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Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar 2004

The second The Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar was held at the Portrush campus of the University of Ulster in 29 - 30 April 2004. Professor Meaghan Morris of Lingnan University, Hong Kong, gave the keynote address and fourteen postgraduate students presented papers. The selected proceedings of the event were published as John Hill and Kevin Rockett, editors, Film History and National Cinema, Studies in Irish Film 2, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005. Both the Seminar and publication were supported by the Higher Education Authority's North South Programme for Collaborative Research, 2003 - 06.

Cover of publication

John Hill and Kevin Rockett, editors, Film History and National Cinema, Studies in Irish Film 2, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005


INTRODUCTION by John Hill and Kevin Rockett (republished below)


Meaghan Morris, 'On the future of parochialism: globalization, Young and Dangerous IV and Cinema Studies in Tuen Mun'.

Mika Ko, 'Representing Okinawa: contesting images in contemporary Japanese cinema'.

Sarah Neely, 'The conquering heritage of British Cinema Studies and the 'Celtic Fringe'.

Danijela Kulezic-Wilson, 'Musical and mythical patterns in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia'.


Denis Condon, 'Spleen of a cabinet minister at work': exhibiting X-Rays and the cinematograph in Ireland, 1896'.

Maeve Connolly, 'Theorising Irish animation: heritage, enterprise and critical practice'.

Elizabeth Coulter-Smith, 'Halas and Batchelor: animation, propaganda and Animal Farm'.

Emilie Pine, 'Cathal Black's Korea'.

Pádraic Whyte, Escape from fantasy Ireland: Martin Duffy's The Boy From Mercury'.


Díóg O'Connell, 'From feminism to post-feminism: Pat Murphy's love story Nora

Dervila Layden, 'The Snapper: A contemporary crisis pregnancy?'.

Beth Newhall, 'Ebony saint' or 'demon black'? Racial stereotypes in Jim Sheridan's In America'.

Ellen E. Sweeney, 'Revisioning vision in the Bloody Sunday films'.



INTRODUCTION by John Hill & Kevin Rockett

The Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar is a joint venture between Trinity College Dublin, and the University of Ulster at Coleraine designed to promote original research in the area of Irish cinema and to encourage the training and development of young researchers working in an Irish context. Since 2003, the Seminar has been supported by the Higher Education Authority's North South Programme for Collaborative Research which has made possible the provision of three postgraduate studentships, special training events and the publication of the Seminar proceedings. The first seminar took place at Trinity College in 2003 and led to the publication of National Cinema and Beyond: Studies in Irish Film I in 2004. The second seminar occurred at the University of Ulster on the Portrush campus in 2004 and the current volume grows out of that event.


Although a key ambition of the Seminar has been to promote new research in the area of Irish cinema, it has been recognized from the start that such work cannot be conducted in isolation from developments elsewhere. Irish cinema may provide a specialist area of study but it is also one that is informed by and itself informs more general debates about film. These include discussion of the increasingly globalized character of both film production and reception, the future of national cinemas in a global context, the relations between film and various forms of cultural identity and the emergence of distinctive aesthetic forms in response to the changing conditions of film production and distribution. It is therefore fitting that the volume begins with a wide-ranging discussion of the relations between the 'local' and the 'global' by the distinguished Australian scholar, Meaghan Morris. Taking as her topic, the 'future of the parochial', Morris seeks to rescue the idea of 'parochialism' from its identification with inward-looking backwardness. For her, parochialism is better understood as 'a complex disposition' that 'provides an angle from which to consider issues of cultural impact and change under globalization in a concrete way'. Using the example of the Hong Kong film Young and Dangerous IV: 97, and drawing upon her own experiences of teaching cultural studies in Tuen Mun in the new Territories of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), Morris identifies how parochialism - or an emotional investment in place - may possess a multi-layered dynamism that complicates any simple opposition between 'backward' parochialism and 'progressive' internationalism.

A resistance to spurious 'internationalism' is also evident in Mika Ko's study of the representation of Okinawa in contemporary cinema. Taking as her starting-point, the recent 'Okinawa boom' within Japan, Ko indicates how the representation of Okinawa as a 'loveable other' in popular Japanese films bypasses the socio-political predicaments characteristic of contemporary Okinawa. By focusing on the Okinawan director Takamine Go's experimental film Tsuru-Henry (1999), she shows how the film mobilizes a complex notion of Okinawan identity that rejects both the 'cosmetic multiculturalism' of contemporary Japanese ideology and the 'essentialism' of nationalist discourse.

Identifying the dominant image of Okinawa in terms of a 'festive paradise' in which singing, dancing and drinking are the prevailing activities, Ko notes the similarity with historic representations of the Irish. In her discussion of the heritage film, Sarah Neely also observes how the cinematic representation of Scotland and Ireland has been involved in the construction of tourist imagery aimed at the international audience. However, while the conventions of the heritage film may cultivate the picturesque, Neely indicates how heritage debates have been primarily associated with English heritage and how this becomes complicated in the context of the 'Celtic' countries. In particular, she suggests how Scottish and Irish cinema have been drawn to child-centred narratives that foreground an 'alternative heritage'. By highlighting the unstable point-of-view of the child, she suggests, these films have the potential 'to expose contradictions within the meta-narratives of national cinema' and subvert dominant conceptions of the nation. This is also an argument developed by Padraic Whyte in his discussion of The Boy from Mercury (1996). Indicating how the young Harry Cronin functions as an allegory of the Irish nation, he suggests how the film moves beyond the nostalgic construction of childhood to provide a critique of the ideological burdens weighing down on the present.

Whereas Neely and Whyte seek to retrieve the local meanings contained within apparently universal stories of childhood, Danijela Kulezic-Wilson moves in the other direction by suggesting how the mythic is embedded in Paul Thomas Anderson's complex drama of contemporary US lives, Magnolia (1999). Focusing on the film's use of music, Kulezic-Wilson suggests how this is responsible for the creation of patterns that invest the film with a mythic mode of perception. Like Ko, Kulezic-Wilson is one of a number of scholars based in Ireland working on topics that are not themselves specifically Irish in character. In this respect, Film Studies in Ireland is not confined to Irish topics just as Irish Film Studies itself is carried on both inside and outside of Ireland (as the work of Neely and Ellen Sweeney indicates). The eclecticism of the current volume therefore not only reflects the diverse character of film research in Ireland but also suggests some of the productive ways in which 'global' and 'local' perspectives may interact.


Part Two of the book is more directly concerned with Irish film history and analysis. New forms of research into early cinema have been responsible for opening up debates about the emergence of cinema and how this is to be understood. Denis Condon's research has been focused on Irish cinema before 1921 and, in his contribution to this volume, he examines the early commercialization and popularization of the X-ray and the Cinematograph. Condon reveals how newspapers fuelled the public imagination when X-ray images were discovered and then demonstrated in Ireland in 1896, only to be rapidly superseded by the more flexible and varied cinematograph. While the latter found its important role in medical science, the cinematograph was to go on to become Ireland's most popular entertainment within a generation.

Maeve Connolly also opens up another aspect of the history of Irish film production in her pioneering article on the history of Irish animation. Tracing the limited history of Irish animation before the 1970s, Connolly suggests some frameworks in which recent animation practice might be understood. In doing so, she identifies two main trajectories, one rooted in the commercial initiatives of the 1980s, the other with links to a history of avant-garde practice. Like Neely, she identifies the pull of the heritage industry and its encouragement of imagery reliant upon sanitized versions of the past. However, she also identifies a strand of more self-reflexive animation practice critical of heritage discourse and more alert to the complexities of contemporary Irish experience. In doing so, Connolly also indicates how certain strands of Irish animation have evaded its prevailing associations with childhood and sentimental forms of entertainment. This point is also pursued by Elizabeth Coulter-Smith in her discussion of the career of the animators John Halas and Joy Batchelor whom she argues were responsible for the development - in Britain - of a form of informational or propagandistic animation aimed at the adult audience. Taking the animated version of Animal Farm (1954) as her case-study, she indicates how this work departs from the mainstream tradition of Disney.

Representations of the past, and their relationship to the present, are also explored in the essays by Emilie Pine and Padraic Whyte. Pine focuses on Cathal Black's Korea (1995) which is concerned with the legacy of the Irish civil war, itself a rare topic in Irish cinema. Set in the early 1950s, as the modernization of Irish society began to develop, the film explores the social tensions of the period in a way that presages the upheavals of the 1990s. Whyte's essay deals with Martin Duffy's The Boy from Mercury (1996) set in the Ireland of the early 196os in which a young boy finds release in Flash Gordon films and the fantasy that he is from the planet Mercury. This serves as a means of dealing with the painful loss of his father and the oppressive conditions in which he finds himself. In both cases, Pine and Whyte identify how the films avoid the nostalgia for the past characteristic of the heritage film (criticized by other contributors) as well as the fatalism of political melodrama in which characters become the victims of the tyranny of the past. Both films, it is suggested, are 'histories of the present' involving forward-looking narratives in which the return to the past becomes the means for an escape from the hold that it exerts.


While the relationship of Irish film to Irish history and ideas of the nation remains a continuing interest for film researchers, the critique of 'essentialist' notions of the nation has inevitably led to a focus on other forms of cultural identification within the nation. Given the historical dominance of men within Irish society, and a lengthy tradition of feminist film analysis, the representation of gender within Irish film continues to be a major area of concern. Continuing the theme of representations of the past, Diog O'Connell analyses the representation of James Joyce and Nora Barnacle in Pat Murphy's Nora (2000). While the film has been seen in some quarters as a retreat from the feminist experimentation of Maeve (1981) and Anne Devlin (1984), O'Connell argues that the film successfully evades the conventions of the mainstream love story and the heritage film. The film, she suggests, is best understood as a 'post-feminist' work in which the relationship between Joyce and Nora is dramatized in terms of a liberal-humanist discourse of equality.

Dervila Layden's analysis of The Snapper (1993), however, is less sanguine about the 'post-feminist' gains wrought by changes in the Irish nuclear family in recent years. Focusing on the trauma of the pregnant single mother, Layden detects an advance from earlier representations of pregnancy contained in Reefer and the Model (1987) and Hush-a-Bye Baby (1989) but is keen to emphasize the continuing social discrimination against single mothers. Partly reading the film as a social document, Layden highlights the changing role of the father in the film and the strength of the single mother but suggests that Ireland's pregnancy narratives continue to be beset by the experience of trauma.

If the analyses of O'Connell and Layden grow out of a feminist concern with the representation of gender in Irish society, Beth Newhall's chapter deals with the representation of race and ethnicity. As a result of the huge influx of migrant workers from eastern Europe, Africa and Asia during the 'Celtic Tiger' boom, the ethnic character of Irish society has changed dramatically. While these new realities have yet to figure significantly in Irish film, Jim Sheridan's partly autobiographical In America (2002), dealing with an Irish family's move to New York, appears to offer a timely meditation upon issues of migration and cultural identity. However, while the film may appear to offer a sympathetic portrait of multiculturalism, Newhall argues that this is not the case (echoing Ko's arguments concerning the 'cosmetic' nature of Japanese multiculturalism). Drawing on the work of Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Newhall demonstrates how the film's portrait of Mateo corresponds to well-worn stereotypes of the African 'other' resulting from the imperialist conquest of Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is all the more ironic, therefore, that a filmmaker whose career has been marked by sympathetic portrayals of disability (My Left Foot) and English judicial and police prejudice (In the Name of the Father), should (unconsciously) adopt some of imperialism's racist paradigms.

The volume concludes with Ellen Sweeney's discussion of the Bloody Sunday films, the only essay this year to deal with the North. Like other contributors to the book, Sweeney is interested in the relationship of the film image to historical memory. However, her focus is less on the manner in which these films challenge official accounts of events than the raising of questions concerning the very possibility of representing traumatic memory. Drawing on ideas taken from Gilles Deleuze, Sweeney examines the interplay of 'subjective' and 'objective' point-of-view in Bloody Sunday (2002) and Sunday (2002), indicating how each in their different ways problematize the 'totalizing gaze' of the British state. In this way, Sweeney seeks not only to reveal the implicit ideologies at work in film texts but also the ways in which the formal language of film may be seen to embed particular perspectives. As with the previous volume, much of the writing here represents work-in-progress, the thinking-through of research questions and analytical issues involved in the study of Irish and international cinema. As the Irish Postgraduate Film Research Seminar proceeds, and further work is undertaken, so we hope that both Film Studies in Ireland and Irish Film Studies will continue to open up new areas of investigation and debate.

Contact: | Last updated: Aug 14 2019.