Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Cinegael Paradiso, The story of a second generation Irish film director. Robert Quinn in interview

Peppered through the conversation, held in a quiet bar in central Dublin, Quinn constantly invokes films to illustrate points. Artistic credibility is demonstrated by films as diverse as Adam and Paul or The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while art house pretension is, oddly enough, Oliver Stone's Alexander. ”It was meant to be successful but… [shaking his head, attempting to work out what Stone may have been thinking] you either decide that you’re going to make a patently commercial film or…”

There is often, in Ireland, discussion about 'Irish film-making', and what needs to be done to stimulate it. It's not something Quinn is much interested in: “I don’t even know what an Irish film is anymore. I’m not interested in making films that can be simply described as ‘an Irish film’.A lot of films that have been made here have been either political or made in an American format, or European co-productions. Have they really been so ‘Irish’ ? The money comes from Paris, from Denmark, etc and everybody’s f
iddling with the scripts. Woody Allen once said that every day you work on a film set, it’s a compromise, and it’s true. Choosing the actors has a knock on effect on the script, making a change in an element of their performance can have a knock on effect on the entire story. It’s quite bizarre, but a wonderful medium. It’s about choosing things. I always get a great kick when people ask ‘did you mean that in your film?’, and I go ‘yeah’ [amazed] when really I don’t know what they’re talking about!”

Conversation turns to Dogme, the Danish film movement put forward by Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Quinn, in what seems to be a characteristic manner, is both respectful and gently mocking: “My mates and I used to joke about doing an Irish version of it called Madra [Editor’s noteMadra means dog in Gaelic], but we never did it. I thought Festen was amazing, I thought The idiots was excruciating but amazing, amazing that they did it, and after that I thought it started to disappear, up its own arse! As an idea, it was wonderful. There’s a culture difference here though, that people funding films want their films to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, and I don’t know that they’ll take the risk. Will film makers take the risk? I hope so. I sound like my father when I speak like this, and I don’t mean to, but when people hope to make big American movies, with production values, without the budget, it just isn’t going to come out like that. The film that I’m about to make has a budge of four and a half million dollars, in America it would be 40 million. In America, it would have Ben Stiller, instead of some Irish actor. That’s the way it goes – Ben Stiller. If Ben Stiller opens a movie, it brings in millions, whereas if Joe Bloggs does, it doesn’t. There are some real home truths for us to remember here.”

Quinn is working on a number of different projects, including a film that, while its subject is Irish, deals with all sorts of issues including racism, drug addiction, and fame. It is the long-awaited bio-film of Philip Lynott, one of the first (and greatest) Irish rock stars.

“It’s been written by John Ferguson and Noel Pearson, – Quinn explains, – I met Holly Hunter [Editor’s note:who owns the rights, and who will play Lynott's mother, Philomena] in London, to get her approval of me as director. It’s a really powerful story and a smashing script. There’s one issue about the rights with the music that needs to be cleared up, and once/if that happens, it’ll move into production.

“It’s not going to be an easy film to make,” he continues, frankly. “Phil Lynott wasn’t exactly a nice man. You don’t want to glorify the guy. He was a fantastic icon, but he was also a drug addict, who died due to drugs. How do you film that? He was subject to racism, he was subject to his own self-destruction. It’s told from the point of view of his mother, who abandoned him, essentially, in Ireland to go and live in England. These aren’t exactly the most pleasing characters in the world.I’m sure Phil Lynott was at times a wonderful father, a wonderful husband etc, but there were times when he saw the darkness in life, and it would be unfaithful to his story to make an elegy.”

There's a certain amount of restriction, surely, when dealing with a figure who, while dead almost 20 years now, remains part of recent memory for many people, in Dublin in particular. “He’s too much in recent memory to mess around with the story too much,” he concedes, “but you know, Jim Sheridan did things that were corruptions of the facts in The name of the father, but it’s acceptable. The fact that they didn’t share a cell, which was a pretty central part of the film [laughs], did Jim give care? No he didn’t! I don’t think that people are going to expect a vasoline coated lens around Phil.”

When talking about the project, he constantly refers to the darkness involved, and the challenges to the film maker in representing this. For example, take another big music film, 24 hour party people. “I liked the film, it was about a period that I didn’t know much about. But, [troubled], it wasn’t dark enough. I’m sure that it was a lot darker, you know. That whole e-taking world. There was a slight Richard Curtis feel about the whole thing. I don’t think you could put that Working Title sheen to the Phil Lynott story. Oliver Stone in The Doors, glossed over it as well. You’ve a man who dies of a heroin overdose, dying in a bath looking like a Greek god [laughs]. No snot running down your nose etc”.

Is darkness something the director of Dead Bodies is drawn to in films? “I love dark films, yeh. But I also adore Dumber and Dumber [laughs]. The only films I can’t stand are Steven Segal films. Him and Chuck Norris. I hate those films. But you know, their movies make a fortune – they get sold in Asia, in Mexico, in South America. Maybe that’s the way to go for the Irish film industry!”

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