South Wind Blows and Harvest Films, 2008
Directed by Pat Collins
Director of Photography: Richard Kendrick
Nominated for IFTA Best Feature Documentary, 2009
Over the last thirty years, Irishman Gabriel Byrne has established himself as one of the leading actors of his generation. He has worked with some of the most interesting directors of international cinema, including Jim Jarmusch, Ken Loach, John Boorman, Costa Gavras, David Cronenberg, Wim Wenders, and the Coen Brothers.
Gabriel Byrne – Stories from Home is a revealing and evocative insight into Byrne’s life and creative impulse. Blending home movie films and contemporary footage, it’s an intimate profile, emanating from the man himself and giving the viewer a rare insight into Byrne’s private and public world. — Harvest Films
Pat Collins’ acclaimed portrait of the working-class Walkinstown lad turned international film actor largely eschews in-depth examination of Gabriel Byrne’s screen career, instead offering something far more profound, soulful, and deeply engaging.
Collins digs deeper, then deeper still, to get to the essence of the man: Byrne, accordingly, rises to the occasion, recounting the events that have defined his life (and the demons that have haunted him) with unstinting candour and a wry sense of humour: recounting his five years spent living in L.A., he describes the city as “Tír na nÓg – a place where people think if they get successful and wealthy, they’re not going to die.”
Deftly utilising candid home movie footage, Stories… captures a protagonist who perfectly fits into Collins’ extended gallery of iconoclastic loners following their own path: he may have been directed by a who’s who of world cinema, but here, as himself, Gabriel Byrne gives the performance of a lifetime. — Irish Film Institute
<Unless noted, all quotes are by Gabriel, from the film>
Neighbor: Well, you know, it’s tough to be you.
Gabriel: It’s tough to be me?
I think I’ve always had a desire to move, to travel, to be in different places. I left home for the first time when I was eleven and I left again when I was 22 to live in Spain…in one way, I’ve always been moving around.
<looking around his flooded home in Park Slope, NY>
I suppose you could call it post-apocalyptic nouveau style, the minimalist, ravaged, pillaged look. It’s quite a difficult and sophisticated look to pull off.
Rarely I think about tomorrow. I’m more susceptible to the past than the future.
<On becoming a television actor>
At that time, there were only two channels in Ireland…so everybody watched that program–it was The Late Late Show and The Riordans…and it was my first encounter with people crossing the line between reality and fiction.
<On New York>
When I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, I thought: Ah, this is the New York I’ve been looking for. This is the New York that I always thought existed, but never could quite find.
I do feel that, in Ireland, I’m constantly colliding with the past. Whereas, in New York, I have a clean slate. I’m free to compose my own present. In Dublin, I’m constantly being defined by my past.
<On Áine O’Connor, his first love>
I met Áine in 1976. I was still a teacher at the time and she was working at RTÉ and she was a major kind of television personality. I entered a new phase of my life when I met her.
From RTÉ Archives: Remembering Áine O’Connor
That was the thinking of the day. That to be a priest was to be marked in some way by God.
<After listing all of the jobs he attempted when he returned home from England as a “failed priest”>
I began to see that that kind of picaresque lifestyle was really getting me nowhere and…I thought, I’d better go back to school.
Most of the time we spend in a kind of “acted” universe. There’s our own private monologue that goes on, a kind of soundtrack that we carry around with us.
On acting and life in Hollywood
<On Los Angeles>
It’s a restless city. Los Angeles, even more so than New York, is a city people come to. It has to exist for those people who can’t exist in places outside it… It exists for people who become, in a way, or outgrow, or out-dream, or out-fantasize their own places. And the sense of freedom and light and being able to re-invent oneself is very strong there. But, there is also a sense of melancholy that permeates the place. And it is also Tir na nÓg. It’s a place where people think if they get successful and wealthy enough, they’re not going to die.
On Traveling, and Ellen
I don’t think that actors have the same ability to examine human behavior as, say, a writer does, or a psychologist, or an artist. But what they do have is the power to interpret it.
Maybe part of the fascination that people have with actors is that we’re fascinated by the human ability to transform ourselves into other creatures.
O’Neill is such an honest playwright that, at the end of the play, one of the saddest and most truthful moments is when Josie realizes that her love is not enough to stop James Tyrone from killing himself.
James Tyrone isn’t a character that depends on whether you can act it well or not. The character depends on how willing you are to explore what is, I think, at the crux of acting. It’s not about becoming somebody else. It’s about allowing other people to see who you are.
The real challenge of life is living with the gray days.
One day I woke up and I just thought, okay, I’m gonna have to stop, and I checked into a hospital. And checking into that hospital was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.
That’s the thing about being a well-known actor: when you think you’re being paranoid and people are talking about you, they probably are.
But there’s nothing more boring than listening to someone who’s full of drink thinking they’re interesting.
It’s a funny thing. Like a storm. A storm comes into your brain and it rages for days or weeks and the, suddenly you get up one day and it’s gone. And there’s that tremendous sense of relief…
To me, it’s like living in a village. If you live in a village, everybody knows you. They know everything about you. Fame is a small village.
Divorce and separation and all the things that came with that made me question my link in the chair again. What does it mean to be a good father and have you failed because you’re separated or divorced? I don’t believe in all that. There was a time when I did. I don’t anymore. I believe that, just because we are divorced or separated doesn’t mean my love for them is any less.
<From his book, Pictures In My Head>
“The sounds of a hospital at night. Only I am awake. Her arm hangs over the side of the bed like a broken doll. Only the sound of their breathing, my wife and child. Moonlight slides through the window. My finger in this tiny hand. This is the moment I will never forget. The two of them asleep and me awake, here, remembering a day with my father, in Kildare.”
reviews and interviews
After its initial airing on Irish television channel TV3 in December 2008, Stories From Home traveled to a series of film festivals, where it was received warmly by festival-goers in Los Angeles, Boston, Washington DC, Sheffield UK, Kilenny Ireland, and even in Finland!
L.A. Irish Film Festival
The documentary was screened at the festival in September, 2009.
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…
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.
F. X. Feeney was the master of ceremonies at the L. A. Irish Film Festival Q&A that took place after the screening of Stories From Home. He asked Gabriel:
“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.”
Irish Festival of Oulu, Finland
The festival screened the documentary in 2010:
Gabriel Byrne: Stories From Home documentary is a poetic and lyrical portrait of a man who, through both his life and career, exists in a self imposed exile. This film transcends the limitations of many such portraits, creating a truly cinematic work. The topics covered in the documentary are deeply personal, and demonstrate a palpable sense of trust between filmmaker and subject.
Over the last thirty years, Irishman Gabriel Byrne has established himself as one of the leading actors of his generation. He has starred in many films such as Miller’s Crossing and The Usual Suspects, and more recently in the television series In Treatment. Byrne’s producing credits also include the Academy Award-nominated movie In the Name of the Father. Leading critic David Thompson has said his performance in Miller’s Crossing, “is one of the great performances in American cinema”.
The documentary unfolds in a collage of photographs, home video, archive clips and interviews. All these elements, crafted in this wonderful portrait, seek to understand the man who we see in a candid moment at the opening scene, struggling to connect with the familiar.
The festival also screened the documentary in 2010:
Taking the tone of both a retrospective and a testament, ‘Stories From Home’ was presented to a small viewing at the Somerville Theatre for the Irish Film Festival on Friday, March 26th – it was intended to be the last screening of the film, which has yet to be released to a wide audience despite a limited-release in 2008. In a manner reminiscent of Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s ‘Ulysses,’ Byrne walks through the times of his life on an ostensible mission to seek out truth.
During this journey, we are treated to an eclectic and often fractured world of a man who lives in the small village of ‘Fame,’ as he calls it. As Isobel Stephenson seamlessly splices Byrne’s journey in a supreme effort of editing, cutting back and forth between time, from his early career to the present, and place, Hollywood, New York City and Ireland, a brilliant tapestry of a man’s life takes shape.
Kilkenny Arts Festival, Ireland
The documentary was part of a special event at the festival in 2010, introduced by Colm Tóibín, that celebrated “the career of one of Ireland’s biggest stars and features screenings of some of Byrne’s most acclaimed roles,” including Miller’s Crossing, Into the West, and two episodes of In Treatment.
Michael Harding reported on the screening of Stories From Home for the Irish Times:
Then I went to the Set Theatre, where a documentary about Gabriel Byrne was being screened, and even at that hour of the morning the actor’s face was mesmerizing, and I felt he was talking directly to me.
It takes generosity in an actor to refine personal agony into an art as public as theatre, and there are shades of powerful sorrow in Byrne the actor, and Byrne the man; his intense screen presence stayed with me all morning, as I idled about on High Street, Butter Slip and Pudding Lane.
Charley Brady and The Grinch
A Christmas 2008 review of the documentary is provided by the engaging Charley Brady, writing for the Irish Examiner, entitled “Byrne Brings Back Christmas For The Grinch”:
When you hear the sick- inducing hymn singing abominations who come a-calling at your door in an attempt to gouge the last few shekels out of pockets that have been emptied, if you’re dopey enough to have let them, by the charity bucket waving crazies, most of them on a commission, who hassle you as you attempt to weave your way reluctantly down a street where “Silent Night” or the ghastly “When a Child is Born” and the usual saccharine rubbish is being blasted into your Christmas-hating ears, then you realise that it’s time for the boiling oil to be poured forth from the castle turrets.
Then you watch Irish actor Gabriel Byrne talk so openly about the obvious love that he has for his children and you find that something that you had lost in your soul suddenly awakens.
And you know that beneath all the bull nonsense that you hear, that there are actually decent people who celebrate this time of the year.
Not because of unbelievable religious hot-shot-ing but because they love what they have given to this strange but beautiful world.
What Gabriel Byrne gave back to me was the beauty of this time.
Many thanks to director Pat Collins for making this lovely film!