Gabriel Byrne reads a lot.
Occasionally, he writes reviews of the books he has read. These are not academic treatises on the worthiness of a published work, although he could write such a treatise if he chose to do so. Rather, they are insightful essays which allow him to bring his particular insight to bear on a topic often close to his heart.
The Guts, by Roddy Doyle: a review published in The Irish Times on August 10, 2013
Roddy Doyle returns to his Commitments hero and his familiar themes of love and family. Mr. Byrne takes a look at those themes, as well as the themes of growing older and mortality, in this essay.
It is a style as simple, functional and as admirable as a Shaker chair. This simplicity of style allows us to concentrate fully on character and story. Big emotions don’t come from big words or complicated syntax. Doyle draws us in by what is left unsaid, allowing imagination to fill the gaps. Good writing, like good acting, is nine-tenths below the surface. Even if you are unfamiliar with the music of Dublinese, the dialogue sounds natural and true to the ear. The words are subsumed into the story, words that are funny in their very sound and full of the music of profanity.
So. There will be little here to surprise the reader of the Barrytown trilogy in terms of style. Structurally, the plot is well-conceived but slight, and vital strands of story developed earlier on bafflingly fall away without explanation in the later section. The big final set piece feels predictable thematically. Doyle has delved more deeply and poignantly into male menopausal angst in the short stories collected in Bullfighting and been more daring in the Henry Smart and Paula Spencer and Paddy Clarke novels. Nevertheless, The Guts is hilarious and beautifully observed .
What Fresh Lunacy is This?: The Authorized Biography of Oliver Reed, by Robert Sellers: a review published in The Irish Times on August 3, 2013
Actor Oliver Reed’s alcoholism, treated as entertainment by the media, caused mayhem and made him squander his immense talent
Alas poor Ollie! What a falling off was there!
What a Heathcliff he would have been, a Richard III, Stanley Kowalski, Hotspur, Lear, or James Bond. (He came within a hair’s breadth of being cast as 007.) At his peak he was cited in the same breath as Marlon Brando and Robert Mitchum. “He made the very air move,” Orson Welles had said. But he, in Dylan Thomas’s phrase, gave his “soul a blind, slashed eye, / Gristle and rind, and a roarer’s life” and drank away his talent till there was nothing but the shadow of what once had been.
Here is a list worth pondering: Baudelaire, Doctor Johnson, Faulkner, Bukowski, Tolstoy, Dylan Thomas, Coleridge, Sartre, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ray Carver, John Cheever, Burton, Harris, Hank Williams, George Best, John Barrymore, Bogart, WC Fields, John Ford, Ted Kennedy, Churchill, Judy Garland, Kerouac, Anne Sexton, Truman Capote, Spencer Tracey, Brendan Behan, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Amy Winehouse, etc, etc. What they all have in common is that like millions of unknown others they suffered, and in most cases died, from addiction to drugs or alcohol.
As a society we must begin to view this deadly illness not with condemnation but with compassion, and cease criminalising or romanticising the suffering of the addict. Let’s stop the prurient and voyeuristic media reporting of their sad travails (Lindsey Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Paul Gascoigne).
I knew and drank with many famous “hellraisers”: Oliver, Richard Harris, Jon Finch, Richard Burton, George Scott, Sterling Hayden, Nicol Williamson, and many not so famous. All of them found the world as it is intolerable. They needed something more: the moon perhaps, something demented, as Camus says. But I’m convinced that all of them were half in love with easeful death itself – the soul a battleground, as in the story of Jekyll and Hyde, for the angel and the fiend.
Lights, camera, the past and the future: a review published in The Irish Times on January 5, 2013 (the book review is now behind a paywall at the Irish Times)
In two new books, the critic David Thomson explores the history and influence of cinema, while David Denby assesses its future in a digital world
The Big Screen: The Story of Movies and What They Did to Us, By David Thomson
Do the Movies Have a Future, By David Denby
Denby addresses the disintegration of film language in big films, and how it weakens or eliminates emotional response. Movies such as Transformers that earn billions of dollars at the box office worldwide lay waste to film as an art form. In recent years, children have been playing video games and reading comic books, so Disney buys the rights to the Marvel comics for €4 billion.
Time Warner own DC Comics and so initiate their audiences from seven or eight-years old and hold them with franchises, sequels and tie-ins for 15 to 20 years.
This is not a passing phase, it is the reality of a business that doesn’t just cater to its audience, but consciously develops it, so that they can sell to it. How then, asks Denby, can they ever develop a taste for narrative, character, irony, wit or drama? Will they be so addicted to sensation that anything without extreme action seems lifeless and boring? He disdains the conglomerate aesthetic that feeds on cliche, rejecting anything too individual or complex. As the critic Molly Haskin has noted, “Hollywood entertainment for adults is an oxymoron.”
I recently showed some of my acting students in New York Dog Day Afternoon (1972), a film I remember as being emotionally gripping and intense. Most of them related only sporadically, finding the emotional relationship dull and the editing slow.
What I realised then was how profoundly young audiences have been influenced by the style and pace of contemporary video games and television. It is hard to believe that for the first 100 years of its existence, cinema was made for adults. Like Thomson, Denby hankers after the blessed mental state of movie going; both solitary and social.
In just 100 years cinema has evolved from the still image to motion, from the silents to the talkies, to the advent of television and now the digital revolution. My own conviction is that we will always attempt to make sense of our world through story, and how we tell stories will change in tandem with technology to find new forms and expressions of our deepest selves.
A Review of “Furious Love” by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, originally published at The Huffington Post on July 27, 2010.
Furious Love is a biography about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. In this excerpt, Gabriel writes about both of them:
Yet he was happiest reading, writing and talking.
He was the best-read actor I’ve ever met and he could talk for Wales. The Irish, said Oscar Wilde, are the greatest talkers since the Greeks, and we joked that the Welsh were really Irishmen who couldn’t swim.
Long after acting had lost its allure for him, I attended a small dinner in Vienna. Present were the great knights of the English theater. Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Laurence Olivier. Richard who’d until then had sworn off drink now sat in the presence of the man who’d once famously asked him if he wished to be a great actor or a star.
Both, he had replied.
Haunted by the idea that he had betrayed his legacy as the most important stage actor of his time, obsessed with the legend of Faust, he feared he had sold his soul–“Well, Larry” he slurred “look where we ended. You doing Polaroid commercials and me a tabloid caricature.”
But he was a magnificent man in her words, a kind gentle, generous, funny, gifted man. I don’t know if he ever found that man in the mirror he’d written about all those years ago.
Just once, I met her and fell like everyone else into those bluegrey, sometimes violet eyes, but what she spoke of was him. And how, long after they parted, she’d walked on to the stage where he was giving a public reading and whispered ‘I love you’ in Welsh. Yes, time held him green and dying, but Richard Burton, for sure sang passionately in his chains like the sea.