Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bob Quinn's Atlantean (1983)

Despite appearing, for all intents and purposes, as a run-of-the-mill documentary (albeit with somewhat of a questionable subject), under the surface, Quinn's Atlantean trilogy functions as a comment on both colonialism and nationalism in contemporary Ireland. Employing a documentary aesthetic and many familiar documentary techniques, it is conceivable that the film would have been sold as yet another documentary to be shown alongside nature or history documentaries. Shooting exclusively on-location and employing a voice-over narration for the most part, the film is instantly recognizable as a documentary. The filmmaker often participates in interviews or addresses the camera directly as do some experts on the subject. Were it made by an outside filmmaker, that had no previous relation to Ireland, it would have been easy to classify this film as purely anthropological in nature. In fact, the film works rather well as an anthropological study which makes it so much more difficult to distinguish from a documentary proper. A closer examination, however, reveals several elements that point to the fact that there is more to Atlantean than a mere exploration of Connemara and the origins of its inhabitants.

One of the more prevalent clues is the constant questioning of Quinn's own thesis within the film. In fact Quinn declares early on in the film that he will probably not succeed in proving said thesis. While this would serve to destabilize the much needed authority that the narrator relies on in a documentary, Quinn in fact uses this to reinforce it, claiming that he only thought like this 'because he had a 'colonised mind''[1]. What this does, is provide the viewer with a reason for why he might not be convinced by the film's argument (because the viewer, like Quinn, has a 'colonised mind'). More importantly however, what this does is convince the viewer that he does, indeed have a colonised mind. As any Irishman that has grown up with the Celtic identity taught to him/her in school and at home (or any non-Irish with some notion of geography) might be inclined to do when faced with Atlantean's hypothesis, the viewer is quick to dismiss it as unrealistic. This very dismissal however, while it might not help to prove that Atlantean's claim is true, might more effectively prove that the viewer has a 'colonised mind'. So while destabilizing his own hypothesis throughout the film does not contribute to prove it, it does contribute to the viewer's questioning themselves and the reason that they might be dismissing it in the first place. Further, Quinn presents a very nationalistic image of west-Ireland throughout, showing us people with a developed culture that are proud of their traditions. The fact that Quinn uses this image to destabilize accepted notions of the Irish national identity (e.g. 'see the people of Connemara' à 'see how rich their culture is' à 'see how non-Celtic/European it is') only comes to show (or rather put into question) that these notions might be a product of colonialism. It is precisely this colonialist product White refers to when he talks of Quinn's 'project of eradicating the identity forced upon rural people by those in positions of usually illegitimate authority' which he deems 'a classic anti-colonialist mission'[2]. While White's referencing Solanas and Getino's Third Cinema manifesto[3] might seem a bit extreme (Quinn's films are far from the militant works that inspire aggressive activity of which Solanas and Gentino speak) there is no doubt that his work in Atlantean strives for an alternative notion of Irish nationalism that is not blemished by colonialism. While his Atlantean theory certainly has its valid points, it is much more effective in arousing doubt and questioning the status quo of Irish national identity




[1] White, 1995, p6

[2] White, 1995, p6

[3] White, 1995, p9


White, J. (1995) The Films of Bob Quinn: Towards an Irish Third Cinema. CineAction 37, June 1995, p. 3-10.

1 comment:

M.O'Dubhir said...

Hi, Just seen Item in 'Cork Examiner', 'Snakes on a terrain'. RE: Bob Quinns 'Naasenes', from North Africa, and how it may have been these 'Naasenes' that 'Patrick' drove out. Mabe we can give some thought to the 'Coptic church' who were here before 'Patrick' as a Copy of one of there religious symbols the 'Tau'-T, stands in a place called Corrofinn Co. Clare; in a field. Also a 'Tau' Coptic cross much like a T,-T, is etched on a headstone in a graveyard 400 AD in Ballinskelligs co. kerry. Also a 'Tau'on a Celtic cross in the midlands. I am ,Martin O'Dwyer.