Hibernian Writers: Kevin Conroy

Kevin Conroy

KEVIN CONROY was born in Dublin and is currently living in Kildare, has worked in U.K., Germany, Swaziland, South Africa, U.S. and Ireland as a teacher, professional engineer, manager in multinationals, executive coach and organisational psychologist.  His work has been published in The Moth, Southword, Burning Bush II, Writing4All – the best of 2010, Boyne Berries, The Blue Max Review and erbacce. Selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2014, he was a prize-winner in Trocaire & Poetry Ireland Competition 2012, published  in  their  pamphlet ‘Imagining a Just and Free World’.

What is your earliest memory of poetry at home or in school?

My family motto is Maireann a scríobhtar  and my early published writing was adventure stories in Our Boys. Poetry didn’t fit with being an action man in Arbour Hill boxing club. It was for exams, except for one embarrassing performance on the school stage of Pearse’s “The Fool “. Years later I fell in love and poured derivative love poems into my journal. One escaped and was sent to the girl who is now my wife.

Is there a particular poet, poem or book of poems that was, for you, like discovering rock ‘n’ roll for the very first time? Can you describe what it was like?

It was more “uncovering” than “discovering”. Slowly from Yeats, Kavanagh, Heaney to Robert Frost. Ger Quinn was a great teacher in U.C.D.’s part-time evening courses. I read Frost’s Collected Poems, Prose, Plays cover to cover. I discovered that a poem is not only putting technically excellent marks on a page or sounds in the air, but expressing the poet’s identity. It is an invitation to a person’s unique world. Concordance and authenticity is revealed (or not) by reading more of his/her work. Ever since, I read a poem first in order to see if I’ll reread it. The realisation that a poet is revealing his/her identity in every poem is one of the challenges for poet and reader. Currently, I come back to poems where something mysterious is emerging out of the author’s worldview that I recognise as having a truth that “resists the intelligence almost successfully.”  Kimberly Campanello’s “Orange on the Horizon” is an example.

What was your first “Eureka!” moment in writing and publishing poetry; the moment when you realized “Hey, I’m actually on to something here!” in terms of your work coming together and first getting accepted and published in magazines and journals?

I considered writing poetry a solitary thing, a secret thing. Not consistent with the persona of a business man and engineer. Then Maggie Hurt Smith persuaded me to perform in public in the Twisted Pepper, Abbey St., Dublin. They clapped!  the Moth published my first poem and I discovered that an editor (Rebecca O’Connor) can be kind and helpful! And I chanced my arm elsewhere with success. But it was being selected as an emerging poet in Poetry Ireland Introductions Series 2014 that gave me permission to say I write poetry.

What is the most memorable poetry reading that you have attended and why?

It’s between Dennis O’Driscoll’s hilariously witty performance in Dún Laoghaire’s Poetry Now Festival (2003?) and Kimberly Campanello with composer Ben Dwyer on classical guitar in the Joyce Centre, 2014.

Kimberly voiced strange eerie sounds from her sheela-na-gig work, the room’s reverbational acoustics intensifying the effect. It was like the poet was communicating without words across time into an Irish past of the lost and disallowed, bypassing controlling powers with poetry that bridges to music. It was when I realised the source of great poetry is not necessarily words but vocal sound and visible marks.

Finally, if you could own and keep just three collections of poetry on your bookshelf- excluding, of course, your own- which collections would they be and why?

First – Dennis O’Driscoll’s “Dear Life” is a must – the title typically having double/triple meanings. I was M.D. of Oral B Labs living in Naas where Dennis lived. His work drew me in, at first, because he wrote about life at work – giving me ‘permission’ to do so too. When I came to know his utter conviction of the importance of poetry and what it can do in a technological world, I read everything he published and found an extraordinary person not only intelligent, witty, playful but deeply knowledgeable and widely recognised in the literary world. He would stop and chat about art (he was a Hon. Fellow of the RHA)and poetry on the street and, even though I didn’t know him well, he sent me books to read with a gracious note when I was recovering from an operation. His poetry has too often been bracketed as Larkinesque and language that is “the lyric equivalent of William Trevor”. Well, “Dear Life” poems such as  “Fabrications”, “Spare Us”, and “Our Father” are a testament to his lyrical quality. How beautiful is his praise for a God whose “special is//a sun-melt served on/a fragrant bed of/moist cut-grass; yesterday, a misty-eyed moon…drafting a summer dawn…/ profligate horizons,/ lofty skies, beyond which/other universes stack up..” and the wonder of the Big Bang – “the attention-grabbing/voicemail he recorded/ on day one: an opening/gambit that came out/of nowhere…bang /in the middle of nothing/…..the illuminated manuscripts/of galaxies, over which lovers/pore in the dark nights/of their infatuated souls.” This is lyric. There is his humour  in “Spare Us” and the bright intelligence of a poet holding contradictions in a single thought to disturb the meanings while keeping the poetry. Both the cold eye of domestic realism and the wonder of beautiful lyricism are there in his poems.

His poetry has metaphors and concerns deep into our current living working world, with humour and an edge that goes (cuts?) deep. This is a lifeline for me who teaches Technology Management knowing that both the physical and so-called social technology fused by business is taking over what philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls the life-world. He reaches that simplicity on the far side of complexity and includes the redress that calls for wonder and lyric.

Secondly, I would keep my Frost collection because his work lets me in as a writer of poems in a way that the unique perfection of poets such as Seamus Heaney don’t.  (However, his essays in The Redress of Poetry and collaboration with Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones are lasting influences).  Frost’s delight in ambiguity and his wisdom keep drawing me back to his work. He said poetry gives us “a clarification of life”, “a way of remembering what it would impoverish us to forget”. It is a universal art form across all cultures and the “sound of sense” has a vocal music uniquely human.  His “For Once then Something” has that imaginative mystery that fascinates me.

I have built my own anthology of top favourite poems. It has forty-eight poems including C.K. Williams, Robert Hass, Sharon Olds, Muriel Rukeyser, Enda Wyley, Rhoetke, Elisabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Peter Sirr, Charles Bukowski, Donald Hall, Maggie Hurt Smith, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot. It is difficult to choose the third collection, but since I find that my current influences are mainly contemporary women poets, I choose Kimberly Campanello. Not her poetry collection, but her PhD thesis  “Writing the Sheela-na-gig: Semiotic Complexity, Ekphrasis, and Poetic Persona in the Poetry Collection Strange Country” .  Strange Country will be published by The Dreadful Press in October.

Kimberly’s work has drawn me into a world where the permissions of poetry fed by the apophatic free the imagination. Poetry that points to the inexpressible by referring to what it is not, honouring it with wonder and never-ending questions, aware that ultimate realities cannot be apprehended directly. But they may be pointed towards – “that great absence /In our lives, the empty silence /Within, the place where we go /Seeking, not in hope to/Arrive or find.” (R.S. Thomas)

This includes witness and redress for what is lost, disallowed, excluded.  Her work also interweaves art into ekphrastic poetry that involves a personal encounter with the piece of art that triggers vulnerability to uncertainties and possibly the unconscious. Iconographer Helen McIldowie-Jenkins has published my ekphrastic poem, “The Gilded Arch”, on her website. My interest in painting and icons leads me down this path, even though the change of direction may mean ‘emerging’ becomes ‘groping’ poet.

Kevin Conroy reads as part the Hibernian Writers group at the launch of The Lion Tamer Dreams of Office Work: An Anthology of poetry by Hibernian Writers on Tuesday 20th October at The Teacher’s Club.

Hitting the ReBoot button: Darklight returns after one year hiatus

Fifteen years since its first foray into Ireland’s arts festival scene, Darklight is back with a three-day programme celebrating independent creativity in digital media and film. Philip Cummins caught up with both festival director Nicky Gogan and Darklight board member / Le Cool Dublin publisher Michael McDermott to talk about the festival’s origins, those must see events in this year’s programme and Darklight’s most illustrious board member, director Lenny Abrahamson.

Darklight Reboot: The 2014 Darklight festival is ready to reboot.

Darklight ReBoot: The 2014 Darklight festival is ready to reboot.

Originally published by Entertainment Ireland on 8th April, 2014. To read the original, please click here.

Darklight has been a stalwart of the festival scene for fifteen years, so in a way it’s a survivor of the festival scene in Ireland, but it’s still also one of those ahead- of- the- curve festivals.

BUZZING with excitement at the launch of this year’s programme of events in Smithfield’s Block T- described as Darklight’s HQ for the festival’s duration- Le Cool Dublin publisher Michael McDermott, a fresh appointment to the board of Darklight, is keenly aware of how far both Darklight and the Irish film industry have traveled since the festival’s inception, fifteen years ago.

“Darklight started at a time in the late 90’s when people in Ireland didn’t yet fully understand what exactly “digital” meant. Here, in Smithfield, we’re just around the corner from Brown Bag Films, which, in 2014, is now one of the leading animation studios in Europe and a studio that employs 250 people. So I think that Darklight has shadowed and supported the growth of digital industries in Ireland in terms supporting creativity, technology and the intersection between technology and film. It’s always been one of the more experimental and ambitious festivals out there. We had a hiatus, last year, and the idea around the ‘Reboot’ element of this year’s festival is to engage with a new, young, fresh audience to maintain Darklight’s relevancy.”

And a reboot it is: this year’s edition of the festival certainly feels bigger, stronger and faster, anchored as it is in five of Smithfield’s cultural focal points: Smithfield Square, Block T, The Lighthouse cinema, The Generator hostel and Third Space café.

The programme, too, mixes the old and the new: Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic Goodfellas receives a screening in the festival’s 100 seat Cinemobile on Smithfield Square, while more pioneering work, such as New Irish Experimental Docs, will also be screened in Darklight’s Cinemobile.

Darklight will screen Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas in the Darklight Cinemobile on Smithfield Square.

Darklight will screen Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic Goodfellas in the Darklight Cinemobile on Smithfield Square.

Certainly, the genesis of the festival and its origins are fresh in the mind of Nicky Gogan, Artistic Director and co- founder of Darklight.

“My friend Susie and I founded the festival in ’99 and it started out as a digital festival at a time when we were paying attention to what festivals like Resfest and Onedotzero in London were doing. Eventually, we thought “Why can’t we do that over here?

“The focus of the festival is different every year: sometimes it’s more U.S. focused, other years the work that we feature is more European focused. It really depends on what exciting creative events are happening around the world, which cities are blossoming with new and exciting work that features the intersection between gallery work and feature work.

“The central points of the festival, though, are Digital Storytelling and What’s Up Doc. Discussing the ideas and the medium is just as important as what’s up on the screen, so there will be two roundtables on the Friday and the Saturday that are free. All the filmmakers that will be in Smithfield during the festival will take part.”

Of course, that intersection between experimental gallery work and feature films couldn’t come at a better time; this year, 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen, who won the Turner Prize in 1999, netted this year’s Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards, sealing his reputation as one of the most exciting feature filmmakers in the current era.

“Absolutely”, agrees McDermott. “And I think another good example of that transition in this year’s programme is Forsyth & Pollard, Darklight 2014’s Artists in Focus. Forsyth & Pollard started out in the experimental, installation sphere and have now crossed over into feature work. They directed 20,000 Days on Earth, the Nick Cave documentary that premiered, recently, at Sundance.

“I think that the value of installation work is more appreciated, now, in terms of the aesthetics and the ideas that installation work can bring to feature films. So Darklight, I think, is great at blurring boundaries between those two spheres of film and creativity. I also think that by the time cinema- going audiences see 20,000 Days on Earth in late summer / autumn of this year, you’ll be reading about the Nick Cave documentary in The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times. Darklight has Forsyth & Pollard discussing 20,000 Days on Earth and showing excerpts from 20,000 Days on Earth several months before the mainstream media, so in that sense the festival is, again, ahead of the curve.”

Closer to home, of course, is director Lenny Abrahamson, who through Garage, What Richard Did and the upcoming Frank has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge from these shores for quite some time. The Dubliner is also on the board of Darklight and Gogan’s praise of the What Richard Did director couldn’t be higher.

Frank director Lenny Abrahamson is a member of Darklight's board.

Lenny Abrahamson, director of Frank (above) is a member of Darklight’s board.

“Lenny’s just a really creative and generous man. He’s a great touchstone when it comes to programming, but he also has an international focus towards discovering new film. He’s always travelling with his work and he’s always discovering new films and new filmmakers. From a programming perspective, he’s great and he’s the only active film maker on the board. Crucially, he’s also very industry focused, so he has a great balance between the international outlook and creative side of the festival, but he also has a focus on the Irish industry side of it.”

Despite Lenny Abrahamson’s continued success in the medium, many young, aspiring filmmakers have, no doubt, been forced to leave our shores in search of opportunities abroad, impacting on the amount of home-grown talent in the Irish film industry. Despite these realities, Gogan is optimistic for the future of Irish filmmaking.

“During Darklight 2012, we showed exclusively Irish films – milestones in terms of the DIY nature of the films. We showed no films that had a logo attached. It was amazing to see the amount of collectives, the amount of groups that are coming together to make films in a DIY, home-grown fashion. Now, two years on, a lot of those filmmakers have garnered awards and acclaim, so that’s great; it’s great that there’s still a strong, grass-roots of filmmakers growing and blossoming.

“Obviously, emigration has meant that a lot of young, fresh, talented filmmakers are leaving the island. It’s terribly sad and upsetting and there could very well be a lost generation of filmmakers. But I was part of that too: during the early – mid 90’s, I went to the U.S. and it was a great experience. My hope is that those who leave will learn new skills, work in different areas and then come home and apply all of those skills and experience that they’ve learned abroad. It’s important to keep that youthful energy in the industry.

“I’m very much a glass half-full person, so I think the future is bright for the industry and bright for Darklight.”

Darklight runs from 24 April – 27 April in Smithfield. For the full programme of events, visit darklight.ie. For tickets, visit entertainment.ie/darklight.

Sons and Mothers: What is it about Best Actor Winners and Tributes to their Mothers?

Long before 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen celebrated the women in his life during his Best Picture acceptance speech at this year’s Oscars, the trend of actors celebrating women in acceptance speeches- particularly mothers- has always been in vogue, writes Philip Cummins

Sons and Mothers: Jared Leto, Leo Di Caprio and Bradley Cooper all poses with their respective mothers at this year's Oscars

Sons and Mothers: Jared Leto, Leo Di Caprio and Bradley Cooper all pose with their respective mothers at this year’s Oscars

OVER THE DECADE, it became parodic for American pop stars- Britney Spears- esque pop tarts, and the like- to accept worthless awards, such as the MTV VMA’s, and to gush endlessly about their indebtedness to God. Not only was it toe- curling, ham- fisted, American- style cheese of the highest order, it was also a sign of how inarticulate the current crop were at acceptance speeches, dedicated, largely, to an inanimate being.

Fast forward some years later and, while the trend of thanking God hasn’t quite let up just yet, the trend of American actors thanking their mothers is quite astounding, bringing to mind Sally Field’s hilarious quote from last year’s Oscars about Tom Hanks; asked about what it was like to work with an intense method actor such as the incomparable Daniel Day Lewis, the maverick actress joked “I’ve worked with method actors before: Tom Hanks still calls me ‘Mama’!”.

Here are five actors who publicly announced just how important and inspirational their mothers were to their success.

Kevin Spacey – Best Actor for American Beauty

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Best Actor for Capote

Clint Eastwood– Best Director for Million Dollar Baby

Anthony Hopkins– Best Actor for Silence of the Lambs

Jared Leto– Best Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club

Top 5 Matthew McConaughey Performances

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Monday 13th May, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

No longer taking the backseat: In recent years, Matthew McConaughey has proved himself to be one of America’s finest leading men.

IT’S a comeback that none of us saw coming and of which Lazarus would be proud.

With the recent release of Mud, a cinematic slice of timeless, golden Americana from director Jeff Nichols, Matthew McConaughey continues his newly earned reputation as one of the finest and most exciting American actors working in film today.

McConaughey has left his rom- com days as the delectable, though, ultimately, clichéd, prince charming behind him and chosen to play chilling and disturbing characters that would leave any member of his devoted fan base of adorning teenage girls positively squeamish. The square- jawed Texan, who boasts features so chiseled that Michelangelo would throw his hammer and pick down in shame, was previously dubbed “Matthew Mahogany” by noted BBC film critic Mark Kermode in relation to what Kermode saw as McConaughey’s wooden performances in any number of vacuous rom coms. Kermode, however, has since done a U- turn and dubbed now refers to McConaughey as “Matthew McConaissance”.

In recent years, McConaughey has gone Method. Anyone see those pictures of an almost- anorexic McConaughey? The 43-year- old 6ft tall, 13 Stone 7 lbs actor starved himself down to 9 Stone 7lbs to play AIDS sufferer Ron Woodroof in upcoming flick, Dallas Buyers Club, surviving on nothing but a daily diet of diet coca cola, egg whites and a piece of chicken. It may very well prove to the role that earns McConaughey his first Academy Award nomination; he may even walk home with the Oscar for Best Actor. Rumors of McConaughey changing his surname to Day- Lewis are exaggerated.

McConaughey also joined the cast of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which is due in late 2013 / early 2014. The truth is that while some of McConaughey’s previous choices have been pretty damn awful by anyone’s standards, he’s made up for it with his recent turns. Let’s hope for his sakes and ours that it doesn’t go all Nic Cage. For now, here’s a top 5 of his best performances to date. If we’ve left any out, do let us know.

5. Roger Sherman Baldwin – Amistad

Cast as a lawyer (what is with this guy and lawyers? I reckon he wanted to go to law school before making it as an actor), McConaughey’s nuanced turn in Spielberg’s Amistad, a film that received a lukewarm reception on release but is definitely worth re- investigating, is something to behold. Acting alongside a fine cast that included Morgan “the voice” Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Pete Postlethwaite and Stellan Skarsgård, he plays a young property lawyer who works under Theodore Johnson (Freeman) and Lewis Tappan (Skarsgård). Relatively young and inexperienced and the time of filming, he holds is own well and, like Tommy Lee Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, he’s a very effective supporting actor who gains the audiences’ support and sympathy.

4. Mick Haller – The Lincoln Lawyer

Some distance from his turn as a laywer in A Time to Kill, McConaughey’s performance as Mick Haller, a sometime successful, sometime not- so- successful criminal defense lawyer who operates in and around Los Angeles county out of a black Lincoln Town Car. His client (Ryan Philippe) is the subject of what could be a career- defining case. McConaughey’s performance is a perfect example of how he has gone for a less- is- more approach, using his matinee idol looks and charisma to build a character that is flawed and in search of success.

3. Dallas – Magic Mike

An excellent performance that should have resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. McConaughey’s devilish Dallas, a shrewd, manipulative strip- bar owner is central to the action of the movie and leads him to manipulate and groom the other characters as only a villain can. Tyler Durden, but with less clothes.

2. Mud – Mud

Playing a sweet- talking fugitive on the run after killing the man who beat up the woman he loves (played by Reese Witherspoon), McConaughey’s Mud is a mix between Martin Sheen’s character, Kit, in Badlands and Kevin Costner’s Butch Haynes from A Perfect World. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with two young boys who provide him with food and deliver it to the boat on the Mississippi river, where he’s hiding out in a boat. Armed with only a pistol and a “lucky shirt” which he uses for protection; ironic giving that McConaughey has had trouble keeping his shirt on in previous films- see Matt Damon’s hilarious impression of the Texan actor after the #1 spot.

1. Joe Cooper – Killer Joe

It was a performance that nobody- myself included- thought that McConaughey had in him. Playing the suave, dirty cop who moonlights as a contract killer, McConaughey uses his natural charisma and charm to chilling effect in this darkly comic thriller from William Friedkin, which is sure to gain cult status over the coming years. It may very well be the defining role of his career re- vamp and the yardstick by which all subsequent performances from the Texan may be measured. And the chicken bone scene…the chicken bone scene. Enough to put you off chicken for a month.

And here’s something else you won’t forget: Matt Damon’s now legendary impression of Matthew McConaughey:

Oh, Russell: How Oscar- Nominated Writer- Director David O. Russell Finally Came Good

The Fighter: David O. Russell has overcome setbacks to become one of the most complete writer- directors of the current era

Well, I don’t want to be accused of micro-managing, but I cannot understand why “I Heart Huckabees” is on a list of DVDs considered suitable for armed-forces entertainment. That self-indulgent crap is not suitable for combat troops.  – Linton Barwick, character from Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop (2009)                                                         

While David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook may only have claimed one Oscar (Best Actress for a very deserving Jennifer Lawrence) from the seven major categories for which it was nominated , the success of the movie- artistically, critically, commercially- has quashed any suggestions that the success of Russell’s 2010 drama The Fighter, during awards season, as well as with audiences and critics alike, was a fluke. Now in his 50’s, the writer- director who once seemed to be on verge of becoming another burnt- out Hollywood casualty has become one of the most celebrated directors of the age. Along with Clint Eastwood, Paul Thomas Anderson and Alexander Payne, Russell has, on the back of both The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, earned a reputation as the ultimate “Actors’ Director”. During this year’s Academy Awards, Russell achieved the rare feat of having his Silver Linings Playbook stars nominated in all four acting categories- Best Actor, Bradley Cooper; Best Actress, Jennifer Lawrence; Best Supporting Actor, Robert De Niro; and Best Supporting Actress, Jacki Weaver- a feat that hasn’t been achieved in 31 years since Warren Beatty’s Reds was nominated in all four acting categories. It hasn’t always been plain- sailing, however, for the New Yorker.

In 2008, David O. Russell looked finished. Like Michael Cimino, the Oscar- winning director of The Deer Hunter, and American History X director Tony Kaye before him, Russell’s career as a director seemed doomed to suffer a similar fate, making him another Hollywood director whose erratic working methods were sabotaging his own reputation.

It was during shooting for Nailed, a political satire ( a project, which has since been put on hold after production stalled mid- way through filming), that cracks began to appear. James Caan, the notoriously tough, thick- skinned, hard- necked, Bronx- born actor was reported as having walked off the project due to “creative differences” between himself and Russell.

Caan’s beef with Russell was, of course, only the latest episode in a catalogue of incidents that had characterized Russell as a difficult director with whom actors had trouble working; an abrasive and demanding taskmaster who seemingly struggled to communicate to his actors what it was he wanted.

Indeed, the stories of Russell’s on- set tantrums were the sort of infamous Hollywood stories with which Peter Biskind has compiled several books. The oldest, no doubt, is Russell’s on- set bust up with George Clooney, the ever- genial, ever- good- natured star about whom co- stars, co- producers, co- writers and directors alike cannot help but gush with praise.

On the set of 1999’s Three Kings, Russell’s on- set frustrations became contagious. Extras and crew members alike were, allegedly, subjected to demeaning, foul- mouthed rants from the director. Clooney, for his part, claims to have extended an olive branch more than once. Having written a letter to his director about one particularly dismal day of filming, all order seemed to be restored. After an episode when Russell grabbed an extra and threw him to the ground, Clooney objected and, was, allegedly grabbed by the neck by Russell and a fracas ensued. Russell goaded Clooney into punching him and, sure enough, Clooney is said to have clocked Russell. Both Russell and Clooney are said to have gotten through the shoot while gritting their teeth.

Though Russell’s reputation as an on- set hot- head was by no means a secret, it was the uploading of a candid, on- set video from the shoot of 2004’s I Heart Huckabees that didn’t help matters. In the footage, not only does Russell destroy props like a bratty child in need of “time- out”, but he addresses lead actress Lily Tomlin with the most demeaning, humiliating and vulgar pejorative that any man can hurl at any woman. In another video, Tomlin is seen throwing a fit, frustrated at Russell’s indecision about the tone of a particular scene and his general lack of communication and direction. Her co- stars in the scene, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, and a sneering Naomi Watts, barely know where to look.

The enduring problem for Russell and his audience, however, was his unpredictable and checkered output. While Three Kings worked well as a satire and was the perfect springboard for many of the political and satirical movies that George Clooney would later create as an actor, writer and director, I Heart Huckabees should have cemented Russell’s standing as a fine, contemporary film- maker, more than able to hold his own with the most celebrated directors of the day. It didn’t.

Having recently re- visited I Heart Huckabees since first viewing it in on the big screen at its time of release, my feelings for Russell’s pretentious, over- written, badly edited movie, have not changed, almost ten years on. The problem with watching …Huckabees now is that it can’t quite hold its own against many of the quirk- indie films at that time, such as Adaptation and  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the latter being the film which we now know to have launched a thousand imitations. In fact, …Huckabees, which announced itself on theatrical posters as “an existential comedy”, couldn’t stand up among those films at the time. In Mark Kermode’s brilliant review of …Huckabees for the New Statesman in 2004, the noted film critic suggests that, unlike Eternal Sunshine…, …Huckabees is all head and no heart; it lacks any emotion to the point where the audience doesn’t really care about any of the characters. And as the epigraph suggests, …Huckabees eventually became a by- word for pretentious, self- indulgent, quirk- indie, arty farty film- making.

But Hollywood loves a comeback. Whether it’s a washed- up John Travolta delivering a career best performance in Pulp Fiction, Mickey Rourke putting Lazarus firmly in the shade for The Wrestler, or Robert Downey Jr. finally overcoming his addictions to fulfill the promise he once showed in Chaplin; studios, ad people, industry insiders, journalists, film fans…we all love the rags- to- riches- to- rags, again, to- riches, again, stories that are the stuff of Hollywood legend. So what inspired Russell’s return to form?

The answer, quite simply, is back- to- basics film- making. After …Huckabees, Russell became less concerned with style and more concerned with substance through character and plot. Most importantly, his post- …Huckabees output has heart, heart, heart. In fact, Russell himself acknowledges much of this in the interview embedded below; in the six- year hiatus that followed …Huckabees, during which he not only got bogged down with the mixed reactions to …Huckabees, but also went through a divorce, the humbled director found his focus through his new, stripped back approach to story and character. Quite simply, Russell now seems to be more interested in character development and the personalty that his actors can bring to each part than his earlier work would suggest.

These are all qualities, of course, that are shared with some of the all- time great Actors’ Directors. The nuanced, drama /comedy and realist drama, respectively, of Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, are enough to remind one of those great directors whose focus on character and personality have produced some of the greatest films of the last century; Elia Kazan, Frank Capra, Milos Foreman, Sidney Lumet, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Mike Nichols, Hal Ashby…directors who rely purely on the quality of their actors, a strong screenplay brimming with dramatic action, three- dimensional characters and arresting plot developments. In this regard, Alexander Payne may be Russell’s only true contemporary; both men are directors whose work could have quite easily existed and stood shoulder to shoulder with the best work from the last Golden Age of American cinema during the 1970’s.

Where Russell will go next is anyone’s guess. Rumors have indicated that production on Nailed may well resume, while Russell himself has spoke of his intention to work for a second time with Oscar- winner Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner on American Bullshit (working title, apparently), a story about an FBI sting operation in the 1970s called Abscam, which lead to the conviction of United States Congressmen. What Russell’s next project may be is uncertain, though two things are known for sure: David O. Russell is a great American writer- director and we are very lucky to have a film- maker of his calibre in this era of cinema.