It is by pure chance that I fell in love with “In America” and its seminal Irish director, Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father”) this St. Patrick’s Day. The movie was beautiful, walking that very fine line that only the best writers and directors can: emotional but not sentimental, full of hope but not maudlin.
The story is mainly autobiographical and was written by Mr. Sheridan with his two daughters who are portrayed in the film by the Bolger sisters, Emma and Sarah. Garnered Oscar noms for Samantha Morton, Djimon Hounsou, and the Sheridan writing team.
Mr. Sheridan’s commentary with his Irish brogue and dry humor is almost as good as the film. It’s like you’re having a few beers w/a down-to-earth, candid, yet brilliant friend. A few highlights:
“Film is like a belief system. It’s like religion. Either you want to hear the story or you don’t.”
“Films are necessary lies, that’s civilization, we construct a method of living that denies death.”
“People don’t think this (coincidence, luck, what-have-you) can really happen. The film is about death on many levels and there really was an ice-cream parlor called Heaven below where we lived. It was not symbolic… There’s no more, for lack of a better word, spirituality in film anymore. It’s given a term like magical realism or something.”
* to which I ask, why can’t reality be magical? I hear the above statements often: such-and-such could never happen, often said about stories that actually happened — and almost always in relation to the stories that are good. Aliens: plausible. Really horrible, traumatic things: truth. Something good: must be fantasy!
Except for the geniuses that grace us now and then, the human imagination is limited, but life is far from limited. Every success story I’ve read, every biography of those we have deemed “great,” every nation that has risen or fallen and war that’s been won or lost, every story of a refugee who made it is filled with coincidences, strokes of luck, twists of fate that make Dickens seem like a pessimist. Life is big; we’re the ones who are small, unable or unwilling to grasp all that it really could be.
On Directing and Acting
“I used to act. It wasn’t so hard for to get into a part but it was hard coming out. It was like going down a hotel corridor knocking on all the doors asking ‘where’s Sheridan?’ ”
Time and again, Mr. Sheridan would comment on the two little girls of the film just as you were being blown away again (assuming you’re watching the film w/commentary after watching the film). Morton and Hounsou are phenomenal as is Paddy Consadine who plays Mr. Sheridan’s younger self, but the two girls were in an Oscar-worthy league.
I’m not the only smitten fan. Blogs and blogs have been written about these two real-life sisters, Emma Bolger and Sarah Bolger, 6 and 10 in the movie who gave astounding performances. I know the 15 year old Emma is acting but haven’t seen her. 19-year old Sarah has grown into a beautiful teen-ager and has been pegged as “Ireland’s Hollywood Hope.” She was recently in “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” The Harry Potter or Twilight kids may have become famous but I wonder if they could’ve provided powerful performances like this, which had everything to do with eyes, eyes that speak volumes.
“Close up’s only send audiences into abstract if there’s not enough going on in the actor’s eyes; otherwise, it’s bringing us into intimate moments. Close-ups are a powerful mechanism to be used sparingly…I could put a camera down and watch Samantha Morton all day” (I concur. And as I read up on her, I hate to sound like I bash American actors but time and again, the stereotypes prove true. Europeans really don’t care about fame or celebrity. Her quote after winning the Oscar, “I like it only because it gave me the power to greenlight projects I believe in. That’s what it’s about: the story.” Writer’s wet dream.)
“Whenever you say action, it’s already the future.”
“I like to direct in an area of invisibility. Directors film the visible structured tangents but there are layers of the unseen. That’s what interests me.”
* love this term — “area of invisibility” — and will filch it for me own purposes
“I like to present different visions of what’s become cinema shorthand. A snowstorm isn’t just background. A snowstorm halts New York City. Nature wins, and domesticates a city making it into a playground instead of the usual Xmas in NYC scenes w/5th Ave and presents and romance.”
In the sex scene, Mr. Sheridan comments the Irish have a problem filming sex scenes. But I think his statement that “the sex scene was really like kids playing,” is doing the same thing he did with snowstorms: taking something expected and doing something new yet true.
He also incorporates a new twist with Mateo’s paintings. “Watching painting dry on film is really boring. I had a painting destroyed. That’s action. When I did have paint, it was with Mateo’s blood. Here was bad blood, diseased blood that was killing him, and he used it to create something.”
*that shot was beautiful. Drops of blood trailing on a white canvas against fade-in’s and out’s of the couple making love. Also, sex is usually conceived of as a violent act, even in healthy passion, it is red and garish and erotic. Or, backlit and sweet. Here the sex was playful, loving, and intimate but set against the background of something truly violent: the rage of Mateo. The juxtaposition added great passion but the rage and violence was all Mateo, not the couple.
On the Story (of “In America”)
[The main protaganist, Joe] can’t go to the imagination anymore because the imagination is where your hopes are, where joy is, your inner child. By going to it, he’s stepping into death, in to his child’s death and he’s not ready to do that.
“I recommend it (blindfolds). Blindfolds are kind of interesting…”
“I didn’t ever say AIDS in the movie. People were dying of it left and right in the ’80s, especially in the theatre. It was like the plague. If you give it a name, give it power. It could’ve overtaken the movie.” (true for dictators and evil or even The Wizard and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named…)
It was a harsh introduction to sex for the children. The first thing they learn is that sex is associated with death. [When Mateo faints, Ariel gives him a lemon drop to make it better.] Lemondrops are way of the child to cope with it, and to believe it will be better, without which there’s no hope of getting better anyway.