The Phantom Menace: The Most Influential Film of the Nineties?

It’s an unspoken truth we just seem to accept: only good films can be influential. But is that really the case?

If you were to think off the top of your head “what is the most influential film of the nineties?” you’d probably think either Pulp Fiction or maybe Fight Club.

But how many films really used the intertwining narratives and slick talking dialogue of the former, or the gritty tone and erratic editing of the latter in the years that followed their releases?

Perhaps I’m throwing myself into the piranha tank with this one; it’s rare someone brings up The Phantom Menace without getting into an argument. By I wanted to go beyond asking whether the film was “good” and ask “how has this film changed cinema? How would cinema be different if this film never existed?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, comment in the blog or on the video, however you please!

Why We Need to Put the Easter Rising on Film

It seemed every piece of funding for films in Ireland in 2015 was specifically to do with the Easter Rising and this was not an exciting prospect to me.

Historical dramas have as much potential to be great as any other genre of film, but it was hard to shake the feeling that the resulting art-works would be derivative and maintain a fairly safe view of the event.

Then RTÉ’s €6 million drama series “Rebellion” premiered and it seemed it had all come true. Instead of focusing on the people who actually instigated the rising, the series invented characters and followed them instead.

Technically it could have worked, but two episodes in and it was obvious the show was weighed down by boring staging – two characters standing looking at each other speaking – and too many erroneous story lines that seemed to be going nowhere.

I put my grievances with the show to my mother, who was also watching, but she said she enjoyed it, regardless of my problems with it. She found it fascinating to see the events of the rising play out; the attack on Dublin Castle, the taking of the GPO, events that we’d always heard about, now finally getting the chance to witness.

Of course the show was as heavily criticised for historical inaccuracies as creative shortcomings. But it raised an interesting point nonetheless; was there some value to be extracted from this money-led project, even if it wasn’t exactly executed in the most riveting manner?

In my research I only managed to come across a handful of films actually about the Rising; Curious Journeys & Mise Éire. We obviously need more than this if we’re going to even begin to understand the significance of the rising.

Lenny Abrahamson – Ireland’s Realist

Around the time that Room won the Audience Award at the Toronto film festival back in September, I figured it would be worth doing a video essay on Ireland’s premiere film director.

News reports at the time stated that audience approval in Toronto was a good indicator that Oscar glory lay ahead for Room, and having followed Abrahamson since his television show Prosperity played on RTE I hoped I’d be able to educate international audiences who may not be familiar with his pre-Room output.

But as award shows came and went, Lenny’s remarkable directing performance in Room went unrecognised. It didn’t look like the world would be too curious about another outsider director who failed to get nominated.

Then 16th January rolled by and – to the audible shock of the gathered audience at the announcement ceremony – Lenny got nominated for a best director Oscar. Deservedly so, in my opinion. So here I take 4 and a half minutes to try and shine some light on this director who, I’m sure for some, seems to have appeared from thin air.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Greatest Film Actor of All Time

This video essay was conceived in part thanks to a great article I read a few months ago, titled “The Decline of the American Actor”.

The article, written by Terrence Rafferty, basically attempts to split apart the myth of great acting; that it is something that can be taught, or that is observable. It’s mainly the reframing of Marlon Brando, not as a prodigy of Method acting, but as a person with a unique energy, one which was not necessarily improved by his training.

If energy was the most important thing for acting, this opened up the field for a lot of actors who don’t claim any Method training. I thought of Gene Wilder, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Chan, Leslie Nielsen, Cary Grant; all actors who I think were brilliant, but who never went outside their comfort zones the way we’ve been taught good actors should.

Cary Grant in particular was one whose under-appreciation irked me. How could an actor star in so many brilliant films, and not be considered a great actor?

The reason I made the video essay on the topic of Schwarzenegger was because I think he’s a harder sell than those other actors. But ironically he’s also the one that the most amount of people will be able to understand his appeal. What I mean is his line delivery and interactions are often imperfect, but everybody has seen and loved him in a film. It seems like nit-picking to not consider him a great actor just because his appeal is nothing like that of Marlon Brando.

Schwarzenneger now styles himself as a man who went to America and made his fortune, and watching interviews with him, he is quite lucid about his own appeal. But at the same time, nobody asks him about acting. So many of his interviews are about weightlifting and politics, as if acting is something he lucked into.

But James Cameron saw his appeal, as did Paul Verhoeven and Bob Rafelson. So if you don’t think Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest film actor of all time before you watch this video essay, I hope that by the end of it you at least see why he should be considered a candidate.

American Cinema’s White Supremacy Problem

“I’ve always wondered how anyone who’s not a white man could look at the history of American cinema and see anything they can relate to.”

That’s the thought that drove me to make this video essay. The fact that there is a huge problem in American cinema with diversity is becoming an increasingly hot topic. But I wanted to look at the problem from the perspective of American cinema’s history, rather than where it’s at now.

When I tried to discover why there were so few non-white men in leading roles throughout American cinema’s history, I couldn’t see any alternative reason except that the way American cinema makes villains out of whole groups of people. It’s been done with Germans, black American, Native Americans and most recently arabs, but no matter who the villain is the hero is always the same, or else stands for the same values.

I always hated villains in films, or rather I always hated the idea of “the villain”. I especially remember being a kid watching Aladdin and just not understanding Jafar at all, why he was so evil, what he was trying to achieve. It made no sense to me. And it wasn’t until years later when I started to discover cinema from other countries beyond the US that I started to realise the hero/villain/damsel-in-distress structure for films was not so widely used to tell stories outside the US.

Why did American cinema need this trope, that goes all the way back to The Birth of a Nation? And how had it affected us over the years as it became more commonplace and also more subtle in the way it demonised other ethnicities. The fact that it still happens today is what’s shocking, but I didn’t want to address it in a film that has already been as criticised as American Sniper. It seemed it made more sense to examine a film like Argo, the winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 2013.

Here was a classic example of a racist narrative, and yet the supposedly liberal Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave it a resounding vote of support. I don’t think the Academy are necessarily card carrying racists, but I think the fact that they so willingly rewarded a film with such troubling racial politics begins to explain just how homogeneous American cinema still is.