Monday, October 20, 2008

Book Review - The Drinking Life - Pete Hamil

Reprint from Glass is 3/4's Full Blog

I just finished reading Pete Hamil's "The Drinking Life", a memoir of his life growing up as an Irish- American kid in Brooklyn.
I remember reading Pete Hamil's columns in the New York newspapers when i was in my 20's. I used to enjoy his writing at the time and appreciated how he worked his way up from his working class roots to be a journalist. I remember that Pete Hamil and another journalist Jimmy Breslin stood out for their working class style of writing and and their Irish roots.
Reading the book triggered a lot of my own personal memories growing up in the South Bronx. Pete's book brings to life his Irish-American experiences in Brooklyn and his struggle of being torn between two worlds, the working class world of Brooklyn and the middle class world of Manhattan. He also struggled with two identities, one the neighborhood guy vs the educated artist guy.
Of course his biggest struggle is summed up in the title "The Drinking Life". Well for most of his life he just gave in to alcohol and was "Living in the Bottle" as Gil Scott Heron used to say. Yet he reached a turning point and made a decision at that moment to change his life and he did. How he changed from a drinker to a non- drinker is different and I know a few people in my life who did the same.
The book is a very good read and also give the reader a historical context to his life. His story is a fascinating story in how he built a life and how he life spiraled from dropping out of high school to working in the Navy Yards, going to art school, joining the Navy and finally becoming a journalist and a writer.
One story that stands out for me is when he took his father back to Belfast Ireland in 1963 for the first time since his father left in 1932. The description of hearing the news that John F Kennedy was shot on the TV in Belfast was a powerful moment. It also crystalized his life long struggle and relationship with his father.
A lot of this book has a very personal connection to my life. Growing up the son of Irish immigrants in the Bronx, I went through a lot of similar struggles and a few different ones. I was from the next generation after Pete Hamil which brought some unique challenges for my life. I had to construct a successful life with no role models and no idea of how you achieve it.
I will be sharing a lot of these stories as I embark on my writing project this year.
If you are interested in memoirs I suggest you read Pete Hamil's book....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Irish Movie Review - "Rory O'Shea was Here" 2004

"Rory O'Shea" is a gem of a movie. It's an uplifting drama that in the wrong hands would have turned into a sappy Movie of the Week but with a little Irish touch has turned into a powerful little movie. The movie takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotions from funny to distressing, to touching and finally hopeful.

Michael (played by Steven Robertson) has cerebal palsy, and lives in Carrigmore Residential Home. When a newcomer to the home, Rory (McAvoy), befriends him, he proceeds to show Michael how to live past the disability. Rory is fiercely independent, and extremely rebellious. His affect upon the quiet and reserve Michael is spectacular, and the two soon leave the care home to set up lives in the outside world, where they recruit the help of a care assistant. They take on the Irish health care bureaucracy and win. The movie is also a story of love, friendship and unreturned love.

The acting is truly impressive.Damien O'Donnell's directing keeps the story moving and he tells an extraordinary story of hope and possibility. Truly an Irish gem....

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Irish Movie Review - "Omagh" 2004

On August 15, 1998, a car bomb exploded in Omagh, Northern Ireland killing 29 people and injuring some 220 others. It was the single worst incident in Northern Ireland in over 30 years. "Omagh" is a tough movie to watch and a tough movie to write about. It is a relentless true story of horrible incident in a country that has had it share of violence. The film is shot documentary style and keeps you involved emotionally as you watch the story unfold.
The movie focuses on Michael Gallagher, a mechanic thrust into the spotlight following his decision to pursue the members of the Real IRA who murdered his 21 year old son Aiden (along with so many others).
I remember reading about the terrorist attack but watching this movie brought home the reality and pain of the victims of this muderous action. The film raises the issue of who knew about the bombing in advance and points a finger at the governments of England, Ireland and the police forces in the North and in the South. I'm not sure what I believe in that regard but it is clear from the film that neither government did a sufficient job of protecting innocent people or in prosecuting the guilty/
This is a movie that represents the best in filmmaking. I am very glad a film like this was made.
This year I visited Northern Ireland for the 1st time and visited a relative just 30 miles away from where this bombing happened. While I was there in Norther Ireland I read stories of continuing murders that were still happening by the same groups that were responsible for Omagh. Even though there has been a lot of positive change since the peace agreement was signed 10 years ago there are still dead-enders who continue their violent actions.
10 years later no one has been convicted although they know who did it and some of the murderer were convicted of other crimes.
I recommend this movie highly. Be prepared to be moved emotionally.

U2 Tribute for Omagh Bombing

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dublin Slang

I found this on Youtube and thought it was interesting. My first trip to Ireland took me to Dublin, County Mayo on the West Coast and to Dungannon in Northern Ireland. It was challenging to understand the language in the different areas. When I came back I discovered this little video and found it fun. I'm sure that my relatives had a hard time with my accent as well. A lot of people today tell me they think I'm from Boston even though I grew up in the Bronx. At one time people have described my accent as Southern, and as from Louisiana. Now my parents both had a brogue when I was young. My accent was influenced by the mix that was the Bronx. Today I say my accent is migrating to the West Coast but got lost and went up the East Coast. So check out the Dublin accent.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Irish Movie Review - "Waking Ned Devine" 1998

Waking Ned Devine is a fun off beat comedy about a charming town in Ireland dealing with a winning lottery ticket. A very touching film of friendship, greed, love, community and a spirit that is unstoppable. The movie is filled with wonderful characters and a sense of a place you would enjoy. The movie ends on a great upbeat note with a great song that will fill you with joy.

I loved the relationship between the two old men who conspire to share the winning lottery ticket.

I find myself enjoying a broad range of films from Ireland and hope to make a film there some day.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Irish Movie Review - "The Boys & Girl from County Clare" 2003

Just watched a charming little film "The Boys and Girl from County Clare". It's a story about musical brothers from Ireland who are competing in an All Ireland Ceili Competition.

A year ago I didn't know what a Ceili was even though I was raised by an Irish mother from Glanduff, County Mayo. My mother might have mentioned it but I don't remember. But last year I went back to Ireland for my familiy reunion and watched Ceili bands perform at the Father Peyton Center .It was a place my mother went to in the 20's and it was special to be there. It was a great night and I was introduced to the Ceili bands and learned about how there were Ceili bands that performed in most towns and villages all over Ireland on Friday and Saturday nights.

So it was a pleasure to watch the movie and listen to the Ceili music. It's a story of the competition between brothers over music and how they become alienated from each other. It's an Irish story but it can b e appreciated by all. It's also a romantic story about family. Fun movie if you are a fan of Ireland, irish culture, Irish music and a good tale. Enjoy.....