Gabriel Byrne will be attending a Q & A at the Los Angeles Irish Film Festival on Thursday, September 24, following the premiere of his film Gabriel Byrne: Stories From Home.
A review of the evening’s events has been published at the Aero Theatre Facebook page, with text provided by Dr. Yes and photos by Tim Ackerly.
I have taken the liberty of providing the entire review here for several reasons. First, it is the most in-depth review of Gabriel Byrne: Stories From Home yet! It is also honest and perceptive in its assessment of the film, complimentary to Mr. Byrne, and darned good reading.
Enjoy and many thanks to Dr. Yes and Mr. Ackerly!
Pat Collins’ documentary GABRIEL BYRNE: STORIES FROM HOME is a flat-out awe-inspiring testimony to the power of performance, perseverance, and the pursuit of truth. It charts Gabriel Byrne’s life and career path – more like the streak of a comet – navigated by an inner compass of love and courage, guided by an unshakable commitment to follow one’s heart and a conviction to seek the truth no matter what the cost – you might say the only true path. This legendary artist, through his commitment to living, and “as an actor, the power to interpret” the truth, Mr. Byrne has opened himself up and laid bare for the camera his demons, passions, and most intimate personal history. As he achieves the incredible heights of super-stardom, a Vegas wedding to Ellen Barkin, as well as the insufferable depths of depression and alcoholism (five-day drinking binges in anonymous hotel rooms), we are there, almost seeing through his eyes. With a poet’s grasp of the written word, he shares of himself in a totemic manner, beyond the capacity of most, and the willingness of only the bravest of souls.
Where this rapper is usually primed and ready to analyze and babble-on Babylon, Pat Collins’ film and most particularly Gabriel Byrne’s openness and ability to articulate any and all aspects of his inner world leave one feeling as if they would be divulging a personal secret were they to talk about the movie, as if STORIES were meant to be heard in the great oral tradition of which Byrne speaks, straight from the mouth of the storyteller. And the stories are darn good ones, pathos and humor – like the one about the man who worked every job under the sun, including Dublin’s, then the one and only gay bar. With the common nickname for Gabriel, he would go to work and “they’d ask are you ‘Ga,?’ I’d say yeah. Why is it always only men coming in here?”
Be it in the writings of his journals, or his live on-camera interviews, there is an intimacy, a deafening quiet; unlike the “actorly” technique of speaking softly to draw an audience inward and hold their attention, Gabriel Byrne speaks volumes of truth. And that’s what holds your attention. Often formulating eloquently nuanced observations regarding the modern human condition, Byrne (along with the film itself) feel like they are continuously searching, most evidently searching for truth.
STORIES is stylish post-modernist in that it does not seek to provide all the answers or even raise all the questions pertaining to “Who is Gabriel Byrne, and just what exactly is the personal history of this enigmatic artist?” Collins leaves many threads for us to ponder, perhaps in a connectedness to our own lives. In championing the spirit of all things Irish, the film becomes an endorsement and joyous celebration of that very uniqueness which is at the core of all cultures. With the Irish, you’re talking unique enough to corner the market on a primary color for fok’s sake.
Pat Collins’ in-depth documentary plays like a confessional, a mirror for us all. The film is that personal, and hopefully it will serve as the first of many chapters yet to come in GABRIEL BYRNE: A Portrait of the Artist’s Life Well Lived, herein well examined, illuminated, and illuminating for us all.
And then the man took the stage.
Following a rousing applause, Q&A host F.X. Feeney opened by vocalizing what I’d wager my shamrocks was the thought of every person in attendance: “Thank you so much for this great film; it’s really magnificent.” As Gabriel Byrne uttered a quiet “Thank you” in return, the usually concise and eloquent Feeney, still evidently under the spell of the film, and of Byrne himself, launched into his most rambling and long-winded opening question to date: “It’s… it’s… part of it’s self-explanatory, but it raises a lot of questions…” finally culminating in “… One Hundred B.C., these Irish Sailors observed in Lebanon, in the Middle East, it was said of them, these people can neither read nor write, but they have three passions. One of them is storytelling, another is fame, and the other is the drink that propels the first two.” Amid a smattering of discomfited response, Mr. Byrne began speaking in the same quiet voice with which he had read excerpts from his journals and narrated the documentary:
“I think a lot of it has to do with our history… the Christians came to Ireland, the monks and the Jews, but only to a very elite section of society. There was an incredibly sophisticated cultural tradition in Ireland up until the 16th Century, which was based on two forms of storytelling: one was the written, and the other was the oral tradition. And with the destruction of Ireland and the closing of the Bardic schools, Ireland was plunged into another 200 years of penal laws which the British imposed in which you couldn’t speak your own language, you couldn’t own a home, you couldn’t go to school, you couldn’t own a horse, you couldn’t own a firearm, you couldn’t own a house, so people were robbed of their ability to express themselves. And the oral tradition survived and in the country cottages, and the houses in the country, people told stories. Storytelling and imagination, I think, is in the DNA of Irish people.”
“This is such a beautiful brave film… was it a difficult film for you to make? How did it come about?”
“Well, I had seen this director; he did a film on an Irish writer, McGahern, which I happened to see when I was home in Dublin. John McGahern is one of the great writers of the 20th Century. They call him ‘the Irish Chekov;’ he was really an amazing man. And this filmmaker Pat Collins made a film and I was struck by this documentary and how beautifully he had captured John McGahern. And then he called me about six months later and asked me if I would like to do a film with him. And I was initially very reluctant to do it because I thought it was going to be a conventional kind of biography, with clips and some other people talking about ya and so forth. And I guess with any film – you’ve got to trust the director. I mean, he had over 78 hours of footage to work from. Was it the film I would have made? No. Was it the film you would have made no? No. It’s the film he wanted to make. And in order to make the film, I had to say to myself, well, I have to be absolutely truthful in this film. It can’t be just a load of bullshit – you know, so and so was great to work with and all that stuff. And I decided to be open – I refused to wear make-up, which you probably noticed by my ruddy face there. I refused also to ask for any particular lighting and as you can see by the vast wardrobe that I was wearing, that I didn’t ask for anything in that department – that was part of the process about being open. I didn’t want to feel that I was hiding anything. Those things that I talked about like divorce and separation, and work, I felt I had to answer those questions truthfully because my sum is an extension of the work that I do which I said in the film is really about opening yourself up and allowing people to see who you are. And the parts that I find fascinating about people are the parts that they hold secret and they hide. I always want to get at those bits. I think that it’s only when someone is truthful and reveals who they are that you can actually really ever get to know them.”
“How long did it take to make the picture?”
“Well it didn’t take me very long. I mean, I did four or five interviews maybe. And we didn’t have a big budget so we shot for a few days in LA, and New York, and one or two days in Dublin… I just said, okay, I’ve just got to tell the truth as far as I’m concerned, the way I see it. I believe that if you tell the truth, you can’t go too far wrong, no matter how badly lit you are… I was very fortunate and had grown up with the very last of the William storytellers in Ireland. Men who came to my uncle’s house and in exchange for a bed for a night would tell a story and everybody in the village would come and listen. So I guess I grew-up conscious of the notion of storytelling, although I never saw myself as a story…It was an attempt like we all do – we try to find out who we are, by trying various things. As I said I was the worst plumber in Dublin. They’d used to say to me, ‘Go back to the factory and get a wrench. And don’t take the bus.’ So I’d walk back and return by the time they’d finished.”
Mr. Byrne went on to answer questions from the audience, many of which led to even more openness on his part in discussing the symptoms of his battles with depression and alcohol, often times hilarious, at points tragic, and yet always enlightening and deeply insightful; the remainder could have made for another twenty minutes of STORIES.
Gabriel Byrne isn’t just a treasure for the Irish… drum roll please… Mr. Byrne is hereby the first recipient of DR Y’S “DON MURRAY AWARD,” the award for service by a thespian, whom by actions so ultimately righteous and “right-on” has raised the level of consciousness and awareness not only of the film-going public but of society as a whole. The Award, first coined and cast in “Corbomite” on April 16th of this calendar year ‘09, is hereby presented to Mr. Byrne. Mr. Byrne is the first to receive the honor and as such will be the holder until another noble act of courage, self-sacrifice, and public service is performed which is similarly deserving of recognition. In other words: somebody shows a whole lotta soul.
“He fought a war on a battlefield where every victory hurts…” Thank you, Mr. Byrne, may the wind be always at your back. And thank you, Pat Collins for making, as FX said, “a beautiful and brave” film. Now I’ve got to see his 2005 film about the Irish writer, JOHN MCGAHERN: A PRIVATE WORLD.
Thanks to Lara for this information and the tons of pictures from Tim Ackerly, which are now in the Gallery!