Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Alan Parker's The Commitments (1991)

Parker's adaptation of the Roddy Doyle novel by the same name is an early work produced during the first Celtic Tiger boom that provided (according to McLoone) 'one of the most consistent visions of urban Ireland'[1]. Despite pointing out the Hollywoodness of The Commitments, along with its urban and Irish clichés that make it 'recognisable' as Irish to the Hollywood audience, McLoone nevertheless recognizes the film's worth as showing the changing urban working class along with a changing society[2]. Doyle (and consequently Parker) sets up the mood for the background of his characters through comedy when Jimmy explains: 'The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin'[3]. While Jimmy was trying to bridge the gap of soul music's predominantly black artists and his troupe of Dubliners, the line takes on a second meaning about the place of the Irish in the socio-economic milieu that they've been occupying until the Celtic Tiger economic boom of the 90's. Equating Ireland's poor economic status to the oppressed African Americans that gave birth to soul music might seem a little extreme, but it works in terms of conveying a feeling shared by many Irish. Further, in the context of the emerging Celtic Tiger boom, it conveys the feeling of those who were on the less fortunate side of the economic improvement. It is no surprise that Jimmy refers to Ireland as a Third World Country when the unemployment officer inquires about his intention of getting a job. As the majority of the characters are artists or in an otherwise dire financial situation (Bernie and her family) it is conceivable that they were slower to feel the improved economy in terms of social conditions. But as McLoone points out, 'to begin to sort out social problems, these had to be recognized, filmed and shown in the first place'[4]. In a way, The Commitments managed to do this, albeit in a more romanticised way than it must have been. The constant problems encountered by the troupe however, paired with the fact that they disband in chaos at the end of the film, show that despite it seeming fun, song and dance do not solve everything, as would have been the case in Hollywood. As such, The Commitments can still function as an example of the needed social realist work to refer to when representing the city in Irish cinema[5]. And while the film is indeed sprinkled with Irishiana (Irelandiana?) throughout, it is also full of references to outside influences: Jimmy's infatuation with the great legends of soul, his dad's interest in Elvis, Dean's preference to Kim Basinger's nipple (why not Sinéad O'Connor's nipple?), even father Molloy's mention of Percy Sledge. Further, at least 2 characters wear, at several points in the film, a German army jacket. While it could simply be a fashion accessory of the early 90's, it could also be a sign of solidarity with Germany, along with other west-European nations, following the fall of the Berlin wall 2 years prior. This could show that socially, even within the less fortunate of Irishmen, there was a sense of belonging to the larger European community than previously felt when asserting the Irish national identity was of much larger importance than it was in the midst of the Celtic Tiger boom. Nevertheless, The Commitments is a good example of contemporary urban Irish reality that would become a standard for works to come dealing with the subject.

[1] McLoone, 2000, p205

[2] McLoone, 2000, p205

[3] Parker, 1991, (00'20'04")

[4] McLoone, 2000, p203

[5] McLoone, 2000, p203

McLoone, M. (2000). Irish Film: The Emergence of a Contemporary Cinema. London: BFI

Parker, A. (Director). (1991). The Commitments [Motion Picture]. Ireland/United Kingdom/United States: Beacon Communications

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