Three Monkeys Online

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Bloom: Filming James Joyce’s Ulysses

An interview with Director Sean Walsh
Mark Harkin

As Bloom is only two hours long and the novel itself takes an eternity to wade through, it seems unavoidable that much will be lost in the transition from page to screen. In concentrating on the humane and humorous aspects of Ulysses, Walsh has made his task a good deal more manageable, but there remains one weak spot that I cannot resist tackling him about: the Cyclops episode. For many readers, this represents one of the real peaks of the book, in terms of emphasising the central message of love in the face of hatred and bigotry. In Bloom, it is shortened to the extent of near inconsequentiality, merely an unpleasant blip in Leopold Bloom’s day. Also, its comic potential is lost entirely. I ask Walsh was he not tempted to make more of this episode.

‘Yes, and I would say that’s the same with a lot of the film. I would say that after five years, I had all of the script down; then I had a further three years taking bits out, compressing things, trying to make it all work. Everything got compressed, including the Cyclops scene. But I’m happy with it, the way it is, because I didn’t want to have this anti-Semitic thing up there as a beacon, this film about anti-Jewishness in Ireland. I just wanted that to be a part of what goes on in terms of Bloom’s life. I didn’t want to signpost it; it’s not like Schindler’s List, where you know you’re going to be looking at a film about Nazi Germany.’

The climax of Bloom comes instead in the Circe episode, which is faithfully depicted in its comic surrealism. The life of the mind of Leopold Bloom is given colourful expression against a chorus-line backdrop, and this lengthy scene achieves a genuine dramatic triumph in the visual rendering of so complex a chapter. Is Circe the core of Ulysses for Walsh?

Circe is in many ways the core of the book, and yet it’s not. Given the interconnections between characters and themes, obviously they’re interweaving throughout Ulysses, but most of them come to fruition within Circe. All of the things you saw, learned or read about earlier come back in, albeit, a kaleidoscopic way, something completely different. Also, I just think it’s such an amazing chapter – you can’t do justice to it on film. If it were printed today, people would be wowed by it. I love the fantasy, the bizarre nature of it. The script works in a linear direction but what’s happening in terms of characters, costumes and locations is completely unnatural. But is it the core? No, I still think the core is Ithaca and Molly’s soliloquy (the Penelope episode). And of course, in terms of Ithaca, which is still my favourite chapter and which was Joyce’s, all we got was two shots!’

Whatever of the film’s inevitable failures and undoubted successes, what cannot be denied is its accessibility, something that stems from Walsh’s primary motivation in making Bloom: ‘For years and years, Ulysses has been regarded as the greatest novel of the twentieth century, especially for us Irish – we revere Joyce as a great writer. The problem is, none of us have read the book; it’s on everybody’s shelf and nobody’s read the damn thing! So it was that paradox that motivated me: how can this novel be recognised as being truly great when nobody’s read it?’

The Official Bloom Web Site

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