Thursday, September 3, 2009


Went to see the new Alan Gilsenan directed documentary about Liam Clancy last night. The full title is The Yellow Bittern - The Life And Times of Liam Clancy. It's a really beautiful film. It was well shot by the always brilliant DOP Richard Kendrick and looked great. The visuals and the editing style create a really rich, layered aesthetic that gave a great sense of the man and also the times he lived in.

Gilsenan chose to interview Liam Clancy in Ardmore Studios and used the large space for wider shots that allowed him to bring in archive footage on screens behind Clancy. It made the film an enjoyable visual experience but also gave a variety to the film and maintained the context. For example, when Clancy would be talking about coming to New York in the 60s there were iconic images from that period taking place in the empty frame behind him (I'm not sure if that exactly happened but that was the general idea).

The use of archive on a variety of formats and the texturing of photographs gave the film a lovely feeling that has become quite fashionable in recent times and I'm very fond of this style. The use of screens and backgrounds, too, wasn't reinventing the wheel but I still enjoyed it and it was appropriate.

Overall, a wonderful film that opened my eyes to a great story and a great character and very cinematic. The film was chronologically structured and quite traditionally paced and it took me a while to leave the outside world behind and really get into it but by the end I was disappointed it wasn't longer. Go and see it soon because it might not be around for long.

One, small, criticism was that a vox pop archive interview with Bob Dylan seemed as if it was shoehorned in a little. It was the only such interview in the film and seemed like an attempt to bring Dylan's star power into the production. Dylan was a giant admirer of Clancy, so it makes sense to try to get him into the film but it still seemed funny. Having said that, I think most filmmakers would have done exactly the same thing, myself incuded.

The film was produced by Crossing the Line and funded by RTE and the Irish Film Board. It's another success for the Board in a year of many notable achievements - over 20 films in production, seven films in Toronto, record-breaking documentary Waveriders and numerous international awards for Irish films.
Check out the trailer:

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