There seems to be a connection
A while back, on my sabbatical from Channel 4, I did a phone interview with Hettie Jones in New York, wife of LeRoi Jones aka Amiri Baraka, and friend of Allen Ginsberg (both sons of Newark). Baraka passed away a few months later. He played a key role in one of my favourite films, Bulworth. This poem of his I read this week in connection with a documentary I’m working on really resonated…
Wherever you are, calling you, urgent, come in
Black People, come in, wherever you are, urgent, calling you, calling all black people
calling all black people, come in, black people, come on in.
“Poems are bullshit unless they are teeth”
Black is a country
(1962 Amiri Baraka)
The Black Lesbian Handbook was nominated today for the new Best Non-Scripted Online Short category in the Broadcast Digital Awards. It is up against David Attenborough, BBC3 and Vice. Winner announced at the end of June. It is the only All 4 original show nominated. A good one to go out on regarding me, Channel 4 and awards.
I got a particular kick when the series was nominated at the Banff Rocky Awards recently (Digital Unscripted Series category). The shortlist read:
- I Was There: Boston Marathon Bombings
- Secrets of the Vikings
- The Black Lesbian Handbook
I believe they call that bathos.
- (especially in a literary work) an effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous.
Spotted by Noah Gee
Yesterday in 1916 was supposed to be the day of the Easter Rising in Ireland. However, because Eoin MacNeill countermanded the order, the rebellion was delayed by a day amid confusion. I marked the eve of this momentous event in Irish history with a day in Dublin of much more coherence.
It began at the GPO in O’Connell Street, epicentre of the Rising, with a visit (with my sister- and brother-in-law) to a new permanent exhibition space built into the yard of the Post Office as part of the centenary commemorations. The exhibit I most enjoyed seeing was one of the original printed posters of the Proclamation. Due to a shortage of type in Liberty Hall where the document was printed on the eve of the insurrection the C in Republic is made from a converted O and the E in the next line (“to the People of Ireland”) is made from an F with an extra bit added in wax.
At the end of the exhibition is a marble and digital wall of all the recognised 1916 combatants (all those eligible to receive a pension from the State) on which we found my wife’s great uncle Patrick Donnelly of Louth, something for my two half-Irish boys to take pride in.
We walked up O’Connell Street with various signs of the centenary commemorations in windows and on lampposts, portraits of the Proclamation signatories, banners from the city council. The Sinn Fein office had a suitably Soviet hoarding with raised fist heroics. We ducked into Moore Street, to which the GPO combatants fled at the end of the uprising, visiting the lane where the O’Rahilly had died after writing a haunting last note to his wife (one my late sister-in-law Bronagh used to have on her wall). We also saw the houses/shops where the fleeing revolutionaries took shelter, numbers 16-20, which are currently under threat from property developers. In front of the boarded up red brick buildings was a rough looking band of Northerners from some kind of pipe band, tattooed to the hilt.
This set us up nicely for our next encounter – masked (Continuity) IRA men at the Gardens of Remembrance (which are dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”) gathering for a parade to the GPO. Those not in paramilitary-style masks and shades had on Celtic shirts with player names on their backs like Pearse and Sands. This motley crew looked out of step with the times and as bonkers as the rebels may well have seemed as they left Liberty Hall for the GPO on Easter Monday 2016.
We popped in to the Hugh Lane (Dublin City gallery) for a fascinating exhibition about Roger Casement, High Treason based around a large painting of Casement’s appeal by John Lavery, High Treason: The Appeal of Roger Casement, The Court of Criminal Appeal, 17 and 18 July 1916.
From there the three of us headed over to Glasnevin cemetery, the only location in Joyce’s Ulysses I’d not yet visited, and the main burial place in Ireland. From Michael Collins’ much-decorated grave to De Valera’s down-at-heel one, from monumental sculpture by James Pearse (father of Patrick and Willy) to the small marker for Countess Markievicz (part of a mass Republican grave), we followed a super-enthusiastic (oddly) Dutch historical guide around a 1916 themed tour under bright afternoon sunshine. The various characters joined by the Glasnevin tour also linked back to both the Casement case and the many stories making up the content of the new GPO exhibition. So all in all it was a considerably more coherent day than 23rd April 1916 in Dublin and across the country, and more satisfying.
Noticed this in a bathroom this morning
It’s strange how things work out. I found myself today at noon under the portico of the GPO in Dublin, by my calculation within a couple of feet of where Patrick Pearse first read the Proclamation of Independence 100 years ago today. I’ve no Irish blood but I find the event very meaningful and resonant and it meant a lot to me to be present there and then. I made a special trip to Dublin for today to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.
I took the train in to Connolly Station (named after one of the signatories of the Proclamation, socialist leader James Connolly, in 1966 to mark the 50th anniversary) from Rush, a small station north along the coast from Dublin where scenes of Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins were filmed. On the train I sat at a table with a mother and daughter who were busy planning the logistics of some major shopping manoeuvres for the day. I revelled in the gap between what was on their mind and what was on mine.
On arrival in the city I walked round the corner to Liberty Hall, Connolly’s headquarters which played a central role in the planning of the uprising. The original building from which the rebels marched to the GPO on the fateful day is no more – in the Sixties it was built over to make a statement about modernity in the form of a highrise union HQ. Shortly after I arrived a woman dressed in dark green 1916 Irish Citizen Army uniform was preparing (with a modern worker with a droopy moustache and hi-viz vest) to raise an Irish flag of the era. She was then joined by two other ICA women and a troop of armed men dressed up in period uniforms. They marched out of an adjacent alley and gave the flag-raising sufficient gravity before a crowd of just a couple of dozen motley passers-by, tourists and left-leaning supporters.
I followed them off along the quay to the point where they were dismissed and wandered off. As I walked down the quay on the route I imagine the rebels took just before noon on 24th April 1916 to the GPO in Sackville (O’Connell) Street I could easily conjour up their emotions – they would have been perhaps slightly self-conscious in similar ‘unofficial’ uniforms as they walked among the few Easter holidayers on the streets that Monday morning. They would have been nervous on the short walk knowing they were about to raid the GPO and reach a point of no return.
As I turned right into O’Connell Street a crowd was gathered in front of the GPO. A trade unionist or socialist of some kind was making a speech, amplified off a stage just beyond the General Post Office, recounting and interpreting the events of Easter Monday 1916. Banners for various contemporary campaigns to do with energy companies and water charging and the like leant an appropriately grass-roots political vibe to the gathering. This was the Citizens’ Commemoration and it was a refreshing contrast to the bigwigs’ official ceremony on Easter Monday a few weeks ago. Suddenly on stage appeared a friend, ironically from just the other side of Highgate Hill from me, actor Adie Dunbar, who was playing Master of Ceremonies with his usual aplomb. I texted him from between the bullet-scarred classical columns of the Post Office. As noon approached, the hour Pearse came out of the building to give the Proclamation its first airing to mainly uninterested passers-by, somewhat against the odds I saw the mother and daughter from the train. They were rushing by through the now dense crowd with shopping bags in hand, pretty much oblivious of the commemorative event going on around them – a perfect echo of the Dublin citizens who largely ignored Pearse and his men.
A few minutes before twelve Adie announced that a descendent of one of the GPO combatants, the O’Rahilly, would lay a wreath at the entrance to the monumental building. Proinsias O’Rathaille, the grandson, walked a few inches in front of me and I found myself among a small group of media photographers as he laid the wreath to the fallen. As the clock above the window in which the emblematic black sculpture of Cuchulainn is displayed struck noon I was within a couple of yards of the focal point. Strangely I don’t think anyone had focused on the precise spot where Pearse would have been standing.
Foggy Dew was sung. The Proclamation was read. The Soldiers’ Song was sung. I watched for a few more minutes from the stone base of a column. I left to the strains of Fenian Women’s Blues, a song by a young Irish singer drawing attention back to the women who participated in the Rising but were to a large degree airbrushed out of history.
I walked round the corner to the Winding Stair bookshop, one of my favourite spots in Dublin, and picked up a souvenir in the form of a copy of Ruth Dudley Edwards’ new book The Seven, about the signatories of the Proclamation. Still buzzing from the intersection of history, time, place, my life – the rhyming of hope and history.
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
Emilio Estevez / Andrew Clark
He followed up with the Brat Pack vehicle St Elmo’s Fire. Then some Hollywood fodder like Young Guns and Stake-out in the late 80s. And fades. Two momentary re-emergences: in 2006 when he wrote and directed the RFK movie Bobby and then again when he directed his dad in the low key The Way in 2010. The Breakfast Club was his finest moment. In latter years he hooked up with Macedonian model Sonja Magdevski and they grew pinot noir grapes together in their very own Malibu vineyard.
Anthony Michael Hall / Brian Johnson
Follows up with another (inferior) John Hughes – Weird Science. Then it’s death by TV, with just occasional small movie re-appearances such as The Dark Knight and Foxcatcher. He never married.
Judd Nelson / John Bender
The same Brat Pack move – St Elmo’s Fire. Transformers in 1986. Then a descent into TV movie hell and Stuff You’ve Never Heard Of. It was his finest moment too, untranscendable.
Molly Ringwald / Claire Standish
A worthy John Hughes follow-up in Pretty in Pink. Then mostly TV mush. In 2013 she published a young-adult novel, When It Happens to You, and released a jazz record, Except Sometimes, on which the final track is a cover of Don’t You (Forget About Me), the Simple Minds’ theme tune for TBC. She’s had 3 children.
Ally Sheedy / Allison Reynolds
Ditto regarding St Elmo’s Fire. Then John Badham’s Short Circuit. Then movies you’ve never heard of and some telly. High Art in 1998 was by all accounts a notable exception. In the 1990s she was treated for sleeping pill addiction. She moved home to New York and teaches high school kids acting stuff.
It was all their finest moment and the stuff of our hopes and dreams.
In the last part of 2013 I take a sabbatical to mark my 10th anniversary at Channel 4 and write five eighths of a factual book entitled ‘When Sparks Fly: the creative rewards of openness and generosity’. I write 9 to 5 every working day during the sabbatical and get five chapters more or less completed.
I document the process from Day 1 to Day 94.
The plan is to try to write the last three when I’m back at work in evenings and weekends. The thing is I value my marriage and I’m keen on my kids. And also I commission 26 series of short form video and 9 pilots in the following 12 months. The best part of 250 episodes. that’s a fuckofalot of work.
A couple of weeks ago I have 7 days holiday left for the year which I have to use or lose so I go over to my favourite place, Donegal. I find empty beaches, the sun splits the sky from the moment I walk off the plane in Belfast till the day I return. I chill and I’m in the mood to write. At the prompting of my venerable & wise mentor, a veteran and very committed documentary maker, I set aside Book 1 for now and move to Book 2. Book 2 is not massively research and interview heavy like Book 1. It is about my day job. I’d had it in mind as a way of clearing the writing pipes.
So I write the opening on an isolated and very difficult to access beach on Fanad Head, my favourite place in my favourite place. What a beautiful moment suspended in time.
I write the outline by the lake in the garden of artist Derek Hill’s house in Churchill. Intense, fast, no mucking about – in the zone.
I start the main text on a secret beach up the coast from Port Salon. I have to leg it to escape from charging cows to get to the beach – but it’s worth it. Got it completely to myself.
What’s a rush is that I can just write (unlike Book 1). No notes. No looking up anything. Just tap away at the speed of thought.
And so, as I embark fully on Book 2, the story continues…
[writing location: a train just outside Durham 7.1v.16]