It’s not very often that I’m torn on a film, but Robert J. Flaherty’s pseudo documentary Man of Aran is one that I am. First the good news: from a technical standpoint, this is a visually captivating film. Crammed with impossibly rich and downright dangerous shots of the treacherous North Atlantic, the blacks are as dark as squid ink, the whites are as shimmeringly luminous as Tijuana silver, and the greys are a stunningly natural and lovely compromise between the two. These shades of grey are what impressed me most about this film. You’d be hard pressed to find a better fit for a nitrate print.
Now for the bad news: for all its visual allure, Man of Aran is boring. It unflinchingly shows what it takes to survive on a barren rock in the middle of the ocean, but it fails to explain why anyone would choose to do it. I was ready to leave after half an hour of watching waves crash on the rocks and men who look the Edge attack a shark. Yawn! I would have liked this better if Sinead O’Connor’s “Jackie” were part of the soundtrack, maybe. Maybe not.
With Colman ‘Tiger’ King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, Pat Mullin, Patch ‘Red Beard’ Ruadh, Patcheen Faherty, Tommy O’Rourke, ‘Big Patcheen’ Conneely of the West, Stephen Dirrane, Pat McDonough
Production: Gainsborough Pictures
Distribution: Gaumont British Distributors (UK), Gaumont British Picture Corporation of America (USA), Éditions Montparnasse (France)
(Dryden Theatre) A+ (visuals) / F (everything else) / C (average)
The Eighties are back again as evidenced by CNN’s The Eighties series and recent films like Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! and John Carney’s Sing Street. This time around, the emphasis is squarely on nostalgia.
Dublin, 1985: hair, shoulder pads, and music videos are big. Very big. 15-year-old Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is having a tough go of it: his parents are broke and on the verge of divorce. His father (Aiden Gillen) is unemployed and drinking, while his mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy) is having an affair. They can’t afford his fancy Jesuit education anymore, so they transfer him to another all boys school in Dublin—Syngh Street Christian Brothers School, a haven for hooligans. His low-rent classmates call him “posh” and openly mess with him, getting personal and physical. Class bully Barry (Ian Kenny) corners Conor in a filthy restroom and proves to be an ongoing menace. Even schoolmaster Br. Baxter (Don Wycherley) gives Conor a hard time, starting with the color of his shoes. The whole thing is, to borrow from Duran Duran, about as easy as a nuclear war.
Enter Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a mysterious and cool beauty who lives in a home for girls near Syngh Street C.B.S. and claims to be a model. Conor gets her number by telling her that his band just so happens to need a model for its latest music video. She agrees to star in it. Now, Conor just needs a band.
Sing Street is a lot of fun, and no doubt will appeal most to those who came of age in the Eighties. I loved so much of it because of its references. The discussion between Conor and his older borther Brendan (Jack Reynor) about the artisitc merit of Duran Duran as they watch the video for “Rio” and their father’s response (“They’re certainly not the Beatles, are they?”) is perfect, mirroring many a conversation I’ve had. The impact of Head on the Door on the band, named Sing Street after the school (get it?), made me want to let out my own Robert Smith yelp. The band’s various incarnations clearly influenced by the music the members are into at the moment are funny and smart. The first video shoot is hilarious: who knew Sing Street is a bizarre bargain basement version of Prince and the Revolution complete with frilly bits and paisley underneath that Irish Catholic exterior? The many wry references to Depeche Mode, a-ha, Spandau Ballet, the Clash, M, Joe Jackson, Hall & Oates, and even Phil Collins made me giddy. The Back to the Future dream sequence finale is priceless. So yeah, I liked this film a lot for the warm memories it conjured up—it’s sheer nostalgia.
All that said, even if being into the Eighties helps, anyone can relate to Sing Street because its themes are simple and universal; indeed, the themes are practically Eighties pop songs: listen to your heart, don’t stop believing, things can only get better, everybody’s looking for something, be true to yourself and you can’t go wrong, give a wham give a bam but don’t give a damn, don’t forget that your family is gold. Music is redemptive: it serves as expression, escape, identity, a bond. Sing Street sounds tighter and better as Conor’s confidence grows and he gets closer to Raphina. Conor’s parents and even Brendan represent a sort of death of the soul that happens when one foregoes his dreams. Speaking of Brandon, there’s also a theme of passing the torch and sibling love, which is probably why the film is “dedicated to brothers everywhere.”
Sing Street has a few thin moments and some minor historical inaccuracies—for example, “Rio” was a hit in 1982 and Duran Duran was already huge by 1985, so the jury was not “still out” on them. Regardless, none of these shortcomings is enough to detract from its misty, dreamy, and perhaps pastel-colored charms. The wardrobe choices are nicley restrained, and as a result come off realistic and not as parody. The original compositions are hit or miss, but they all sound vaguely like U2 whether Bono and The Edge cowrote them or not—I read that they did, but I didn’t see them in the credits. Sing Street is totally disposable, but so were cassettes—and they were fun while they lasted.