Her and Under the Skin (previous reviews see search box top right!) this concerns a real life and one that tragically ended only a few years back.The late Chris Sievely figuratively inspired this film; it is a fictional used account of an experience had by Jon Ronson in encountering Frank on tour and mistakenly updated through a process of which an only merit might have been to appeal to a wider contemporary audience. The film industry has been doing it in spades for decades. When Jon turns up as a recruit to the Hotel the gig is at we are ushered in by a Stage Door sign following a nighttime colonnade long shot for underage viewers presumably a directorial aid to ease in the plot.
The problem in this case is that the magic and mystery is of token imbecilic characterisations which only in denouement scores any wrasp of emotional context with which you can relate, an occasion you could hear a pin drop as eyes saw some redemption in their own thoughts.
Head Issue
What results overall is I found a puffball of inflated refracted ego taken up as an artistic source sucked up by all others around this central challenged person. The person a mere figure whose meaning was fabricated within himself as a form of defence for his fearfulness.

Filming a central character whose stik is his overenlarged false head is idiotic, quickly through the limit of sans expression, well one, makes the character as flat as a discarded coke.

His person the real Chris acting Frank acting Frank returns here embodied by Michael Fassbinder. A modern suited mod might be the real Frank. The one he flees from and is the side of Frank at the bottom of his creative genius. The musical side. It only mediates as part of his creative self. Not a big head by any stretch.
Fassbinder flaps his arms, has enormous hands, for an
unfit? city boy this does not sit well nor does the affected American accent convince for the Northern soul boy Frank possibly once was. He limply droops his hands down the guitar in desperation for effect. Lame is not the word. The eccentricity is of the UK kind not remotely USA.
A Story Issues
Jon Ronson on whose story of Frank Is based and has co-scripted with Peter Straughan happened upon the tour of post punk, avant garde, new wave, post colonial, Brit pop, Chemical Brothers outboard motor combo and copped for a role as a band member with Frank recruiting him to play keys.
One character Don – Scoot McNairny is an anthem in himself and this character is the one Jon engages with first. He is deeply troubled. We are deeply sympathetic. He could be a character from centuries past.
As this is 2014 the writers have decided to ditch what could have been an era based movie, one actually relating to the media around Frank in his fate and the music scene, where Brit Pop, Chemical Brothers and Oasis or pre Oasis is were Frank marks on the page and where he was living off.
This is not the same page and frivolises the artist it given it is out there, now on our plain, it can maybe give some new credibility to the actual events and work this film misses as it is both wishful and arch. Ronson as Radiohead.
None of the scenes are believable, except the idea firstly of retreat in which the writing had some sense of idiom. The proceedings are simply methods of filling in the character of the band members. The habitat is hobbit like and spread on the counter pane of Ireland’s redeeming scenery. Even a handy lake conveys tempestuousness when summoned by Lenny Abrahamson. Avant Garde but not Warhol or anything near the epoch those gathered seem to think might materialise.
Then and the Cast
This band had a van and gigs of some kind, unscheduled, unpaid, and sparsely attended one imagined and an other catching vibes of stardust and fortune hindered only by the wrong kind of unmusicality.
In effect except for a song about a checkout girl at …. little traction became of the group Frank founded and here known as The Soronprfbs, band manager ex. roadie Don is a sidekick played as noted above memorably by Scoot McNairny, percussionist Nana very laidback and kooky, Carla Azar, bassist Frenchman Baraque also cool, a French thing happening I guess, Francois Civil and detached, temperamental, possibly reformed psychotic, (my imagination had to adopt a trope to get by the lack of content MG had to play with) theremin player Clara, Maggie Gyllenhall.
The witness to this is Ronson played by Domhnall Glesson who apparently wrote a few of the tunes heard through the film. He is excellent as Jon Ronson providing for the self penned deprecating niavity to play with for Glesson.
He gets the youthful Ronson tripping forward in life taking on the unusual normally eschewed by the mainstream and grasp of the steep slope that is music stardom is naive and at opposite poles to the avant-apocalyptic, post kindergarten, mancunian mental thrashing confines of the band he has just joined. His skills as a storyteller are journalistic and played out in a simplified demeanour in the Ronson of Men who Stare at Goats et al fame.
Makes an alternative diet to men who actually use goats for target practice before becoming rank and file terrorists I suppose and killing fields.
Then some Art Existed
Chris Sievely was many representations of Frank Sidebottom and was continually using the everyday and miscellany that growing up in an industrialized city throws at you but that is an outside story and develops later than the films timeline. So in his new life he is again on screen and beaming down grinning at the absurdity of it all from the future?
The blend of characters are attracted to Frank because he seems their ideal alter ego and he is forgiving of this as it gives him control.

This provides the friction of conflicting surfaces. The surface of his face is pivotal nondescript insouciance. That becomes their reality and hinge on the world. Unwittingly Jon takes on the role of grounding the characters in this plot. For Frank recognises in him the desired escapism Jon pursues also.
It threw at him a disintegration in values, of quality in objects, replication, consumerism which Frankly overwhelmed him most of the time.
Frank or Jon?
For plot we get a tale between two wounded countries. USA. Ireland.
Not exactly a road trip but enough plot to hang a prairie moment on.
Reality passes
A gallery exhibition at The Chelsea Space in 2006 showed in a kind of retrospective, his formation as an artist in conflict. The society in which he later performed commissioned television shows of his persona and like a ventriloquist dummy were trivial and disposable TV fodder, it felt he cashed in his chips there.
Jon Ronson being caught by the shill, Don, allowed a sage normal mentality to inhabit the band. For a change. The character portrayed by Fassbinder is overtly visual and has challenged others who accept his engagement into believing art is formed. Performance art relies on reaction.
The artist finds …X and with this creates without perceived outcome …. Not X. the viewer now the artist plus this …. Not X. With me so far?
Well it is best to describe it as unrepeatable and transitory.
With a band though each song is like a cigarette. Finished you await the next one and the addiction can only be satiated at certain times with the same afterglow melancholia as when you sought it out.
Restless Gestures
I once went to a shed somewhere in the backlands of Surrey to see Ten Pole Tudor and took part in a performance which had most of the attendees marching conga like, after the tall pied piper, which is precisely what we went for and he created the occasion for. Who killed Bambi got murdered several times that night.
If your not related to Henry VIII then TPT has it you cannot create the avant-garde. There was wit and culture, theatre and performance involved as a swipe at the punk despots who thought the world would change if they spat and stamped on a nerd before going to catch a bus or train into the restless suburbs. The only trouble came when the juice ran out. Try margarine.
Frank Sidebottom and his inventor Chris Sievely had an English affliction thing going on about sheds and so the film takes up the adventure where instead of going to a gig the band retreat to a ‘shed’ (the retreat by the Irish lake) to put down their experimental music.
True to the character Frank, instead a performance ensues in which real life is well, replaced by another form of real life. The spaces to be filled and not left empty.
It is a pity the real true life is not here.

Like beads of polystyrene the adherence is everything and once detached blow hither and. The film has that flimsy feel but the acting is what solidly endures and the habit of acting is what features most for me. How each portrayal is drawn and how Fassbinder for instance has little to play around with and gamely comes up with some plausible shapes. Likewise the remainder of the band. Domhnall Glesson is thoroughly at work in the co star role which kind of eclipses oddly that of the main man Frank.
Stephen Rennick populates the film with a pleasant, sans avant garde asides, while Lenny Abrahamson does a good job with close ups and shuffles by with a grocery delivery.
The Frank we see is not the Frank we sort of know and it is never intended to be anything close.
Without it pretending to be anything other than a light black comedy; the makers front it by claiming ahead of the film in material let’s get this out of the way; this not the Frank Sidebottom story pitched so it is much less, it fails as that being a mish mash of the graver aspects with skeletal remains of character playing, albeit executed and aided by the actors own gifts. Like acting the film, Frank, is a persona about not being anything.I just regard it as not on era. I may even tweet out the fact I reviewed it. #productplacement

QFT BElfast Friday 9 May to 22 May 2014
Lenny Abrahamson will have a Q&A at the 6pm Saturday 17 May 2014 screening.

John Graham

29 April 2014


Photograph the Band


Workshop as part of edition

Festival Director Michael Weir.
Workshop professional photographer Carrie Davenport


From setting up to the after gig wind down, the kids or youth who were game for a unique photography event – showing them the basics and a bit more when it comes to photographic reportage in the real – choose their Saturday experience well.

The band Go Swim are an awesome outfit based here in Northern Ireland and are getting deserved airplay and recognition for their cultured rock based distinct sound.
With enthusiasm, ease and totally involved interaction with this unique event, they held nothing back and delivered a commanding set in three parts giving the sweetest acoustic you might expect from a practically empty Manela Hall at Queens University Students Union.
Many world class performers and performances have filled the hall and the youngsters who rocked up to it on this day were able to take direction and ask the band to pull some shapes for them on and off stage.
Under the tutelage of photographer Carrie Davenport whose love is rock photography, these pupils each were given a decent compact digital to use and the intro took them through the story of Rock photography on a swift informative large screen slideshow. While this was in flow the band were setting up and I thought once they started they could put on a show which would have the place rocking in other circumstances. It had the full sound and lighting as would happen at a normal gig. It seemed good practice and stage craft for the band also, shame the punters were not your regular tune buying public but another time another stage will come.
With this as part of the first ever Youth Photography Festival in Europe and as the closing event though it was sparsely but sufficiently well attended, it gave those wise to its possibilities, the opportunity to receive the clear and expert direction of Carrie whose pupils all lapped up the concept and the school of ‘BPFYE2014’ got stuck in.
The results can be found on the Facebook page related to the website address above. BFT also filmed and photographed the journey.
It was a inspired occasion and being its inauguration might be replicated in years following and with a greater shout out perhaps involving schools a bigger success.
It was a joy to watch the confidence of the youngsters grow and taking it seriously and seeing their work develop. Carrie critiqued as it progressed but let the children find their own ideas. She enabled them to get as close as the ear protection allowed! which was in their nostrils.
Not the ear plugs, the cameras poked up by the kids.
It was a gig almost at full blast; taken down a tad or two as the space didn’t need much more to become like living inside a giant speaker.

I, having spent a night a long time back, right of stage at Guilford Civic Hall next to, (two feet away), speakers throbbing out the rock of the ‘loudest’ Rock band gigging – AC/DC and taking a week to get my hearing back I knew it is the case that you have to cover all bases when organising things around music.

Presumably you have been to a gig or two yourselves and have come away with memories ringing in your ears.
So it was both good from the visual perspective as well as the auditory one since the youngsters covered both angles, being up front and personal with the indoor live band set as opposed to the muddfest or pokey tent with beer swill and debris around you.
This may be the spark that lights up this or other creative pathways for them, the band themselves offered up that go do it encouragement and
Belfast Photo Festival, particularly Michael Weir can claim another success in founding this series of events of which considerable amounts of effort were employed to make it so. Check out the work of Carrie Davenport if you haven’t already and see the originality infusing her work.
Everything taken care of it all went swimmingly.

Go Swim
With their sound creating a driving cool vibe, with slick tight playing from all corners with the direct and robust voice of Steven Smith out front most of the time, they gather you in and carry you on their energy and alacrity. I hate trying to describe music by using the usual tags and can’t use them here as it most times is both inaccurate and off line.
Still it is is also cumbersome using ‘cool vibe’ and I sound like a ‘daddy cool’ being neither!
Writing is the key to the band future and once they have hit the chords that sit squashed through their equipment (hands, ears, feet, brains and heart) as well as their instruments, the output will come at us on the wider plain which I hope beckons.
Putting songs of the quality of the one which is grabbing people’s attention
right now Call Sign is itself a challenge, given the response and want for more. It will surely come and at the end of summer at the Belfast Feile they are booked to support the Kaiser Chiefs on 9 August 2014 in the big awesome hopefully tidy tent, as I think they won over a few new fans at this event.
The business end of the bands fortunes are not dependent on genre filled expressions of their musical direction; nor in comparison with other bands local or national, they are on stage and in studio recording.
The latter can fashion up alternative performances of the same thing – songs already in the ‘machine’ – when the track gains even more meaning in our consciousness. The of now moment which all musicians adore and go out there to do it again and again.
Go Swim deserve your listening at some point I would hope and it would be good to see their music go far and wide along with maybe the young folks creative potential.

Go Swim are : Steven Smith Vocals and Korg
Julianne Shawe Vocals and Lead guitar
Des Hesketh Lead Guitar
Stefan Malecki Drums

Go See A Band
Go Hear Go Swim

Enjoy your Music whatever form it takes. Take a photo of what your turntable or earphones and fan experience is telling you to take.
The person in front is closer.

@BelfastPhotoFestival Twitter
@JohnMedici Twitter me!

John Graham

27 April 2014



Reflections at the foot of the Cross

imageReflections at the foot of the cross

Into the space God makes we enter
Solemn interegations to make
At the foot of the cross
We vow to share the wisdom
Release the hidden joy in agony
“My God, My God, Why
Hast thou forsaken me”

We too ask, so learn to reject
worldly things and in us have
God reside to live our lives
Praying for humanity to be
Shed of sin ourselves together
One in The Lord, Nowhere
Is more aloud than here
At the foot of the cross
The silence speaks onto us.

John Graham
Easter 2013

Religion cannot divide as it converges on the same spirit.

On Good Friday time is taken by millions throughout the world to reflect on Jesus and his crucifixion.

From Palm Sunday through to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, after the first Moon after the vernal equinox it is a time into which many face the sacrifice Jesus made for us and thank God for this faith and ask for his forgiveness of our sins that he promised through the sacrifice of Jesus.

The resurrection is the event that follows and we await deliverance of mankind in the return of Jesus to cleanse the world of all evil and restore us to the purity of God. We cannot conceive of how this is to be achieved but by putting in place the message of Jesus it is only the beginning of us seeking our redemption. To be Born again is for some the essence of that discovery, an encounter with God and Gods message. That is interpretation which is only part of the story. At what point you allow God to enter your life is of your choice alone and an acceptance of the words of Jesus into your life. It cannot precede that point in life which you are delivered or Born Again. You cannot live in an exultation in whatever sense you perceive it. To be born again before we have passed is a separateness here on earth which provides false beliefs and is born of the self not God. God makes us so we are not separate but divided. The division is between those that will or will not accept the guidance of God in the prophet Jesus. The acceptance of spiritual guidance is not alone with Jesus, it is created by God whose deliverance of us is our journey in life. When it is Gods will he will again send his prophet and only son Jesus to return us to his Kingdom. When we are returned to him we shall be Born Again. Our atonement for our sins must be to accept the Lords forgiveness.

I believe that it is essential you open your heart and mind to Jesus, to the ways of Jesus and whatever capacity you have, you will be guided through this life by Jesus.

When you pass on you will be reborn. To anticipate or acclaim you are fully reborn is pre-empting this rebirth as it is a bridge yet to cross. God intends for us to live to our fullest in order we are reborn. We read and learn and practice his intent. No one is turned away from the Kingdom of Heaven.
God turns away the sin and during our lives provides the strength for us to not be sinful. So to have faith is to have it in degrees and with the words of Jesus we can seek out the fulfillment of Gods wishes for us, no matter how short or long our existence here on Earth is. The testament is yours and yours to make. Like Matthew the tax collector turned disciple the disciple went out and found others who were sinful and showed them a simpler truer way.
The day of judgement is Gods alone and it is for your sins you have to account. We can be punished on earth by our peers for our sins in our world and be denied privileges of freedom and other things. Only God can take your sin away so you are left to deal with any sin on Earth with the tools and guidance God provides for you.

Since lent is followed; as the forty days of fasting and penitance beginning with Ash Wednesday, by the actual event of Good Friday, it is the pivotal point after the birth of Jesus for our discovery of God.
The Bible is the scripture written by those who came after and in in the very words of Jesus within the Bible are the firmest expression of what God has created. We are continuing on a path set for us as mankind and for all living things. In our lives is discovery.
First we should hold our faith lightly, no setting up false boundaries among deities through creeds and doctrines but observe others faith or lack of it and help them carry the one spirit they possess, the spirit of God forward for their future good and for the future good of all in the Kingdom.
Secondly we should hold love strongly in our hearts and minds and love strongly all in the Kingdom. We face such profoundly affecting choices in our short time here that we need and we have the guidance provided by God to recognise, this life, as other peoples lives, are gifts from God.
No more is asked of us than we hold this faith in our own spirit lightly
and love our neighbours as ourselves so all may flourish.

John Graham

Easter 2014


Peace be upon you

The Sea : A Film Review

imageThe Sea by John Banville, for which he has written this screenplay film adaptation is a novel which one does not immediately see as being of a visual narrative.
In reading the book the overwhelming compassion and intimate description of feelings and minds, conjuring tricksteresque beautifully and flowingly prose, we are caught in wave after wave of thought and little dialogue.

The joins for film are the dialogue in the book so the viewer of the film need assume these portraits of the cinema and have revealed to them certain traits and habits common in mankind, which here is of the Irish variety.
It is constructed by John Banville as thoroughly as possible as a form of abridged storytelling with acknowledged differences yet incomparable to the excellence, as is inevitably the case with such a stylized novel, the written form. You can of course return to both time and time again.
Fate and time.
It is always possible to identify anyway with the fates, which Sebastian Barry recently related, “…..suddenly you see that everyone has been half drowned by the tsunami of things that happen.”
The sight of Ciaran Hinds in the very first frames, in a heavy coat in the waves and beached, breathing relates as much as this immediately.
The Sea. The title appears.
Our island selves
John Banville in the book describes the contradictions we all come across. He uses Acts in reference, but disdains of God “…creation..belief…an impiety”, unvenerative of the deity but holding onto spirit. A perfectly Irish view given the three Gods worshiped, the trinity and the order of things having only one pure God. No film has that ability of communication.
He would find in the Bible the shaping of the meanings he seeks also.

Where seaside holidays in the southern coastal resorts from in the northern side of Dublin, Laytown, (Neil Jordan’s origin) Ballbriggan, and to the southern retreats, beyond the vast Wicklow mountains – a terrain not for the fainthearted, Waterford , Tramore, Wexford beyond, provided beaches and as of the time in which the story is set around, the post war years of the world kind, a climate which was, well an Irish summer of easy going enjoyment with no cultural sentiment, though the illusion of the John Hinde postcard is one way of seeing it.
Character and Plot
Escapism was easy then and did not involve exotic parties, vast airports, for that matter small ones or distant oceans and ethnic guidance. Despite the hidden nature of the smaller places on our coastline and the state collusion there was little to see as an obstacle to happiness. So the urban well heeled and not so well heeled escaped or tried to.
Cairan Hinds is the art historian Max Morden torn back to reconcile his memory and his unadjusted feelings for losses that have happened in and since those sunny days.
His memory circles not around his own family, the father who leaves the village at the shore, (in the book Ballyless) to work in Ballymore and returning each night. His mother makes little appearance in the film and Max is an only child.
Of his seaside experiences he has a great deal to formulate for himself and it is thus he becomes entangled with fellow holiday makers from the big house behind his shack, the twins. Chloe and the mute Myles. Chloe does a lot of talking and the protecting for the both of them and has adopted, contrary to the desires and wishes of the easily infatuated Max, an allure of being a little madam. She and Myles have a mother, Connie Grace, Natascha McElhone who is radiant beautiful and host to a sensuous nature which for the most part is satiated by her pleasure seeking husband Carlos Grace, Rufus Sewell and they had as chaperone for the erratically tempered Myles, the aide de camp Rose whose age was on the cusp of adulthood.

The book is chapterless and has simply two parts though both carry references to each part, then and now.

Max Morden has the tragedy of loss himself to overcome and his relationship with his wife Anna played quietly and with compassion by Sinead Cusack is a formidable pairing of souls.
When this return to the house which the Grace family occupied, as opposed to the chalet, shack or ‘hut’ as Max described his holiday nest, there is a kaleidoscope of filmic playback and nudges in the developing backstory and foreground apparentness of the change which always results from association with the sea. The hardened memories which attach wildly and refuse to let go of the inhabited psyche. Along with the infinite joy that the mind recollects of times at or near the sea, there are disproportionate pains also in the recovery made in places revisited. Those feelings more so on a island such as ours and insular, maybe provincial, parochial as the interplay – the literal interplay – of different classes this film and book conveys; the separate local and blow ins, holiday makers who alight in your own playground. The local people feature as asides. The colonials are represented by the Grace family in the first part.

Max eschews the local kids and sets himself apart though not as a loner but of wanting something greater.
He wants and lusts a lot over Mrs Grace who he adores and young Max played by gives an easy comfortable performance as a boy on a quest.
He has a suitor maybe in Chloe, played by Missy Kavanagh ,the little madam who herself is a simultaneous protective twin acting out one part her life and looking out for the confounding, except to her, Myles, whose part is also at ease and convincing. Diecast as the voiceless twin he struggles without malice but frustration. The children as directed act out confidently and with subtlety.

The cast is equal to the task of portraying the philosophical, psychological traits of each character and when older Max returns to the house he had never boarded in, he meets the sanguine landlady, Miss Vavasour, played by the cheekbones of Charlotte Rampling. Something of a repetitive smoker who enjoys and quietly endures her own conpany. She understands the relapse to achohol which the return of Max brings about in him and his daughter of whom he is both proud and in need of have both got his best interests in sight.
Mind and Material
It is good to see a remarkable book, it is one of the previous decades best books as a period stretched drama. The direction of Stephen Brown is unobtrusive and the screenplay enabled by John Banville is the track along the which films direction takes us.
By taking on such a book, one which has intense feeling and much of it under the surface the director and actors have to draw out the undercurrent of; and this is again worth recalling that phrase of Sebastian Barry’s used above with which as a fellow writer John Banville will have no problem in endorsing, using alongside his narrative I would think – “…..suddenly you see that everyone has been half drowned by the tsunami of things that happen.”
It is plain Max Morden as most other characters, indeed ourselves, can occupy that place John Banville places him and it is a measure of both Irish authors they are plainly on the same astute page. The share the art, the gift of story telling I distinctly different ways but as a lineage of literature.

The music is as is my taste has it, clawing in parts and in final credits is only retrievable as it has been present throughout. Familiarity. Not a real problem but less is more.
Of product placement none I could report on, though Smithwick’s beer, now where is that brewed?

***3 stars

This is a strange brew as a film, a Miss Vavasour herbal tea of a film, with the figure of Ciaran Hinds, odd fleck of grey, with and without beard, furrowed face quite dominant and his rendering of the character is, as necessitated, expressive of the underlying emotions and he kind of lends melancholia to the part. There is little in the way of youthful exuberance and it is rather deliberate in pacing out the story and somewhat vague in parts unlike the book which has not (see below) been a book at the end of time. Rather it is in its title The Sea at times sunlit under an orange ochre sun or dark and revengeful taking in and taking out our memories.
It is well worth seeing and it does well being familiar with the book before or after to see the all round impressive nature of the work in both forms.

At QFT Friday 18 April to Thursday 1 May

John Graham


16 April 2014

I recently asked John Banville at a book launch, if he foresaw any changes developing in the novel form; he had been talking about his new Raymond Chandler novel, which took him last summer into a new genre and perhaps fixed form storytelling that might in the authorship have told him certain limits of the novel as a media for our communicating ideas and examining or finding meaning in life.
He responded by saying that it had not made itself apparent, he was immersed in his subject alone, that for his part since Madame Bovary and Ulysees the novel had possibly reached its apogee (my word) that it has revealed as much as it can, that so many great writers have preceded the current times and only by continuing to write; – there remains a veracious appetite which will never die it seems for novels and this way of storytelling, – will there be any discovery or advance not yet apparent in the novel.
Without doubt John Banville is one of the top one Irish writers working today. The Sea is but a small element of the writing and in it he asks himself in the first person as Ciaran, if he has the correct word for conveying a message.
It need not be judged (as a question needing answered) as his art is to impart to the reader an essence of a story. The novel form comes across with characters who sometimes cannot articulate in speech or gesture their meanings. They are perhaps plain stupid or constrained by background, situation and education. The gift of the writer is on those occasions, without pandering to explain everything to us in excruciating detail, is to play the role of the person, (my interpretation) with inner thoughts and reactions minimal and fleeting. In The Sea when Banville asks if it is the right word as Cairan, he goes on with a symphony of words (no a composer could not adorn the film with music as substitute) and he puts into Ciaran’s life a concoction of emotions to bide him in this time. It is not replicated on film.
Irish writers from short story writers, where the necessity is greatly condensed, have this gift as part of their own immersion in the Irish formation of the novel in their reading and writing.
We live in hope that a mutation of the seed will change our direction of thought but can settle for the great variations which exist and are added to in continuum.
It is a lineage of writing that John Banville is on which is how he found himself describing it when vexed by his adherence and duty to his art.

Seamus Heaney : Other Places

Part Colin Davidson portraitPublic Poetry Reading Ulster Hall April 10 2014
Part of the Seamus Heaney :A conference and commemoration.

My introduction.
Prayer as the Christian faith has it from the scriptures, is a private communication. A conversation alone with God.
Poetry it is said, and said once more here, as Prayer with the paper proximity and choice of seclusion acts of lone conversation with another’s words.

As human beings we do not conform to ideals but need the shape of others to resonate and collide with to approximate our truth.
Nothing we know is absolute, yet humanity abides and continues in our souls. Other Places are also other people, ourselves alone together.
The gathering on this occasion was homage to a Master and the only way it can be described here is in poetry which the item below attempts.

Other places

The Ulster Hall it’s theatre stalls
collapsible like a boxing ring
fill with people awaiting recited poems
published ripe as nectarine pipped and clean

The pastel walls spot residual damp
Almost hidden behind freshest paint
Focus instead onto the hall wide stage
command the organs pipes gold and gilt

The ear of the replenished soul is cupped
the evening is upon us air is gathered in
The favoured literati remember the sagacity
chosen decks of words joined here spill forth

Virgil yes, remembered, Plato yes,
a festival of learning each other’s speech
No language mutating hard thought, eased
the mind is mine enough to sculpt a poem

My current taste of Stevie Smith has gained
through thinking of Seamus Heaney recognising
‘A memorable voice’, envious of Palmer’s Green?
Seneca scored ‘How do you see?’ 1972 then.

Now girded we recoil ‘we shall kill everybody’
‘It will be too much for us… we shall..’ Seamus
knew the quicksand of a life and poems of the ear
Warmth drew on his breath ‘Be good to one another’

The poets try their damnedest to reflect
to profoundly, simultaneously move on
To catch this latent energy of now
excellence needed summoned every word

Universe, a train, tea ripples in a cup
Dublin, Malahide, Montana, Missouri
Dundee, Derry, no three counties
Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire

But the world as seen from Lanacashire,
Lanarkshire, Gloustershire, Middlesex
.. Oft ‘Rockall, Finisterre’ a field a radio,
A Church locked up grave silent under sky

Where have we been? we haven’t seen
the half of it before our eyes, sat down to tea
With furrowed brow aghast at the obscene TV
Bodies churned up with wild flower gutted

Home is near this place, divided
It’s in this world at least, our body’s
reside one place at a time, Home
That place we know, we’ve seen and been.

Seamus filled our hearts our heads
with things we knew lay beyond our walls
Two fields were plenty enough, a fence
to start a war or plough thus eat.

Suffering from wielded power
Opposition brooked, hunched carries on
paying by blood a fast a pilgrim
hatred, all sins now gathered in

Seamus left us half afraid, for
the other half we return, to
stations next to words, who
Since you think, mind, ever placed

Black cubes, huge sound boxes hang
from the hall roof amidst the plasterwork
Ornate and sparse words ejected, contact
The flesh and bones in regular lines, the rows

Giving your senses reason for endeavour
immaculate organs in decay seek another
body another’s skin to hold, meniscus thin
That water of us we live within

From the trenches, written, ‘Dearest War
Remember me,’ Dead of Hampstead Heath
The airey Christ takes care of them, peace
be upon us, render us relief, hear his song.

Under the bridge, the water flows, taking
your angst reflection downstream, with
the leaves, the twig you snapped, the Kingfisher
Soars, slickly through our canopy, this earth

John Graham

April 11 2014


That Kingfisher amongst the awesome beauty this world provides can make our hearts soar and think as G.M. Hopkins wrote :
‘Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
from ‘As Kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame’
The division of presence of things. Into this we know our own diversity, what the Hopkin’s folk call self-nature. From the inward poet; G.M.H. Bespoke of his own nature, that he seeks and obtains just cause within to act out his being as influenced by the divine spirit. Christ ‘plays in a thousand places’.

In For my brother – Missing in action 1943.

For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,
And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:
The money of Whose tears shall fall
Into your weak and friendless hand,
And you buy back to your own land:

The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Here them and come: they call you home.

Thomas Merton

A Clear Midnight
THIS is my hour O soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes
thou loves best.
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

Walt Whitman

The themes we encountered and which I have gone beyond for my own exercise take in the Seamus Heaney effect of most Northern Irish people who read his work. It is our narrative and has been the worlds progress to hear this voice. This commemoration comes within a void. The spring void.
The Easter resurrection so vivid in a spiritual life. Our being challenged by thoughts of others and our own actions. So has it been, this re-encounter with the work of Seamus Heaney, appearing as a miraculous body of work building on the work gone by and kept for future generations to which he generously opened consciousness buried within.
Even now or because it is such an additional wealth for us to carry forward, the themes he covered were of people and places and also of death and I cannot but wonder how Stevie Smith felt of the close to home troubles and 1972 violence as she struggled with her Christian beliefs. How marked upon her Seamus Heaney’s work was and how incendiary most poetry can be, either in the private act of reading or as prayer.

John Graham

Calvary : A Film Review

Easter reflectionDirector and Writer john Michael McDonagh. Score Patrick Cassidy, Cinematographer Larry Smith, Production Design Mark Geraghty. 100 mins.
The hill on which sacrifice is made.

But first a poem by anon.

The first Irish poem ( allegedly!)

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,
I am the wave of the ocean,
I am the murmur of the billows –
I am the ox of the seven combats,
I am the vulture upon the rocks,
I am the beam of the sun,
I am the fairest of plants,
I am the wild boar in vapour,
I am the salmon in the water,
I am a lake in the plain,
I am a world of knowledge,
I am the point of the lance of battle,
I am the God who created the fire in the head
(ed. P. Murray)

It is soon to be Easter and time for reflections on the sacrifice of Gods only son on earth. This is the Earth we live on, set between heaven and earth is Jesus. Our own view is contained physically. Until we climb higher.
The Plateau of Benbulben features a great deal as a slab of biblical proportions overshadowing the tables of Sligo, small tables which we gather round, in the towns and villages beneath.

This film is another from the brother John of the McDonagh brothers and follows his The Guard also starring Brendan Glesson.

The mortal life foresaken after Jesus has revealed for mankind the powers of God, has found disciples and put forward values for them to show, to attain, teaching us to respond to evil and drive it out. His death was necessary to affirm the truth. We now the seven deadly sins, what sin is.
In this film the earth is expressed by the sea’s edge and horizon fixed in our relation to it. The sins by the journey taken in one week by the Priest among the people he leads or claims missionary over.

We occupy that place where our soul resides between the earth and the outside. As individuals the earth provides us with its time immemorial constants. This film casts its gaze upon the sea as a metaphor for life lived under the force of Gods design. The characters of the village behave in all manner of ways with each other and those that attend Father James’s Church, maybe go to confess their sins. The village in which it is set has pop culture symbols and characters of modern Ireland none of which have anything beyond stereotyping. The players are walking on fault lines in the script which is untidy. The framing jars at the very beginning after a confession when a stud is questioned about his affairs by the mainstay Father James. Odd angles enter, then leave? It settles into relative normality though the village street, something there yet absent provides no sane backdrop.
Some scenes are best forgotten but in the midst of them irritatingly the story rises on quite a few occasions only to drop the ball with incredulous words. Maybe that betokens the nature of us and the intention is to show our absurd responses to things.
Father James biggest problem becomes an act yet to occur which involves his death.
Naturally hurt at this possible outcome he consults his Bishop. Sure why wouldn’t he and then sets off after the absurd dialogue on Gods work. Don’t call the guards.
Father James faces among his parishioners no small difficulty of leadership which as a decent man in his chosen task he need now also contemplate his own demise. That radical, the truth, has on its tail repentance, the sinner has left the building, the vengeance is seen as himself, institutional good, emphasize his goodness for it shall therefore be inexplicable,representing God in confronting ungodliness. Brendan Glessons character is not seen in his Church except to show it as a sort of temporary form, that of a timber barn unlike the bells, smoke and mirror kind associated with the accepted religion. Very puritan. Very Scandinavian.
In the working of this tale of mystery; Father James it seems knows the affected, the filmmaker relies on Irish flavoured bitter humour and a screwed up parish to recall the grotesque, the embedded hatred kept in a seemingly logical and local narrative of which Father James is unsullied and innocent.
That placement of contempt of the Church seems to loom large as though everyone is affected, has been effected by it. As in the North; the vehicle being there the ‘troubles’ there is a communal bereavement, a causal change in the mindset of good and evil. All through the visceral loss of sense in Godliness. Brendan lashes out in a great scene on such a confrontation, his own faith challenged. The villagers make up their own religion in the void.

Of the person whose aim is to create another vile sin a week on Sunday he has an uncomfortable relationship as is the case on most points of the compass. None have any reverence towards him. A mere mortal though a good one. Willing and able to help with clearly the soundness in mind – judgement is a trammeled word – to administer in the doubts that this earthly conscious offers proverbially.

Performances from the uncommitted (atheist) Dr Harte, Aiden Gilen, Dylan Moran, Michael Fitzgerald Wealthy Man, Fiona, daugher of James, the beautiful red haired Kelly Reilly over from her exile and escaping to the ‘lost’ father; a key and solid piece of consistent convincing acting and the venerable Chris O’Dowd, imperious to the fact real life exists and a show is not life, stripey butchers apron, very fetching, his is a character in who you despair, at least I did because his manner was unconvincing except latterly.

In contrast the film is imperious when a scene of confrontation by a driver and his daughter represents the most vivid effect of how far we have come, that this is embedded in the everyday. The man represents most the condition alongside Fiona whose authorize connection with her dad is placed alongside her harmful loneliness. This splintering of the film in my mind at once decisive then a second later irregular. Many a slip between hand and mouth does mar the story. Perhaps it is the chattering of the seven deadly sins that mark it.

Brendan Glesson carries the central theme of forgiveness forward as a human being. It is as the Holy man he need minister to the mere mortals needs. He is Father James Lavelle, the incumbent here in the Yeats territory of Sligo. Yeats believing in eugenics at the same time advancing his own symmetry of poetry into floored and literary history. Clearly the air is affecting.
Brendan Glesson of course, given his honed gift of acting and his knowledge of the writer, directors aim gives full endeavour, thrusts centre frame in a for the most part restrained perfected act of role playing. In uniform the glory is not his, like forgiveness it’s Gods. He acts the part and if only.
The film, as its import takes us into the life’s of those in this place, in the course of the week, teases us to point to the portentous guilty sinner.
They are all sinners as us, with degrees of imperfection. This is seen to best effect in the father daughter relationship. There the writing is not a let down but superior and sustained in telling each’s story. Proper storytelling.

The sadness, grief, cruelty, anger and hurt here is Father James’s burden.
The past he cannot resolve except to use religion which his flock reject.
Whereas God gives to each of us a share of the burden of mankind; each taking as much as he can cope with, here the burden is cast out among the stereotypes. Each exemplifies Gods meaning. Each is a discovery for the viewer to relate too. Each of us will be affected by different elements making this film a highlight of cinematic achievements that Ireland lays claim to very occasionally. It follows on from recent themes of Irish cinema with Philomena having been the most recent comparator.
The sweep of the West of Ireland gives us Gods creation. That sea and land sometimes taken for granted and man demystifies with bungalows, estates, supermarkets and edge of town DIY stores. Reached by shiny motors.
Holy Motors. Now there’s a film way beyond this collection of humanity.
It has an episodic linearity which is spectacular.

Ireland’s character is visible with the ever present question – How could we have allowed this to happen? and this plaque is/was more than a burden but an altogether mortal execution without remorse. This is the whole nature of the film which only occasionally but very dramatically is realised here.

In the North similar practices took place yet the deflection the church chose to provide; as after the famine, as in civil war, was to seek restitution and forgiveness in the Holy Orders. What hope existed vanished in their sinful hands. They came thick and fast and clung as an overburden, way beyond the simple Christian message of loving thy neighbour. Vengeance is mine sayeth The Lord. Not yours or the Priests. James Lavelle knows his enemy is not the murderer but the sacrifice made missing for the perpetrator not having God in his life. He cannot offer anything to assuage the harm and carries the guilt through the week.

On these Sligo beaches where many a famine victim perished and were turned into the dust and sand of the beach, the continuum of earths reminder of the cycle of life speaks daily. Wave after wave of consciousness is brought about by recalling our history and this film while being a small element; pretends no greater part than to construct a story for us to contemplate.
We are beginning our return to Calvary and to forever face the self.

I don’t accept there is this degree of hypocrisy or anywhere near it, nor the extent of cynicism depicted in the Irish psyche as this film engenderers even with its black comedy stic on the seven deadly sins.
Ode to the Christian Brothers it is not but it creates a surreal picture of the life Ireland occupies as if it goes on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and sees there the divisions that still exist and the myth perpetuated of the promised land -returning with eyes wide shut. Has it the substance (topic) abuse (Eg hard-knock Irishness doled out by Dorries) a Tory with a six figure advance heart ache turns on like a dose of piles?
No we have not reached the ‘bottom’ in platitudes in Ireland or with this film being merely in the doldrums which Irish society is awakening to. For too long have the stories seemed unreal and this perpetuates that excursion. This film goes someway into trying to place self discovery on film.
As fanciful as Noah is as a biblical epic story, so the people were led onto the land, out of the hands of the Philistines, reality becomes fiction?
Partially only. No one reads reports except the Press and we have a miraculous remaining belief in mammon. Forgetting Mat. 6: 24 No one cannot serve God and riches.
Digs and dugouts are plentiful as are the (off screen) entaglements.
The bashful Publican is forgiven his bashfulness (cut to the washbasin and the show a bruise not the act, but wait, but the gory is explained how? Drama.
It lacks as despatch a homily a bit more precise than the derivative ending.

*** 3 stars

QFT Friday 11April to Thursday 24 April 2014

John Graham


Wednesday 10th April 2014

A supplementary passage on Easter and sacrifice.

In this Film Calvary is a journey taken to uncover in the hills around Sligo the truth. A passage of forgiveness. An itinerary of reaching for the truth. Conquering the flesh against evil and replacing the belief in mortal life with a spiritual one.
Like the pain accompanying childbirth the new life overcomes the torment.
Such a blessing is reason enough to reconcile Gods healing of your spirit which is capable of being damaged as is the soul by wayward acts and dislocation in lives. The hill is the place of sacrifice. Thomas asked how will we know the path we are to follow, where will you go? What happens after death. Simply Jesus tells Thomas “I cannot show you what the will be; my teaching is the path, the truth and the life.” To the folk of the world this is all they are left with but it remains part of our daily lives.
The faiths divide up and segregate people (place chosen religion here) and further prophets emerge and are given the hope of human response that they alone are the true renewal of God. We need to live by the same God, the one that separates you from the world and worldly things. Those things of hate we are set to overcome through belief in the creation. The meaningful discovery that all life comes from the true God, that you only exist through knowledge within. The sacrifice is the meaningful act. That Jesus has gone, returning to God, leaving behind the living world, returning to God asking for us to be saved from evil through the knowledge he has shown.
That reality we are not born of ourselves but through Gods placement of us. We come from a time beyond the creation of the earth, True life exists outside of us in that time were love was born.
On Calvary the promise of the return is foremost. As Jesus invited everyone to the Lords table where there were to be no shortages of the things we need to live, the food, the shelter, the love within us so we cherish the word, his word. In his own death he asks, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthami?”. My God, My God to what have you abandoned me?. “Drink” was his request, and given vinegar, said “It is done! Father, I offer my spirit into your hands.”

Golgotha is the name given to the hill outside Jerusalem we know as Calvary.
The story of Jesus being revised and rewritten so many times still tells much the same story of this event. In his life he left behind manifestations and proclamations of true goodness with the knowledge if we accept God evil need not exist. Therefore he is asking us to unite with the one immortal being, the creator from who we gain the spirit to love. This Easter time we are offered to take the symbols of the Lords table in communion. No one is turned away. There is no credal obstacle to faith. That faith where only God exists and that we are part of, that spirit living through Christ his son until we are returned to our Father and thy Kingdom come. The return is the return of the spirit to all in the Kingdom of God.
Life itself comes from knowledge of a model proclaimed by Jesus as the basis of everything? The return is – Let his power be manifest among the people.

Harp and Vibe : Irish Music Nua.


A performance on an April lunchtime by
Una Monaghan. Irish Harp and Breige Quinn. Fiddle.

3 April 2014 HartyRoom Queens University Belfast.

The Sonorities series as it used to be known continues at SARC QUB with some truly outstanding programmes with which new experiences and old in music development can be heard in very unique and useful venues.
From the SARC performance space at Cloreen Park, The Great Hall, Harty Room and seminars at other campus locations there is a vibrancy in the players and playing which is set apart from the manicured bespoke concerts formulated to attract the taste that is relatively as expected.

By creating a diversity of programming which intends to show the music medium in its raw authenticity, sometimes in the abstract, in the free playing there are fewer certitudes except that we return again to the high spiritual place music can take all of us to. Even the hard of hearing, the to ally challenged can benefit somewhere in the cast of the events.

On the platform of the Harty Room the stage was set with Fiddle, Irish Harp and a range of electronic instruments. One very tiny device was a motion detector which Una Monaghan wore in her hand while playing, with the sound arriving and returned via. a speaker cone set on the floor in front of her playing back a treated resonant pattern.

With ease beyond her years Una Monaghan began her own compositions Tubaiste Agustin Taisceadan, One born every minute. Two jigs which sang directly. The first slowish and melancholic, the second accompanied with a repeated melody. Not your usual jigs but fresh as Mountain Dew.

Next came a Harp and Fiddle piece from the Orkneys which was not bossy and the Harp picked out the air entitled Mrs Violet Eunson an apparent memory which was soft and sweet with all the nurtured playing with both instruments took on magically the tonality expected from a traditional island air. A reel, Derrycraig Wood came out dextrously without the hoofer pace associated often with a reel and it carried with the fiddle and coloured midstream.

There are certain musical compositions which you know once heard are unique and of real quality. This was effect had of Namhog.
The name given to an Irish wooden rowing boat.
Without first seeing the notes of the programme the piece conjured images
resonant with this little name the moment it began.
First was Feicim do Thintreach. (Cloud Party) A jig.
It conjured up immediately the launch of a boat. The boat straight and fronting the waves. Topping the first, remaining in place, topping the second wetting and winning a yard until it coasted up onto open sea and onward coasted beyond the shore. Taking the jig out onto its mission on water Una has composed a set of pieces which are intuitively mature and she composed these last year on an educational trip to Maine In the US.
Conversations, rhythms, transition, poise, stretched and reached out as the source sound of the Harp interwoven with the fiddle with electronic accompaniment feeding back into it, settled on the air in the room and captivated the listeners lucky enough to encounter this new fresh expression of Irish traditional music. The middle section, the air Scathan do Shuille (Look in, see out) was gentle, waiting for things to happen, fashioned on simple rhythm and washed like a breeze. It may have been inspired as the programme notes suggest the St Brendan voyage. It as I say capable of standing alone with the listener without hint or prethought as evoking voyage, passage. The journey handed over to small things, like sparse notes, the tight stretch of simple canvas cloth and a wooden sculpted vessel taken to encounter unseen lands.
The tautness of the music is symbolised by the tension of having electronics play back to the players. Music evolving and individual at performance and understood also as a recording piece. The singular gathered sound. Many things can be advanced from the music but principally the music is itself. It symbolised discovery and we as listeners no matter how wrapped between pathos and bathos regard that passage as our own moment of experience.

No matter they were relatively short, 2 and a bit, 3 and a bit and perhaps 4 minutes respectively, they created an astonishing resonance with the addition of digital counterpoint making them all the more settled and unhurried. They were mature reflective developing sounds,turning, waiting and prevailing tones ushered out as a weave of all things. The musicians Una Monaghan and Breige Quinn aware of what they were producing and themselves making discoveries and instant decisions on the evolution of the material. Technically this was demanding and their own anticipation was belied by the simple cast of what was a mesmeric rhythmical effect.
Provoking playing and everything that the series sets out to put together to widen the hearing and provide venturous encounter of new devised material. The reel Cibe ata Caite (Whatever is thrown) was a summation of the Namog piece and it is interesting Una has put these all in the one in order to relate them as parts of each other, as consequences of each other. The former need not speak of other things as those things will establish and recall essences of the former and so it goes. The understanding musically can develop and you have to wonder how much more will be uncovered on this duos musically journey and the further output and composition of Una Monaghan shall be. One thing is clear. There are apparent gifts in the musical meadow and there are higher vistas out there. A very grounded musician from whatever elevation with a delightfully refreshing and instinctive evolutionary feel for the art.

The possibilities were also seen in music composed by Liz Carroll and played by the pair. Nothing overtly formulaic but evoking other things.

A recollection of a session, so important as a combining of all traditions within the sphere, was the finale piece Omos do Coleman for Seamus Begley written by Una Monaghan and Farewell to London. Sesions in space in time now captured and memorised with appropriate sentiment.

Overall the works and playing reminded me of the great exponent of Irish music and a living legend, a force of god and consciously human artist.
Paddy Keenan. His work from the tradition of the pipes and his own rich contribution to the Irish vibe and instinctive mind dwelt memory of the ancient art of music gathering: aside from Seamus Ennis there has been no-one I can think of who has maintained that linear evolving sound of Ireland than Paddy Keenan. He can express the Irish persons heritage through the medium of music as no other and at times on something as simple as a low D whistle.

It sounds like a challenging comparison but there is the same humility and understanding of the vibe and place of music in our lives, only for some labeling purposes Irish music, inherent in Una Monaghan as it is in Paddy Keenan.

A privilege and a pleasure encountered.

John Graham


4 April 2014