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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A cinema of resistance, a resistance of cinema : on the limits and possibilities of Northern Ireland’s.. 2005

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A C I N E M A O F R E S I S T A N C E , A R E S I S T A N C E O F C I N E M A : O N T H E L I M I T S A N D POSSIBIL IT IES O F N O R T H E R N I R E L A N D ' S C O M M E M O R A T I V E C I N E M A by J E N N I E . M A R G E T H E C A R L S T E N B.A. , The University of Iowa, 2001 A T H E S I S S U B M I T T E D I N P A R T I A L F U L F I L L M E N T O F T H E R E Q U I R E M E N T S F O R T H E D E G R E E O F M A S T E R O F A R T S in T H E F A C U L T Y O F G R A D U A T E S T U D I E S ( F I L M S T U D I E S ) University of British Columbia June 2005 © J e n n i e Margethe Catlsten, 2005 11 Abstract Within the divided society of Northern Ireland, the incomplete or deficient representation of communities is an obstacle to mourning and reconciliation. Through a cinema that engages with the processes of social memory and identity construction, however, there is an opportunity for the productive contemplation and grieving of past injuries and losses. A 'commemorative cinema' has emerged over the last decade, of and about Northern Ireland, addressing moments of historical trauma and the representations of traumatized communities. Through their implicit and explicit challenges to existing frameworks and images, the films of the commemorative cinema offer a site of resistance for committed and active viewers. The commemorative cinema offers the possibility of a resistant counter-cinema that challenges dominant representations and may lead to positive social change. At the same time, it reveals the limits of film as a medium for challenging pre- existing notions of identity and belonging. Current, criticism posits preferred readings of the films made in and about Northern Ireland. Positioning the films as 'closed' texts with clear and stable ideological meaning, the critical consensus presumes that audiences will understand the works in equally stable ways, but fails to account for the strategies by which actual viewers create meaning form the gaps and fissures of the film. Ill Resurrection Man, Some Mother's Son, and Bloody Sunday are three films which serve as excellent examples of the limits and possibilities of commemorative cinema. The ambiguous nature of the films allows them to perform as 'open? texts, capable of reworking and re-reading by viewers. Audiences may use the strategies of negotiation, selective identification, and textual poaching to exploit these ambiguities. In so doing, audiences find the opportunity to construct alternatives to the unsatisfactory or unproductive representations and positions essentialized by critics, opposing bo th the progressive and the reactionary intentions o f filmmakers, community leaders, and critics. A resistant cinema has two requirements; firsts texts that through ambiguity create opportunities for divergent readings and understandings; second, engaged and committed audiences that read the films selectively. Both of these can be found in the commemorative cinema and audience of Northern Ireland. iv Table of Contents Abstract i i Table o f Contents iv Acknowledgements v Chapter I Introduction 1 Chapter II Cr i t ica l Readings o f the Commemorat ive Cinema , . . . . 15 Chapter III F i l m Texts and the Cinema o f Resistance :.... 4G Chapter I V F i l m Audiences and the Resistance o f Cinema 65 Chapter V Conclusions 85 Fi lms Ci ted 89 Bibliography 90 V Acknowledgements Many, many thanks to D r . L i s a Cbul thard for her advice and invaluable support. Thanks too, to Paul and Rosemarie Carlsten for their assistance, to Mary Conover , to A n n i k a Carlsten, and to my 'sisters' for their constant encouragement. I am indebted to the numerous individuals w h o generously took the time to speak wi th me and share their opinions and insights on Nor thern Irish cinema. Especially, I w o u l d like to thank Chris B a l l for his time, his lovely hospitality, arid his kindness. Finally, I wou ld like to dedicate this thesis to D r . Br i an M c l l r o y , w i th the deepest gratitude for his support, mentorship, and inspiration. 1 Chapter One - Introduction Representation o f Nor the rn Ireland i n the cinema is a concern not only to film scholars, but to anyone concerned wi th questions o f poli t ical identity i n that divided society. F i l m is, as Lance Pettitt puts it, "the pre-eminent med ium through which, Ireland bo th examines itself and projects its image to the wider w o r l d . " (Screening Ireland, 258) A s a med ium o f both examination and projection, film has the potential to challenge core notions o f self and other that fo rm the basis o f poli t ical identity. B y examining the ways society has tried to remember itself and its history, film may become a reservoir o f counter-memory: a locus for new representation, alternative conceptions o f identity, and even recovery f rom remembered traumas. There are two necessary preconditions for such,a challenge, to .convent ional representation: first, the existence o f texts that through their formal strategies caU 1 into question existing paradigms; second, audiences that exploit uncertainties to satisfy their o w n desires for representation. Despite the pessimism that permeates m u c h o f the critical thmking. around Nor the rn Irish cinema, these two preconditions can, i n fact, be identified wi th in the cinema, o f Nor the rn Ireland. 1 No r the rn Ireland's commemorative cinema 2 , i n particular, models a cinema ' i t seems necessary'to clarify what is meant by "Northern Irish cinema". The majority of the films which purport to represent Northern Ireland or its people have been made by 'outsiders'. Most frequently, this means the US and U K , but films by artists from the Republic of Ireland, arguably, are external views as well. While this discussion will adopt a working definition of Northern Irish cinema (one that includes films made beyond the geographical borders when those films take on Northern Ireland as their explicit subject matter - to paraphrase Martin McLoone, the films which Northern Ireland inspires as well as those which it produces), the clumsiness of this definition must be an ever-present consideration. 2 The term "commemorative cinema" is drawn from the work of Gordon Gillespie. While Gillespie has used the term loosely to talk about films based on actual historical events, I hope to further delineate the specific qualities of a commemorative cinema in the course of this thesis. 2 o f resistance and encourages a resistance o f cinema which together may provide a space for negotiated identities and understandings o f the past. Previous work o n the question o f identity and representation has been concerned wi th the stifled development o f the Irish film industry itself, the thematic preoccupations o f films made i n or about Ireland, and. the accompanying exclusion or distortion o f the Irish voice. Generally, these works have taken the island o f Ireland as their subject, wi th Nor the rn Ireland singled out as one aspect o f the whole 3 . J o h n H i l l , for instance, ..has written o n the representation o f Irish violence as a product o f fate or national character. 4 L u k e G i b b o n s focuses o n the use o f romant ic ism and an overdetemiined realism to reinforce the sense o f the Irish as Other , while K e v i n Rockett , along, w i th G ibbons and H i l l , uses postcoloniai and periphery theories to explain Ireland's onscreen representation. Br i an M c l l r o y ' s more specific examination o f Nor the rn Ireland and representation employs the not ion o f the 'masquerade' to explain Protestant unionist resistance to cinematic representation. In these cr i t ical . approaches, there is a shared, sense that Nor the rn Ireland (and by extension, the Nor the rn Irish subject) has not yet been accurately or adequately represented on-screen, but that such representation is, ideally, possible. I f a lack o f adequate and meaningful representation is the problem, what solutions might be anticipated? 3 This tendency echoes political viewpoints that insist on Northern Ireland as a part of either the Republic of Ireland or of Britain, eliding its unique circumstances. As those living in Northern Ireland increasingly define themselves as "Northern Irish", rather than Irish or British, a more specific approach in film studies may be called for. In a poll conducted in 2003, for instance, 24% of those living in Northern Ireland self-identified as "Northern Irish', 41% as 'British', and 27% as Irish. (Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, 2004) This shows a slight increase over those self-identifying as 'Northern Irish' in a similar pol l in 2001 (22%); a demographic breakdown shows such identification is proportionally higher among younger individuals, (ibid, 2002) 4 This avenue is further explored by Martin McLoone in his own discussion of the myth of atavism, a concept elucidated by Tom Nairn. 3 Defining a cinema of resistance Those work ing i n the area o f Irish and Nor the rn Irish cinema cite the need for a counter- cinema that confronts and challenges the dominant set o f representations. The i r various arguments advocate what I call here a 'cinema o f resistance', one that is shaped by the unique material circumstances o f Irish nat ionhood and the Irish film industry. It is here that, the.first precondit ion, described above, may be met, through the construction o f films which in their formal strategies and narrative content seek to subvert ideological and linguistic conventions. Significandy, the arguments put forth generally rely upon a new application o f the.ideas o f radical or T h i r d Cinema, one that opens up the definition o f counter-cinema to the point that it becomes possible to identify a cinema o f resistance i n previously devalued works. H i l l , for example, proposes an opposit ional cinema.that does not outright reject dominant H o l l y w o o d . forms, but engages wi th them i n a self-conscious fashion. M c L o o n e picks up and expands upon Hi l l ' s posi t ion i n his approach o f critical regionalism, by w h i c h "questions o f form are motivated by the encounter o f dominant forms wi th a local cultural agenda." (Oxford Guide,., 513) M c L o o n e goes o n to conclude that "The most significant films, and therefore t i ' Ir ish' films, are those that operate i n a T h i r d Cinema sense o f exploring the complex realities o f contemporary Ireland, challenging cinema audiences by challenging, dominant . and sedimented notions about Ireland and the Ir ish." (Irish Film, 127) G ibbons , too, sees a capacity for resistance wi th in Irish cinema. H e identifies two approaches i n the existing film representations o f Ireland: one wh ich relies o n romantic ism and pr imi t iv ism even as it strives, for realism, and one w h i c h problematizes the notions o f an essential Irishness. Th is latter; resistant, strain depends o n formal exaggeration, distanciation, and contradiction to. highlight the constructed nature o f representation. In this way, "...these destabilizing images do show 4 the potential there exists for reworking, undercutting or transgressing received ideas, even at a highly popular level ." (Cinema and Ireland, 241) Rather than stricdy distinguishing T h i r d Cinema from First or Second Cinemas, the mode l o f counter-cinema offered by M c L o o n e , . H i l l , and G i b b o n s blurs these divisions; a f i lm produced i n a First or Second Cinema context may still••operate as counter-cinema. In particular, M c L o o n e argues for a reconception o f T h i r d Cinema as a cinema o f the marginal i n a society, rather than a geographically detenxiined cinema o f the masses. T h e redefinition o f T h i r d Cinema i n this way has particular application i n the context o f Nor the rn Ireland. A-c inema o f resistance for Nor the rn Ireland, it follows, w i l l address its colonized, divided, and violently pol i t ic ized history while accommodating the voices o f its multiple marginalized communities (Protestants marginalized wi th in . the island o f predominandy Catholic Ireland, Catholics marginalized wi th in the Protestant state, Nor the rn Ireland as a peripheral region pf Bri tain, as we l l as those internal groups marginalized by.gender, sexuality, or. minority, status). Wi thou t , necessarily following the mode l of, for instance, Marxist , Queer, or Black Amer i can counter- cinema, the ideal cinema o f resistance i n Nor the rn Ireland nonetheless w o u l d rely o n unique strategies to oppose the unsatisfactory versions .of. 'reality.' posed i n externally imposed, or ideologically and formally conservative works. In practice, a counter-cinema for Nor the rn Ireland can be located wi th in a diverse range o f films, characterized by a poli t ical consciousness, but formally quite distinct, f rom t i e T h i r d C inema o f other. regions. . T h e cinema o f resistance as it is found i n the context o f Nor the rn Ireland uses excess, self- reflexivity and interrogation, to provoke response. A b o v e all, i t draws o n ambiguity to open the text to a multiplicity o f viable meanings. A "resistant" cinema is one that challenges binary oppositions, stagnant representations o f communities, and l imited versions o f history. 5 Critically, a cinema o f resistance may offer the best foundation for recovery f rom trauma. T h e resistant cinema should be understood as that wh ich opposes not only hegemonic, but also counter-hegemonic practices. "Resistant" should not be equated, necessarily wi th "progressive"; i n offering a space o f counter-memory to marginalized communities, this cinema can also encourage inherent audience resistance to non-sectarian identification and a pro-social agenda, one conducive to social harmony and the reconciliation o f divided communities.. Despite having suggested the potential for an opposit ional cinema, the critics do not see m u c h evidence o f it i n the cinema o f the 1980s and beyond. G i b b o n s and Rocket t see examples o f a counter-cinema i n the 'First W a v e ' o f Irish film, but are less optimistic about later trends,, seeing a rise i n conservatism and a reliance o n dominant representations. l i k e w i s e , M c L o o n e sees the greatest potential for a counter-cinema only i n shorts and experimental film. However , it is m y contention that resistance can.be more widely found. Th rough ambivalence i n fo rm and image, there are a number o f films, i n particular those that ' perform a commemorative function, w h i c h provoke a significant reexamination; contradictory messages emerge, upon analysis, that undermine or cause a fundamental shift i n subject posit ion. Defining a resistance of cinema T h e arguments for a cinema o f resistance gesture at. that other dimension, the audience, and the need for what I call here a resistance o f cinema: the ability o f viewers to deny or negotiate inadequate representations. Counter-cinema, after all, relies o n the shift f rom viewer passivity to participation and mobil izat ion. In M c l l r o y ' s analysis o f Nor the rn Irish spectatorship, he adapts Laura Mulvey and Gay lyn Studlar's gender-based arguments o f the masquerade to 6 equate the posi t ion o f the Protestant Unionis t viewer wi th that o f the female viewer w h o must take o n the gaze o f the voyeuristic male spectator. In this model , underrepresented, elided, or demonized images o f the Protestant community force those viewers to adopt an unnatural spectator posit ion. T h e films analyzed by M c l k o y contain more or less visible fissures, points where the text cannot sustain the masquerade. Consequendy, these films require different levels o f engagement, depending u p o n their status as "simple texts", "ambivalent reworkings o f the past", or the "fascinatingly complex". {Shooting to Kill, 29-30) M c l l r o y ' s discussion and subsequent analysis is thus,a plea fot audience resistance i n the face, o f false or dangerous representations o f the past and its players, advocating an "active and mobi le speetatorship [that] thereby exposes the lazy or vir tual masquerade." (ibid, 29) M c L o o n e , too, evokes the need for engaged speetatorship, making the point that it is the context o f reception w h i c h ultimately detemiines a film's function. Furthermore, he suggests that the audience may find radical value where none was intended: " E v e n if, these films are not poUtically engaged, they can be engaged wi th politically." (Irish Film, 168) The not ion that audiences w i l l 'read against the grain' is not a new one; the point here is that audiences are able to 'read' meaning into films i n ways that the filmmakers may not have. anticipated; that a cinema o f resistance is perhaps secondary i n efficacy to a resistance o f cinema. T h e corollary to this, o f course, is that even the presumably radical text is undemiined by an unengaged viewer. Just as the level o f resistance i n Nor the rn Irish cinema has been underestimated i n the criticism, so too has the level o f resistance o n the part o f audiences. The ability o f viewers to negotiate the representations presented bo th increases the potential for change by expanding fissures and challenging reactionary and divisive polit ical identities, and decreases the potential 7 for change by ignoring selected pro-social elements and using other elements to reinforce held identities and group affiliations. Resistance, representation, and mourning A t this point, it may be useful to ask why a lack o f representation is a p roblem — is i t simply an issue o f audience pleasure derived from self-recognition, or something else? McIkoy> for instance, observes that cinematic representation has an impact o n audience esteem. T h e deficiency o f representation not only serves. to "underwhelm or repress history and poli t ics", but to "undermine specific communit ies." ("The Repression o f Communi t ies" , 94) Es teem is built by narratives that show heroic figures from the delineated community, that validate the myths groups and individuals rely o n to make sense o f complex events, and that articulate the meaning behind anger and loss. Whi l e M c l k o y ' s work is primarily concerned wi th the esteem o f Protestant viewers, the sense that one's communi ty has not been represented 'fairly' can be seen to extend to most segments o f the Nor the rn Irish population. T h e same bodies o f films are read very differendy by viewers to support perceptions o f bias and exclusion. F o r poli t ical or communi ty movements, the central issue may be one o f solidarity; representation as a way o f encouraging empathy and involvement. Th rough representation i n film, as through other popular arts, movements create a sense o f continuity wi th the past. T h e use o f historical figures and symbols o n all sides o f the Nor the rn Irish conflict points to this desire to unite individuals through the creation o f a c o m m o n origin. Likewise, representations can be constructed to emphasize the difference f rom the 'Other ' , whi le obscuring internal differences among community members. Finally^ motivat ion for continued involvement is provided by the portrayal o f justified sacrifice and loss. Accordingly , organizations have an 8, interest i n producing representations that appeal to and satisfy the needs o f viewers seeking a point o f identification. O n yet another level, a lack o f representation may be an obstacle to healing wounds left in the collective psyche o f groups o f people. Th rough f i lm, past injuries and losses can be grieved and reconciled. Representation gives voice and agency to those vic t imized >(or those w h o perceive themselves as victimized), as we l l as to those seeking to make sense o f seemingly unfathomable social disruption. Whi l e communities i n Nor the rn Ireland have competing claims to vict imizat ion, each posi t ioningi tsel f as the injuredparty, the perception o f vict imizat ion is the critical factor; i n studies o f traumatized societies, it appears that the same psychic structures, neuroses and identifications are expressed. F i l m can perform, constructive "mourn ing w o r k " or, alternatively - obstruct mourning. Mourning, . the "set.of acts and gestures through w h i c h survivors express grief and pass through stages o f bereavement" {Sites of Memory..., 224), allows the bereaved individual or community to progress, beyond its melancholic loss. This process, according to psychoanalytic models, requires confrontation and meditation. T h e symbolic language o f film — its use o f iconic images, familiar narrative patterns, and generic conventions — make it a vehicle for what Jul ia Kris teva calls "aesthetic redemption", p rovok ing catharsis and suggesting meaning i n the vacuum created by traumatic loss. (Kristeva) Whi le cinema offers an opportunity for catharsis, a refusal or inability to m ourn is a powerful obstacle to new conceptions o f poli t ical identity. A s demonstrated by the work o f E r i c Santner and Alexander and Margarete Mitscher l ich, failure to mo u rn has social repercussions, perpetuating rigid, binary identifications, the insistence o n v ic t im status, repressive institutions, and the tendency to minimize or deny the actual injuries o f the. past. (Santner, 33-38) 9 Implici t i n discussions o f an alternative or opposit ional cinema for Nor the rn Ireland is the suggestion that such a cinema can address and ameliorate social divisions. Qui te aside from creating a sustainable national or sub-national cinema wi th a unique character, the concern is also wi th creating a cinema that responds to the needs o f domestic audiences. Does such a cinema exist for Nor the rn Ireland? A n d can such a cinema be accessed by audiences i n ways that not only satisfy diverse needs for representation, but also provide a form o f counter- memory that aids i n recovery? There is one subclass o f Nor the rn Irish cinema w h i c h seems to provide a particular space for opposit ional cinema and spectatorship, the group o f films w h i c h has been termed "commemorat ive cinema". These are films w h i c h attempt to address moments o f national trauma and wh ich expliciuy and implici t ly raise issues o f identity and memory. This group includes such films as In the Name of the Father (Jim Sheridan, 1993), Some Mother's Son (Terry George, 1996), ¥13 (Les Blair , 2001), 81 (Stephen Burke , 1996), Silent Gra«? (Maeve ,Murphy, 2001), Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, 2002), and Sunday (Charles M c D o u g a l l , 2002). These films, because o f their open engagement wi th the construction o f social memory, are a. potent site o f resistance. T h e films use personal narratives to approach the questions o f history through the private realm, exploring the ways i n wh ich individuals ' choices impact not only the events o f history, but the nature o f remembering and recovery. M e m o r y and commemorat ion are fundamental mechanisms o f poli t ical identity. Jay Winter goes so far as to describe memory as " . . .the central organizing concept o f historical .study, a posit ion once occupied by the notions o f class, race, and gender." ("Memory B o o m " , 52) 10 Without min imiz ing the centrality o f class, race, or gender to identity formation or to Nor the rn Irish cinema, memory does provide a unique function as a point o f co-optation or resistance. D a v i d Lowentha l writes that "the awareness o f Txwas',is a necessary component o f T am'" ; this is true not only o f individuals, but o f communities. (The Past Is..., 41) L i k e individuals, groups (nation-states as we l l as internal ethnic or poli t ical units) employ memory to sustain established identities. A s 'imagined communities ' , nations rely on, c o m m o n myths, ideas, and symbols to provide cohesion. Social memory, the collaborative sense o f continuity wi th the past as it is understood by a community, provides solidarity through c o m m o n narratives o f shared suffering and experience. F o r dommant groups or governments,' social memory provides legitimacy and endorses the social order. F o r minority, oppressed, or excluded groups, social memory provides a source o f comfort. Whi l e the Freudian approach to memory is useful to an understanding o f the individual processes o f memory formation, social memory theory transfers the centre o f attention to h o w communities perpetuate these memories. Theorists like Maurice Halbwachs and E m i l e D u r k h e i m were among the first to recognize the social construction o f memory, arguing that individuals rely o n the confirmation o f those around, them to sustain personal beliefs and recollections. Th is is central to a discussion o f cinema, as fi lmic representation becomes one o f the social forces for confirmation, intervention, or denial. Moreover , film is most often experienced socially, wi tb in the context o f a collective audience, and the discourse around film (discussing films wi th others, reading cri t icism o f films, even the marketing of••films) is a socially mediated discourse. E r i c H o b s b a w m and others have detailed the ways i n wh ich social memory is manipulated and.exploited by elites, but just as relevant i n a discussion o f film is the. way that popular culture and ttaditional or folk ideals and icons are accessed. In his essay 11 " M e m o r y and Nat iona l Identity i n M o d e r n Ireland", Ian M c B r i d e suggests that ethnic and nationalist movements i n Nor the rn Ireland construct ideas o f nat ionhood through the use o f such popular memories, leading to the- prominence o f two contrasting .frameworks^ one Protestant and "provident ia l" and one nationalist and "redemptive". (McBride , 15-16) McBr ide ' s argument vis-a-vis the constructed nature o f memory frameworks is instructive, as such deeply held notions o f identity in fo rm the reception o f commemorative films and l imit the potential readings o f those films by communi ty members. Narrative film, as a fo rm o f highly popular representation,- can^^mnction wi th in this context o f social memory as a site o f commemorat ion. Generally, commemorat ion consists o f the ceremonies, rituals, and physical markers w h i c h , seek to define past events. for a p r e s e n t audience; James Fentress and Chris W i c k h a m define commemorat ion as " . . . the action o f speaking or wri t ing about memories." (Fentress and W i c k h a m , x) A crucial point is that commemorat ion is an action. Whereas memorials are fixed and monol i thic reminders o f the past, commemorat ion is the active process mat occurs around those sites or reminders. Participation i n commemorative ritual is inter- and extra-textual; each time a commemorative ritual is performed or repeated,, new, layers o f meaning are added, shaped by. present concerns and reworked according to the needs and demands o f mose participating, witnessing, or protesting. The films discussed i n this thesis are themselves acts o f commemorat ion. They also depict acts o f commemorat ion. F i l m may be understood as a commemorative med ium that conveys and shapes social memory. Moreover , it does so i n accordance wi th familiar frameworks that rely on communally held notions o f poli t ical identity. T h e commemorative subgenre i n Nor the rn Ireland has been seen, chiefly, to tap-into Nationalist frameworks, bui lding community esteem by functioning as a source o f comfort for the real or imagined 12 oppressions o f Br i t i sh occupation, bui lding cohesion among members o f the Catholic community, or bearing witness to traumatic public events believed to be downplayed or distorted by the historical record: However , the level o f resistance i n and to these films prevents their dismissal as propaganda or exclusionary narratives. These films operate as commemorative, n'te/, participatory and fluidy rather than as fixed objects. In his discussion o f the role o f commemorative rituals wi th in divided societies, D a v i d Ker tzer , fol lowing on D m l m e i m , argues that the greater the degree and violence, o f divis ion wi th in a society, the greater is the need for commemorat ion that emphasizes or suggests the c o m m o n qualities o f the group and elides the differences between subgroups or individuals. (Kertzer, 63) A t the same time, commemorative,rituals have the potential to create further divisiveness by increasing the solidarity o f - subgroups rather than o f the whole. Th rough its function as commemorat ion, film can legitimize the codified narratives told about Nor the rn Irish history. Conversely, . it can replace the ideas o f an accepted history wi th a,range o f competing images, symbols, and discourses. In this latter mode, f i lm can create, transmit, and maintain counter-memory, a set o f narratives that challenge the transmission o f exclusionary or oppressive history. Counter-memory, serves a number o f functions. I t creates bonds, o f identity wi th in marginalized groups by provid ing a shared history, based o n representations that are more acceptable and comfortable for viewers than those found i n the prevailing history. It may express a history. of. persecution or loss, al lowing 'witnessing' by otherwise silenced voices. Importantly, the commemorative cinema provides an venue for catharsis and confrontation i n a public space, an essential aspect o f mourn ing work. Further, by creating subjects who control their o w n stories and images, counter-memorial texts may.be used to give agency to those neglected or absent f rom dominant cinema. Breaking through calcified or 13 imposed narratives is a necessary precondit ion for mourning, and the resistant nature of commemorative cinema may be the best opportunity for effective reconciliation with past trauma. M o s t importantly, the way in wh i ch viewers interact wi th f i lm texts shows a use of counter- memory as a tool for resistance of their implications. A s audiences negotiate the representations of the text, they rely on their previously held frameworks of belief. F r o m audience studies of gender, genre, and fandom,. it has been shown that viewers use the gaps and excesses wi th in films as sites of re-identification. 5 Similarly, studies of Nor the rn Irish media audiences have illustrated how viewers use community-centred counter-memory to reorient themselves to the narrative to, create new subject positions, at die same, time, selectively interpreting elements and drawing unexpected conclusions: 6 Kerteer, in his discussion of social use of ritual, points out that commemorative rituals do not express a single or fixed meaning; the same symbolic object or, action may be interpreted differendy, by individual observers and participants, who use a process akin to that described by Stuart Hall, in wh i ch receivers of a text adopt preferred, negotiated, or opposit ional readings. (Kertzer, 67; Hall) Commemorat ive cinema that engages wi th counter-memory constitutes an opposit ional cinema that may meet the needs of Nor the rn Irish audiences, responding to feelings of marginalization, exclusion, misrepresentation, and powerlessness. This is the cinema of 5 Particularly informative studies include those designed and performed by Thomas Austin, Martin Barker, Kate Brooks, Brigid Cherry, Annette Hill, Annette Kuhn, David Morley, Henry Jenkins, Jackie Stacey, and James F. Tracy. 6 Useful studies of Northern Irish audiences include those of Raymond Watson, David Miller," Paul Nolan, and Mary J. Kelly. 14 resistance. Where is it found, and how is it received? These are the questions I w i l l take up i n the rest o f this thesis. T h e commemorative cinema o f Nor the rn Ireland is particularly open to opposit ional and negotiated readings. In the first section o f this thesis,-.1 w i l l look at the ambiguities and resistant elements i n the films themselves and discuss h o w these create a cinema o f resistance. I w i l l argue that these films use ambivalent and contradictory elements to undermine their surface claims, elements that often place these films at odds with the accepted history and preferred readings, or that call into question the stated intentions o f the filmmakers. L o o k i n g first at the way these films have been read by critics (Chapter 2), I w i l l then attempt to suggest the possibility o f alternative readings (Chapter 3):. I n the fol lowing chapter (Chapter 4), I w i l l consider the role o f the audience. It is i n this interplay between film and audience, between the cinema o f resistance and the resistance o f cinema, that meaning is created. 15 Chapter Two - Critical Readings of the Commemorative Cinema There is a place for audience resistance i n the commemorative cinema o f Nor the rn Ireland. T h e argument for such resistance is a two-sided one. Whi l e accepting that there are textual elements to the films which encourage the viewer to construct certain readings, particularly vis- a-vis historical memory and poli t ical identity, it also demands that equal attention be paid to the way that these films ate received by audiences. In this chapter and the next, I w i l l consider the first dimension o f the films' performance, look ing at the film texts themselves, but also at the discourses around the films, discourses w h i c h may be said to represent the preferred readings o f the films. M y aim is to establish what 'messages' have been identified i n these discourses, while keeping i n m i n d the contradictions within the films wh ich may account for existing but largely uncredited levels o f resistance to those established messages. Locating the 'Preferred Reading* T h e concept o f the preferred reading emerges from Stuart Hall ' s mode l o f encoding/decoding. In this model , the text (or film) is composed o f signs and structures placed there, bo th intentionally and incidentally, by: the authors (filmmakers) work ing wi thin an institutional practice. F o r m and content are coded i n production. It is then up to the reader (viewer) to decode that text, i n an active process led by viewer experience, social posi t ion, and knowledge o f conventions. In the end, viewers w i l l either accept, reject, or qualify the ideas o f identity, subject posi t ion, and narrative and ideological meaning that are o n offer. H a l l formulates three reading strategies: i n the first, the viewer accepts the preferred or dominant meaning and engages with the text as an open and transparent work. Conversely, the viewer may invoke an !6 , opposit ional reading strategy, understanding the preferred meaning, but rejecting it as wrong or ideologically untenable. Finally, the reader may engage i n a strategy o f negotiated reading, resisting and modifying the messages suggested and. f inding space for other interpretations wi th in the contradictions and gaps o f the fi lm text. T h e shortcoming o f Flail 's mode l is that it ultimately relies o n all readers finding the same 'message' i n the text, and then choosing h o w to respond to that message. T h e possibility exists, though,, for readers o f a text to perform resistant readings, drawing very different conclusions about the impl ic i t meaning(s) o f the work. This does not mean o f course that the films discussed here are open to any number o f possible interpretations; there are still limits to the. reading permitted, by, the text. T h e more ambiguous the work, the more possibilities i t offers, for resistant reading. Whi l e ambiguity migh t be inherent to all texts, some are more ambiguous than others; hence Eco ' s distinction o f the open and closed text. E c o suggests that for the ambiguous text to be "product ive" (in other, words, generating meaning rather than simply 'noise'), ambiguities must h e present throughout the text, and call attention to the construction o f the work. These open works w i l l not only contain an appeal to the viewer to decode them, but suggest.possible options;.the texts are polysemic, but delimited. Audiences can perform resistant readings, but the texts provide the necessary openness for meaningful aberrance. This tendency towards a productive ambiguity is a defining characteristic o f the commemorative cinema, and.it , is this characteristic w h i c h permits resistance to the 'preferred reading'. D a v i d M o r l e y has asked whether the preferred reading in.fact may just be,that which ". . . the analyst is predicting that most members o f the audience w i l l produce." (Morley, 103) T h e - . 17 preferred readings might be said then to be those wh ich dominate the academic and critical discourse. It seems clear that the 'preferred' reading emerges from critical reception,, not audience reception 7 . T h e commemorative cinema is created as much by the academic and critical discourses as by the actual existence o f the texts or by audience engagement. T h e critical examination o f the commemorative cinema o f Nor the rn Ireland has been text centred. Perhaps as a consequence, a rather pessimistic view dominates. H i l l , M c L o o n e et al see the need and opportunity for resistant cinema, but conclude that its existence is contingent o n state, policy, such filmmaking being possible primarily wi th in an indigenous film industry and visible largely i n shorts, documentaries, and experimental films. Certainly, they see litde evidence o f resistance i n (or to) contemporary mainstream feature narratives fully or partly produced outside o f Nor the rn Ireland, including those that cou ld be considered to belong to the class o f commemorative cinema: films like In the Name of the Father, Some Mother's Son, H3, Silent Grace, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, The Boxer, Nothing Personal, or Resurrection Man. In seeking to explain the essential meaning o f the commemorative films, critics have downplayed the ambiguities o f the works, as they attempt, through progressivist or demystifying readings, to posi t ion the films wi th in National is t -Unionist o r revisionist- antirevisionist debates. Demystifying readings find many o f these films reactionary, emphasizing their underlying formal and narrative conservatism. Conversely, progressivist readings o f the same films make the c la im that these films offer critical inqtiiry into issues o f race, gender, sexuality, and religious identity. 7 The notion of the preferred reading is indisputably problematic, and some theorists have suggested that the model cannot account for polysemic and ambivalent textsi For more discussion, see e.g., Morley or Justin Lewis. 18 This drive to identify clear ideological agenda wi th in the films reflects a mode l o f reading w h i c h not only presumes a fixed interpretation and audience, but defines the films as 'good ' or 'bad' texts. It has become a commonplace observation that Nor the rn Ireland's political culture relies too heavily upon binary oppositions; indeed, the questioning,of such binarism is held up , by critics as a laudable goal o f cinema about Nor the rn Ireland, and is one o f the markers o f the region's opposit ional cinema as it has been so far identified. A t the same time, the scholarship itself falls back too readily o n a binary model , either valor iz ing texts or dismissing them as reactionary propaganda. A s Richard. K i r k l a n d has noted, the discourse far too often centres around perceptions o f bias and a mode l o f "critical u topianism" that relies on the impractical notions o f an ideal text and audience. In this way, the discourse remains mired i n "regret for lost opportunities" and a "mourn ing o f t h e cinematic ideal". (Identity Parades,- 33, 35) Symptomatic reading o f these films, rather than seeking to demonstrate how the films are inherendy reactionary or progressive, might focus o n the contradictions and 'grey ateas' wh i ch permit these films to be, by turns and for different viewers, bo th reactionary and progressive. Viewers are able to construct negotiated readings.preciselybecause.these, films are.fissured and open to such negotiation. This group o f films, rich i n contradiction and participating i n a performative ritual o f mourning and history, seems to offer particularly 'open' texts. This chapter and the next w i l l consider three commemorative films — Terry George's Some Mother's Son (1996), Pau l Greengrass' Bloody Sunday (2002), and M a r c Evans ' Resurrection Man (1998) - and the preferred readings o f each constructed by critics. E a c h offers a representation o f a particular per iod i n Nor the rn Irish history; each typifies the wider discourse about filmic 19 representation o f those periods. These three films provide particular examples o f resistance at the textual arid receptive levels. Films as acts of commemoration Certain qualities have been ascribed to opposit ional or counter cinema: self-consciousness, exaggeration, theatricality, and a meshing o f personal and national concerns. These same qualities characterize commemorative ritual. Th is may be why the conmiemorative cinema o f Nor the rn Ireland is such a viable source for resistant viewership. Commemora t ion is by nature ambivalent and contradictory. It looks both backwards to the past, seeking to explain and re-present a no t ion o f historical truth, and forward to the future, reinscribing the historical record for future viewer-participants.. The commemorative,cinema o f Nor the rn Ireland does not only present the 'facts' o f the events it depicts, but frames them by, and uses them to comment upon> present concerns. Commemora t ion simultaneously distances us f rom events by containing them within discfete. narratives and collapses that distance by encouraging identification and emotional involvement through familiar symbols and, mythologies. It seeks to unite our fragmented sense o f the modern w o r l d while also preserving a removed nostalgia for the past. ( "New Memory ' 7 , 344) Commemorat ive acts, i n their bui lding o f internal solidarity, invariably reproduce notions o f self and other and so polarize groups wi th in the wider society. Th is tension between internal solidarity and external alienation adds to the ambiguity o f ritual, leaving its codes open to a variety o f readings. Th is ambiguity, i n fact, is a necessary i f paradoxical component o f commemorative ritual, al lowing disparate factions to share c o m m o n texts; bunding what Ker tzer refers to as "solidarity without consensus". (Kertzer, 69) 20 A s cornmemorative cinema blurs distinctions between public and private histories wi th in the narratives, so does commemorat ion wi th in the social narrative. T h e way we experience these films is bo th public and private. Jay Winter writes o f the war f i lm, similady, as a "semi-private seance", an individual and unmediated act o f grieving, and a socially mediated form o f mass mourning. {Sites of Memory. . . ,138) These contradictory impulses — distance versus investment, solidarity versus alienation, public versus private — are reflected i n the commemorative cinema discussed here. Thete are other c o m m o n .qualities o f these films wh ich make them appropriate. for examination. A s noted; all have explicit and implici t claims to history and-kving memory. Besides the obvious content — stories set i n historical context — these films also are aware o f their o w n role as historical discourse and self-consciously posi t ion themselves as a part o f that discourse. T h e films also serve as counter-memory^ telling stories and offering perspectives w h i c h have arguably been marginalized or mischaracterized by other media. T h e films chosen challenge the critical consensus that resistance is absent from the last decade o f filmmaking about Nor the rn Ireland. A l l feature fiction narratives, these films have been undervalued as works o f resistance. The, opportunities for,negotiation,of.subject position, (opportunities w h i c h w i l l be explored i n latet chapters) have been largely ignored i n favour o f the emphasis o n progressivist or demystifying interpretations. N o t surprisingly, each o f these films has been subject to critical controversy (at best) or critical dismissal (at worst). T h e availability and marketing o f these films, to both the critical elite and the public audience, has o f course played a role i n their inclusion wi th in the canon o f 'Nor thern Irish cinema' and has somewhat dictated the amount and nature o f interrogation o n offer. 21 Some Mother's Son T h e 1981 Hunger Strikes have been a source o f commemorative activity wi th in the Nationalist community, remembered and refigured through a variety o f media - physical.memorials, songs, street art (murals, banners and graffiti), websites - and performative rituals such as matches. The relative importance o f the Hunger Strikes as, a site o f commemorat ion and communi ty bui lding seems to have grown since the 1994 ceasefires, and this post-ceasefire interest i n rê - remembering the trauma is evidenced i n a handful o f film treatments o f the topic, such as Maeve Murphy ' s Silent Grace (2001), Les Blair 's HJ (2001) and, the most widely seen o f the Hunger Strike films, Some Mother's Son. Some Mother's Son is the fictionalized.story o f two Catholic mothers whose sons are imprisoned fot acts o f terrorism. T h e sons join the hunger strike in prison, and the mothers are forced to choose whether to respect, their sons' poli t ical commitment or to intervene to save their lives. Ultimately, one mother chooses to remove her unconscious son from the strike, permitt ing medical intervention; the other allows her son to die. T h e central focus o f the narrative is the relationship between the two, quite different, women . T h e film's inclusion i n the. category o f commemorative cinema is based o n not only its narrative content, but the film's function wi th in the social formation o f memory and history. Whi l e the film was released fifteen years after the events it depicts, those events could not be said to be over; the Hunger Strikes are. very m u c h an open chapter o f Nor the rn Irish history, one whose significance and meaning are soi l i n debate and a part o f the l iv ing memory p f communities there. M a d e during the peace process f rom an earlier script by George, Some Mother's Son was released after a breakdown i n the process and so entered the public discourse 22 i n an atmosphere o f increased contention. T h e f i lm quickly became a part, too, o f an ongoing critical debate about the representations o f the region's history onscreen, a debate i n large part formed by reactions to J i m Sheridan's In the Name of the Father (1993) and N e i l Jordan's Michael Collins (1996), two other films dealing with divisive traumas o f Nor the rn Irish history and Irish-Brit ish relations. George has described the f i lm as a sort o f ' coming to terms' wi th his o w n personal history. George was involved wi th the I R A , imprisoned twice, and has said that the f i lm is i n part an expiation o f his o w n guilt for the pain his imprisonment and activities caused his family. ("The 'Troubles ' He 's Seen", 25-27) George positions the f i lm as commemorat ion, bo th representing a moment o f trauma and engaging i n communal remembering o f the moment. In so doing, he makes claims to an authentic representation o f history, to the film as a self- conscious object o f counter-memory, and to the facility o f the f i lm to engage wi th later events. H o w the f i lm depicts and encodes historical reality has been a central issue o f debate. George has been voca l i n his defence o f the film's historical accuracy, and claims to have extensive documentation to back up the details o f the story he presents — an odd claim given that the story is openly fictive. (McSwiney) T h e characters i n the film are composites, but George asserts that " . . .those people i n Nor the rn Ireland w h o fol lowed the hunger strikes know w h o the characters most closely resemble." (Some Mother's Son screenplay, xiii) T h e comment reveals George's investment i n the film as the authentic voice o f a community. George implici t ly takes the posit ion that the film is able to speak for the majority o f the Nationalist population. The opening paragraph o f George's introduction to his screenplay sets the tone and makes a clear claim to group identity and spokesmanship: 23 I grew up i n Belfast. M y friends were like any other boys around the w o r l d . . .We were like all other teenagers throughout Ireland, throughout E u r o p e . . .We l iked the Stones over the Beades because they had more balls. W e all gave our mothers a hard time. W e stayed out too late, needed more money than they h a d , felt we knew it a l l . . .Then something happened that changed all o f our lives forever. In 1969 a slow-burning c iv i l war broke out o n our streets. W e were the Catholic rebels fighting a Protestant state supported by the Br i t i sh army." (George, xiii) In interview, George has maintained, "Something new about this film is that maybe for the first time it's made by somebody who actually comes from Belfast and w h o was also actively involved i n nationalist politics i n Nor the rn Ireland." (McSwiney) M o r e than simply establishing his 'street cred', these remarks also reflect the not ion that Some Mother's Son functions as counter-memory, providing a voice for a communi ty wh ich has been silenced or neglected i n the historical record. T h e film's producer, A r t h u r L a p p i n , p romoted this not ion i n remarks i n the Irish Timer. "We're certainly not proselytizing for the I R A , but the film does try to redress a media imbalance regarding the hunger strikes." ("Green o n the Screen. . . " , 6) George makes further claims as to the role o f the film i n communal memory, point ing out its relevance to the contemporary peace process, i n wh ich 'both ' sides have become mired i n the "manipulation o f words" (Some Mother's Son screenplay, xiii) and the obduracy o f the poli t ical players. George's 'preferred reading' o f the film, at least as he has publicly expressed it, seems to be that the film speaks for one, homogenous communi ty o f 'Cathol ic rebels'. Whi l e not objective, George claims the f i lm does not vilify either the Br i t i sh or the Ulster Protestants; rather, he portrays it as an insular exploration and work ing through o f " . . . the most tragic event i n the recent history o f the nationalist communi ty . . . " (McSwiney) Significantly, George has offered contradictory statements on the film's poli t ical meaning, o n the one hand claiming that the film has "no message" (George, xiii); o n the other, and i n accordance wi th the emergent critical response, that the message is one o f an apolitical humanism ("There's N o 24 Such T h i n g . . . " , 11). Whether or not George is being disingenuous i n his claims as to the film's politics (or lack thereof),, it does seem that even the filmmaker's intent does not guarantee a single clear preferential reading. Critics and academics have produced contradictory readings o f Some Mother's Son. Despite differing valuations o f the fibn, three central concerns can be seen to dominate the discourse. First, the historical accuracy o f the film is interrogated. A s noted, the critical dialogue was shaped by the debates that arose over In the Name of the Father and Michael Collins, both heavily crit icized for fictionalizing elements o f their narratives; Second, the question o f bias is raised. O n the one hand, some find the film to be too sympathetic to the Nationalist cause or to Republican terrorists. Conversely, others argue mat the film is too conservative, i n both form and narrative, and so obfuscates the poli t ical question to the determent o f the Nationalist case. Finally, the representation o f communities is a concern; both the under-representation o f Ulster Protestant Unionists and the fragmented representation o f Catholic Nationalists ate a source o f disappointment for critics wi th in each community. Ultimately, two readings o f the film emerge as candidates for preferred reading status. T h e first is a variation o n the humanist interptetation endorsed by George. Some Mother's Son is understood as a melodrama that tells a universal story o f maternal compassion and demonstrates the futility o f both violence and conventional politics. Specific politics ate sidelined and the film functions o n an emotional, rather than an ideological or intellectual, level. Concerns o f bias are ultimately deflated, the consensus being that the film is "politically partisan, but emotionally just". (Alleva, 16) In contrast, a second reading o f the film has been constructed w h i c h understands the film as what Alexander Walker calls " . . .the continuation o f 25 Nationalist propaganda by other means" ( "F i lm Propaganda", 11). In this reading, the f i lm is overly sentimental, relying o n those same melodramatic elements to offer a suspect and exclusionary version o f the Nationalist myth. The concern wi th memory and commemorat ion is obvious i n these readings. Concerns about how the f i lm presents the events surrounding the Hunger Strikes-are predicated o n the not ion that the f i lm participates i n the ongoing establishment o f the meaning o f the events themselves, while concerns about representation assume, the role o f f i lm i n shaping., group identity and esteem. Walker's crit icism, for example, questions • the moraUty o f such f i lmmaking at a basic level, as such films are seen capable o f exacerbating tensions and irresponsibly raising contentious issues o f memory i n a.volatile climate. T h e . c o m m e n t that "what seems art i n the script becomes 'polit ics ' i n the product ion by the casting, editing, and creative decisions to exclude this viewpoint, or emphasize that one" (ibid) casts doubt o n the possibility o f ever producing an aesthetically and ideologically acceptable work of. cinema as. long as conflict persists over how. an event like the hunger strikes is to be officially remembeted. Bloody Sunday Just as Some Mother's Son is an example o f recent cinematic interest i n the Hunger Strikes, Pau l Greengrass' Bloody Sunday is o n e . o f several films and T V dramas recently made about the eponymous tragedy. T h e drama attempts to recreate the events o f January 30, 1972, when participants i n a De t ry c iv i l rights march clashed wi th Bri t ish Paratroopers; 14 civilians were kil led under disputed circumstances. L i m i t i n g its scope to the day o f the march, Bloody Sunday intercuts the stories o f multiple parties whose paths eventually intersect at the film's climax. 26 Whi le it is widely described as a docudrama, and while it adopts stylistic elements o f verite documentary, the f i lm also incorporates elements o f melodrama and art cinema. T h e release o f the film, concurrent wi th the opening o f the Saville Inquiry and the 30 t h anniversary o f the B l o o d y Sunday march, generated debates not dissimilar f rom those that formed around Some Mother's Son; debates over historical accuracy, bias, and the representation o f communities. Further, the critical reception o f Bloody Sundayreveals concerns about me ethics and aesthetics o f commemorat ion itself. A preferred reading results that undervalues the ambiguity i n , and potential for audience resistance to, the film's interpretation o f historic events. L i k e the Hunger Strikes, B l o o d y Sunday is an event extensively commemorated wi th in the Nationalist community, bo th visually, (via.street murals and neighbourhood memorials) and orally (via the testimony and stories o f witnesses and participants). It is also, o f course, an event o f considerable controversy; Nationalist and Unionis t communities each have vested interest i n h o w the events are remembered and h o w those involved are re-imagined through commemorat ion. T h e convic t ion o f many Nationalists is that the original Widgery Inquiry into B l o o d y Sunday was at best insufficient and at worst a cover-up o f Br i t i sh military abuse. W i t h i n the Unionis t community,, the, new Inquiry, and , the interest i n revisiting the day cinematically, has met wi th suspicion and resentment for the perceived indictment o f the military's actions and for the focus o n Catholic vict ims, a focus that is seen by some as misdirected, given the losses o f the Protestant community. W i t h i n this climate, Greengrass and the film's producers have framed Bloody Sunday as a work o f reconciliation that re-examines a moment i n history i n order to avoid future conflict. T h e reading suggested by Greengrass downplays the ritualistic and mythic elements o f the film. 27 Greengrass posits a pro-social reading o f the film, the message o f wh ich he summarizes as "violence cannot possibly lead to progress. O n the contrary, violence can only lead to no progress.. . the best that a guerrilla war can achieve is to turn: the oppressed minor i ty into- the oppressing majority. Y o u can't i n the end get around the fact that there are two people w h o want to inhabit the same land." (Curiel, D - l l ) Elsewhere, Greengrass has described'the film as a caution to states engaged i n a 'war o n terror', sugges toga correlation between the actions o f the Bri t ish Government forces i n 1972, and those o f the post- 9/11 U n i t e d States (in so doing, making a second correlation between the. Der ry marchers, and M u s l i m terrorism suspects). (Ezard, 2) Greengrass also makes an-explicit connection between the events o f B l o o d y Sunday and the current peace process; his film, he says, is about the op t imism o f those wi l l ing to strive for non-violent change. (CurieL D - l l ) L i k e Terry George, . Greengrass emphasizes the historical veracity o f the w o r k in interviews and promot ional materials; the film is based i n large part o n the account Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, by D o n Mul l an , and Mullan 's research is cited as evidence o f the film's accuracy. Commemorat ive cinema functions as a cinema o f resistance i n part because o f its relat ion wi th counter-memory; i f history is, as M i c h e l - R o l p h TrouiHot reminds us, bo th what happened and what is said to have happened, commemorative rituals are attempts to say more, to provide voices o f opposi t ion that fill i n . the inevitable silences i n the historical record. . (Trouillot, 2) Greengrass positions Bloody Sunday as counter-memory, presenting a version o f events that confronts the official record, and the voices o f history's actual participants i n opposi t ion to the hegemonic discourse. Greengrass'. confrontation, though, arises f rom a no t ion of. inclusivity rather than one o f outright opposit ion: the suggestion is that by including a plurality o f voices 28 and images, he can present for the first time the ' truth' o f B l o o d y Sunday. E c h o i n g Greengrass' claims, producer Pau l Redhead declares "we felt f rom the start that it was important i n the light o f the history o f the conflict to make me project as inclusive as possible." (Redhead) T o this end, membets o f the De t ty community, including some o f the original marchers, were invited to participate, as actors and consultants, and actual Bri t ish soldiers were cast as the Paratroopers. Ironically ̂  the implicat ion that the f i lm is a more or less objective representation o f actual events is offset by observations, such as the one by Redhead, that extras required httle direction because "this was a script that everyone knew", (ibid) The, constructed narrative framework that sustains communi ty memory is obscured by the film?s projected status as documentary. Greengrass does not share George's c laim to insider status; instead, he falls back o n this not ion o f inclusivity to establish his credibility as a bearer o f social memory. Greengrass argues that "those communities [Derry Protestants and Catholics,, presumably] felt that those films [he refers here to Bloody Sunday and 2004's Omagh,/written by Greengrass and directed by Pete Travis] reflected their struggle, reflected their understanding o f what had happened. A n d they felt that they owned them. Y e t i n a way those films also spoke to them and showed them new ways o f looking at these terrible events:" (Faraci) Greengrass seeks to establish not only the veracity o f his film and its usefulness as a work o f reconciliation, but his o w n role as a mouthpiece fot those w h o feel a commitment to the story and yet perhaps, have, not had the power to tell that story. The preferred reading put forth by critics accepts Greengrass' espoused intentions,, endorsing the film as a essentially fait and unbiased presentation o f events. Th is reading tteats the film as 29 a documentary re-enactment o f the historicar events, legit imizing Bloody Sunday as a historical object. Whi l e critics might quarrel about the accuracy o f facts, or the value o f the re- enactment, Greengrass' claims o f inclusivity and evcn-handedness dominate this reading; the film is taken as yet another liberal humanist text, well-meaning, lacking i n context and complexity, but driven by a pro-social and pacifistic impulse. T h e film has been subject to charges o f bias and was condemned by some journalists and politicians, mcluding the Br i t i sh . Conservative Party. These objections notwithstanding, a critical consensus emerges that ultimately valorizes the film as a progressive text. The appeal to notions o f inclusivity and historical integrity may have helped to counter the charges o f bias, as d id a rul ing by the Independent Television Commiss ion , a Br i t i sh regulatory body,, that the. film (broadcast on television i n the I ' K ) did not violate standards o f impartiality; the film was determined to be "sympathetic" to the protesters, "but not at the expense o f other perspectives". ("Bloody Sunday T V Dramas, . . " , 6 ) Greengrass' attempts at inclusivity ate. recognized and endorsed i n the critical reading. T h e mtercutting.of multiple narratives, giving screen time to the Paras, police, protesters, and politicians, is interpreted as objectivity. Jonathan Curiel 's judgement that the film shows "devot ion to showing all sides of.that fateful day" is fairly typical o f the preferredreading established by the critical discourse: (Guriel, D-1T) Similarly, the central role o f Ivan Cooper , a Protestant c iv i l rights leader, is read as evidence that the film goes beyond the typical inadequate representations o f Unionis ts and Nationalists. Greengrass himself points to the representation o f Coope r as a corrective to me dominant image o f Protestants: " H o w many films have we seen about Nor the rn Ireland where the Protestants are portrayed as stereotypical bigots? I wanted this movie to escape all stereotypes." (ibid) 30 T h e film mimics documentary visuals, and invokes for critics memories o f news coverage as we l l as iconic images, such as the priest w h o waves his white handkerchief as he helps the injured, or the blood-stained banner placed ovet a ptotestot's body. Such images have represented the event for many over the past thirty years; i n popular memory, certain icons stand i n for the larger narrative and these may provide a. sense* o f familiarity to Greengrass' images. T h e preferred reading interprets these iconic images accordingly. E d d i e H o l t o f the Irish Times, for example, argues that the film provides a necessary counter to not merely erroneous representations, but absent ones. (Holt , 51) The contemporaneous restrictions o n television coverage o f the march and surrounding events meant that many o f the day's images were not seen at the time. T h e most traumatic images were censored and vict im's voices and images were silenced and obscured. This "castration" o f coverage ensuted a representational lack which , according to Hol t ' s argument, Bloody Sunday has emerged to fill. In contrast to Hol t ' s v iew that the film operates byp resen t ing unseen images, M c L o o n e posits that the controversy arises f rom a similarity to the actual coverage and the way the film taps into the l iv ing memory o f events. In fact, M c L o o n e suggests that Greengrass doesn't go far enough i n presenting, alternative versions and voices, but is content to simply present a re-enactment of , those events wh ich are n o t contested; i n so doing, the film lets the Br i t i sh o f f the hook, disguising the truth by the chaos o f the form. ( M c L o o n e , "Bloody Sunday", 42-43) B y leaving i t up to the audience to impose a meaningful. narrative on the series o f disjointed segments, Greengrass' film "perhaps disguises the truth as m u c h as it reveals reality." (ibid) What H o l t fails to address is the nationalist community 's o w n creation o f compensatory images: art projects^ murals, and traditional memorials. Hol t ' s point, that Bloody Sunday fills.a vacuum and presents images o f trauma fot the first time to a new generation, ignores that these filmic 31 images are actually i n competi t ion wi th pre-existing representations passed from one generation to the next through rituals and. monuments o f commemorat ion. A s a result, these images are experienced more ambivalently and wi th a greater degree o f resistance than readings such as Hol t ' s can account for. A s these examples illustrate, the preferred reading o f Bloody Sunday that: emerges from the critical discourse treats the f i lm as a closed text, and the events it represents as a closed chapter i n history. Just as Greengrass' comments oh the film assume that there is some empirical truth waiting to be uncovered, the critics' responses to the film — while recognizing the relevance o f the text to current poli t ical events — underestimate audience commitment to reading the film as part o f a continuing narrative, one which is sustained by community memories o f an event that is constandy refigured and renegotiated. T h e film's critical reception is split between those w h o see it as a fair and even-handed presentation o f events, and those w h o view it as dangerous propaganda, but this split reveals a correlation between those w h o see a.value in remembering the events and those w h o are opposed i n principle to revisiting, the trauma. Close analysis o f the film, or o f the way audiences might experience the film, is secondary to questions o f poli t ical agenda. E v e n amongst those critics whose readings w o u l d seem to endorse the film as an attempt at reconciliation, the not ion o f a closed history prevails. Richard K e l l y , for example, o n the one hand recognizes the open nature o f the wider Nor the rn Irish conflict — "the trouble is that there was no surrender by either side, and hence no clear victor wi th undisputed right to compose the official history o f the confl ict" ("It W o n ' t G o A w a y . . . " , 75) — and o n the other, portrays Greengrass' film as a historical re-enactment that closes the narrative, at least insofar 32 there was no surrender by either side, and hence no clear victor w i th undisputed right to compose the official history o f the confl ict" ("It W o n ' t G o A w a y . . . " , 75) — and o n the other, portrays Greengrass' f i lm as a historical re-enactment mat closes the narrative, at least insofar as cinema is concerned. "Greengrass' achievement, " he writes in another review, "is such that there is little point i n the nirthet restaging o f B l o o d y Sunday as pamful bistory-play. Interested viewers should look n o w to L o r d Saville's ongoing inqu i ry . . . " (Kel ly, "B loody Sunday, 39) T h e problem wi th such readings is that they ignore the ways i n w h i c h commemorat ion is i tself an ongoing process; the f i lm, like the monuments and memorials created to 'remember' B loody Sunday, is not the last w o r d to a passive audience, but an entry i n a dialogue wi th active spectators. F o r critics like Stanley Kauff inann, this not ion of-"a 'closed' chapter i n history results i n questioning o f the film's very right to exist. Kauffmann's review o f the fi lm assumes, rather against the stated intentions o f the filmmaker, that "the film's motive was to memorialize the debacle [of B l o o d y Sunday] and to underscore the long , ongoing history o f the Irish Troubles , perhaps wi th a hope to conclude them." (Kauffinann, 24) H e goes o n to question whether - like films about the Holocaust — thereis any moral justification for such films, and even claims that ''after they fulfill their sheerly informational function, the only criterion left.. .is aesthetic." (ibid, 25) Seemingly, all a film like Bloody Sunday may do is to present the 'facts' and once that goal is accomplished, the film's function is purely an artistic one, best judged by the film's adherence to generic and narrative conventions. Kauffinann's argument is not that such events are unrepresentable, but that there is no longer any point in representing them. This line o f rJiinlting leads to treatment o f the text as a closed text. I f nothing else> this attitude helps to explain the strong averse reaction to the film by conservative critics. Walket , for 33 example, cites the f i lm as further evidence o f the same Nationalist agenda wh ich was behind Some Mother's Son, and says that the film "reopens" wounds left on society by the trauma o f B l o o d y Sunday. ("Militant M o v i e s " , 33) Wh i l e one might easily counter that those wounds do not seem to have been 'closed' i n the first place, Walker 's concern is not unique and may explain some element o f audience response. The dominant critical readings o f Bloody Sunday reduce the film's meaning to an agenda o f liberal humanism, regardless o f ways me film is actually received. T h e opposit ional reading put forth by conservative critics is, equally, part o f a reactionary strategy that is focused o n posi t ioning the film as Nationalist propaganda. Treating the film as a historical re-enactment both readings assume that the film is so unambiguous i n its assertion o f i t s message o f reconciliation and resolution (or conversely, nationalist victimization) that i t can only be read i n that context. Whi l e the very form o f the film increases its ambiguity, suggesting clarity and answers i t fails to deliver. The,preferred reading put forth by critics cannot reconcile the seemingly apposite forces o f distanciation and emotional address. Resurrection Man M a r c Evans ' Resurrection Man is. not as obviously posit ioned as a w o r k o f commemorative cinema as the other two films discussed here. T h e film has been marketed and to some extent received as a thriller that has more i n c o m m o n wi th the horror and gangster genres than it does wi th historical film; Nonetheless, the film unquestionably performs the crucial functions o f commemorat ion. 34 Resurrection Man is a re-examination o f Loyalist violence and group identity i n 1970's Belfast. Based o n the sectarian murders commit ted by the Shanldi i l l Butchers, me film parallels the violence and psychosis o f the central protagonist a n d gang leader, V ic to r Ke l ly (a fictional stand-in for the historical figure o f Lenny Mutphy) , w i th that o f the journalist, Ryan, w h o investigates the Idllings. The two men's stories are interwoven, each mirror ing one another's violent prochvities; at the film's close, K e l l y is assassinated by death squad: The film is stylized and atmospheric, relying heavily o n the visual conventions o f horror and noir . T h e familiar structure is punctuated by moments o f formalism. Voice-ove t ' interview' segments ate used to transition between scenes o f fractured and circular narrative. Evans ' film is based o n E o i n M c N a m e e ' s novel o f the same name; M c N a m e e also wrote the screenplay. 9 M c N a m e e claims i n his work as a novelist to be interested i n "the process o f myth-making, i n how people become myths"; about Resurrection Man, M c N a m e e has said " W e have a mora l responsibility to confront our history i n this society." (quoted i n Traynor, "Resurrection Man") M c N a m e e explicitly frames the w o r k as such a confrontation, while Evans tacitly positions the film as commemorative ritual. Evans makes no claims to be an 'insider', nor does he speak o f the film as counter-memory, as do Terry George and M c N a m e e . In interviews, Evans emphasizes the Active nature o f the work; not, it seems, to avoid charges o f inaccuracy, but to avoid charges o f immorali ty. Likewise , he explains his intent as a ritualistic impulse. "There's a k ind o f ritual to a horror movie . . . the catharsis o f that is what people want." (Young) 9 Perhaps because McNamee has been the target of criticism for the controversial work, he has also, alongside Evans, taken on the task of defending the film. While Evans chooses in interviews to focus on the film's aesthetic and generic attributes, if is McNamee who overtly attempts to position the film as a commemorative work. 35 T h e film does have potential to function as counter-memory, i n that it confronts and challenges the official history o f the Shanldull Butchets and Loyalist violence i n general. Cri t ical interest i n the film arises i n no small part f rom the fact that Resurrection Man'is one o f a very few theatrical films which feature Protestant Loyalists as prominent characters. Whether this results i n a demonizat ion o f the entire communi ty or a more complex portrayal o f a neglected segment o f Nor the rn Ireland's populat ion is the central concern o f many w h o discuss the film. N o t surprisingly, then, m u c h o f the critical discourse revolves around these characters and h o w they function, ot fail to function, as representations o f the Loyalis t community. O f secondary concern is the representation o f violence i n the film and what meanings can be attached to that violence. F o r the most part, the critics see the film's violence and villains as decontextualized, fmding i n the lack o f historical context the basis for readings o f Resurrection Man as a universal morality play or generic text. T h e preferred readings that arise emphasize this lack o f historical referent and, correspondingly, downplay its potential as a work o f memory or mourning. M c L o o n e , for example, claims that the film suffers f rom a c o m m o n failing o f tecent Irish — indeed, European — cinema, a reliance o n "banal, humanist" messages wi th no exploration-of specific contextual issues. Resurrection Man explains its violence as oechpal and pathological; "beyond that", argues M c L o o n e , "the film says nothing about the politics o f Nor the rn Ireland and perhaps it does not set out to do so." (Irish Film , 82) In a more recent article, M c L o o n e has modif ied his reading somewhat, al lowing some specificity o f place as a deterrninant. Here , M c L o o n e is wi l l ing to read the bloodshed the film depicts as the product o f a simultaneously "real and imagined" place, a.dystopic city that breeds immorali ty and violence, while still ci t ing the lack o f real historical and poli t ical context as a fatal flaw i n the film's address to audiences. 36 ("Topographies. . ." , 137-139) Perhaps ffiforming M c L o o n e ' s revisions, Lance Pettitt disagrees wi th the claim that the film lacks cultural specificity. O n the contrary, he understands the films as an implicat ion o f a "dysfunctional society, heavily mihtarised and suffocating under surveillance." {Screening Ireland, 263) Pettitt's reading o f the film is something o f an anomaly i n the critical discourse, but nonetheless reflects the understandable emphasis placed o n the film as a reflection o n the nature o f violence. Cr i t ic D e s m o n d Traynor perhaps best typifies the preferred reading o f Resurrection Man as morality play. H e writes that the film i s . n o t really about violence i n the N o r t h at all, but recognizes that violence has very Utile to do with the political and socio-economic context i n w h i c h it takes place, but is a more immutable trait i n individual human psychology. . . " . (Traynor, "Resurrection Man") Wh i l e M c L o o n e faults the film for its perceived neglect o f historical reality and Pettitt seeks to demonstrate a way i n w h i c h the f i lm engages wi th that reality, Traynor happily endorses an ahistorical approach, i n effect denying that violence has a unique character i n Nor the rn Ireland. Reading the f i lm as a universal morality play allows critics, like Traynor, to justify the work: it punishes its deviant characters and so can be concluded to be a morally acceptable portrayal. Th is need to validate the 'message' o f Resurrection Manreminds us again o f the film's place i n an ongoing dialogue about memory and history and, as wi th Bloody Sunday or Some Mother's Son, the ethics o f exploring those memories i n a volatile public arena. Y e t another critical posi t ion points to the role o f genre i n the preferred reading o f Resurrection Man. Th is posi t ion, expressed by Harvey O ' B r i e n , among others, posits that the lack o f contextualization is immaterial, given the film's status as genre object. O ' B r i e n argues that 37 audience understanding o f the f i lm w i l l be as a gothic horror text and that this is i n fact the only level o n wh ich viewers are likely to engage wi th the fi lm: . .the sectarian psychopath as apolitical metaphor leaves a referential hole in the centre o f the text (polities becomes nothing more than another illusory frame o f reference with which the unstable character defines himself), but this is the k ind o f concern wh ich those interested i n poli t ical representation w i l l find more troubling than the general audience." (O 'Br ien , "Resurrection Man'') . Th is posi t ion seems not only to be a rather elitist one, but ignores the question o f the demonstrated audience commitment to poli t ical readings o f films featuring Nor the rn Ireland — i n other words, the l ikel ihood that audiences w i l l read this film 'politically' despite any imagined intentions to the contrary. This preferred reading o f the film as 'merely' genre object also ignores the ways i n wh ich the film engages wi th genre to engender a variety o f subject positions. Genre is used by critics not only to explain the nature o f the film's violence, but also to explain the film's failure o n a representational level. T h e prevailing understanding o f Resurrection Man - as genre object rather than as work o f memory construction — informs M c l l r o y ' s characterization o f the film as an "unsophisticated" treatment o f the Protestant Unionis t . M c l l r o y goes further than this, though, i n h i s attention to the question o f community representation. M c l l r o y discusses the f i lm i n a chapter significantly titled " V i s i o n i n g the Other" ; his concern is primarily how the film functions to show the diversity and integrity o f the Protestant communi ty - w h i c h is, i n his estimation, not very well. . Engaging wi th the film as something more than a stylistic, ultra-violent, gangster/horror hybr id , M c l l r o y reads the film as a comment o n the internal divisions and discomfort wi th in the Unionis t camps, posit ing a " . . .connection between sectarian violence and self-loathing." (Shooting To Kill, 121) 38 It is through this concept o f self-loathing that consideration o f the audience enters the preferred reading critics have constructed. In a piece written specifically to justify, the. firm's inclusion i n the Belfast F i l m Festival, D e s m o n d B e l l argues that the f i lm deals wi th the abject wi th in the Protestant subject, the "uncontrollable Loyalis t monster" that threatens communa l self-image. (Bell, 5) H e locates the abject wi th in the twinned subjects o f V i c t o r K e l l y and Ryan, and sees here points o f identification for, at least, the Loyalis t viewer. A l t h o u g h little attention is devoted to the ways i n wh ich the film might encourage or discourage such identification, B e l l and M c l l r o y begin to address questions o f spectatorial pleasure and the active audience. A t best, Resurrection Man is read as a morality play or stylish genre film to be judged o n aesthetic merits alone. A t worst, i t is read as a sectarian w o r k that demonizes the Protestant community. The critical reception o f the f i lm, whether defensive or hostile i n tone, does form a consensus wh ich might, despite variations, be characterized as a preferred reading. In this dominant reading, the film presents a largely ahistorical psychoanalytic framework for violent pathologies. Adherence to generic convent ion is the explanation for bo th syntax and semantics. Whi l e the film can be judged for its lack o f adequate subject representation, this, lack is generally unqualified; rather it is posed as an absolute and then dismissed o n the grounds that the film privileges other concerns. Audience pleasure i n the film is explained by generic loyalty. Perhaps most essentially, the film—as wel l as the events i t fictionalizes — is treated as a 'closed' text. There is little r o o m for ambiguity i n this reading, and little attention to the ambiguous elements o f the text itself. 39 Limits of the preferred reading T h e preferred readings o f commemorative cinema are circulated by the critical discourse and invariably become a part o f individual viewer experience. Equal ly , critics play of f one another and engage wi th each other's readings as we l l as wi th the text itself. This may seem an obvious point, but it is an essential one, expkin ing , perhaps, the l imited scope o f these analyses. T h e identification o f a liberal humanist agenda i n the films, for example, is not unfounded, but i t is also a reflection o f the critics' o w n academic concerns and ideological leanings, concerns and leanings not universally shared by audiences. T h e desire to posi t ion the films as closed texts leads to critical w o r k that downplays ambiguity and resistance i n favour o f an alignment w i th one communal framework or another, providential or redemptive. In this way, the preferred reading tries to make clear and comprehensible narratives out o f history. T h e resistance o f these narratives by audiences begs further consideration o f bo th viewer strategies and those aspects o f the text wh ich encourage resistance. 40 Chapter Three - Film Texts and the Cinema of Resistance In the preceding chapters, I have claimed that commemorative cinema may represent a 'cinema o f resistance' i n its role as counter-memory construction and its openness to multiple opposit ional readings. I f commemorative cinema is a category o f film which contains a narrative address and examination o f contested events i n recent history, the cinema o f resistance is that further subsection o f these films wi th an identifiable formal dimension, one w h i c h is structured around elements o f ambiguity. B y ambiguity, I mean here the refusal o f stable or single meaning. These films are polysemic, posit ing multiple meanings i n their disjunction between, narrative and image and i n their inclusion o f a plurality o f voices wi th in the text. Th is ambiguity o f form results i n the blurt ing o f the boundaries o f personal and private, inclusion and exclusion, and distance and identification, and provides the space i n which resistant readings can be performed. Audiences perform the resistant readings, but the films themselves bo th delimit possible readings and provide the necessary openness. Creating a resistant text: the role of ambiguity Gregory Currie defines the ambiguous narrative as one which intentionally raises a significant question or questions which it then self-consciously fails to answer. (Currie, 24) The "significant questions" raised by commemorative cinema w o u l d include those w h i c h have so far concerned critics and audiences; such questions as h o w events are to be memorialized, what the events o f the narrative mean for society, h o w events can be explained i n terms o f cause and effect, or what we should understand about the players and the communities involved. In reading the films as provid ing single and coherent (albeit incorrect ot 41 inconclusive) answers to these questions, critics have largely chosen to minimize formal and narrative ambiguities. Ambigu i ty is a term most frequency associated wi th discussions o f art cinema. T h e three films under analysis here - wh ich might be simplistically classified as a melodrama, a genre film, and a docudrama — are generally not treated as art cinema, and I don't intend to suggest that such a shift i n approach is necessary or warranted. I wou ld , however, suggest that any discussion o f ambiguity i n commemorative cinema can be informed by the explanation o f the function o f ambiguity i n art cinema. D a v i d Bordwe l l has argued that the disjunctive aspects o f art cinema (in contrast w i th the single harmonic diegesis o f classical cinema) arise f rom the problematic un ion o f objective realism, subjective realism, and authorial commentary. In effect, art cinema creates ambiguity when it attempts to simultaneously utilize a realist and an expressionist.mode o f address. In the end, the film -hesitates' between the two:,"uncertainties persist, but are understood as such, as obvious uncertainties." (Narration..., 212) Th is hesitation creates an opportunity for the reader to construct his or her o w n meaning. Commemorat ive cinema masks its uncertainties through the surface adherence to models o f classical and mainstream cinema. T h e ambiguity..and corresponding hesitation is,perhaps less 'obvious ' , but it is wi th in this moment o f hesitation that the active viewer may 'read against the grain' o f these films. Moreover , it is perhaps witdiin this moment o f hesitation that mourn ing work may occur. A n interesting corollary — even the use o f similar language — is found i n Patrick Grant 's work, Literature, Rhetoric and Violence in Northern Ireland; Gran t describes i n 42 certain Nor the rn Irish prose, and especially poetry, a quahty he terms "contemplative hesitation". (Literature, Rhetoric and Violence..., 156), It is Grant 's contention that contemplative hesitation offers the best opportunity for the w o r k i n g through o f trauma. T h e familiar argument about dominant cinema tells,us that his tory can be explained rhrough human psychological dnves ; and comprehensible social forces. Ph i l ip Green explains that this dominant cinema "derives added weight f rom the fact that the primary enterprise o f modern (but not modernist) s torytel l ing, .with, i ts realistic social and psychological surfaces,.linear narratives, sympathetic protagonists and emotionally satisfying endings. ..is impHcitly ideological by virtue o f its structure alone, without regard to the necessary ambiguities o f any particular narrative content." (Green, 103) B y calling attention to its o w n ambiguities, commemorative cinema requires and permits a more active viewership. T h e films discussed here, for example, complicate the not ion o f "realistic social and psychological surfaces" through their self-conscious engagement w i t h contested events, demanding a re read ing wi th attention to the ambiguous elements and the complications o f those surfaces. T h e arguments over historical. accuracy that surround these films are ,a symptom o f this complicat ion; what is understood to be a "realistic" depiction o f events is by no means a shared understanding, and the very idea o f objective realism is called into question. Because the films do not - i n fact, cannot - assume a shared audience definition o f historical truth, these surfaces become an immediate site o f ambiguity, a smfting foundation o f sand o n w h i c h the narratives are built. T h e commemorative cinema uses isolated moments o f subjective realism i n counterpoint to expectations o f objective representation. Whi l e narratives o f commemorative cinema may or may not be linear i n structure, the narrative o f the events 43 depicted is understood to be unfinished. The imposi t ion o f a linear narrative is an arbitrary ordering o f events wh ich the viewer is encouraged to perceive as suspect. Protagonists are n o t , sympathetic, or more accurately, protagonists are not unequivocally sympathetic. - E a c h film presents focalizers w h o advocate contradictory responses and interpretations. Resurrection Man presents two protagonists, neither o f w h o m might be considered "sympathetic" by any colloquial understanding o f the term, and yet the film both invites and obstructs identification wi th the monstrous figures o f V i c t o r K e l l y and Ryan. Bloody Sunday offers multiple points o f identification, dividing sympathy amongst them i n a manner that engenders instability and uncertainty. Some Mother's Son offers two protagonists i n A n n i e and Kathleen, and encourages sympathetic readings o f both, a seemingly untenable posit ion for the viewer. A s for the endings o f these films, none w o u l d seem to provide the emotionally satisfying closure o f classical cinema. T h e films' open endings — in each case, the larger social and moral concerns are unresolved — reflect the films' status as commemorative objects, bo th m v o k i n g the past and constructing the present. Bloody Sunday B y treating the commemorative films as closed texts, critical readings. downplay elements wh ich permit a more open approach by viewers. T h e preferred reading o f Bloody Sunday wh i ch arises from the p romot ion and crit icism assumes that its fo rm reduces the ambiguity o f a contested moment o f trauma. Reading Bloody Sunday as re-enactment rather than narrative enactment suggests an inclusive text wh ich illuminates the ' truth' and guides the viewer to an unequivocal interpretation o f a historical trauma. Emphas iz ing the documentarian aspirations o f the work, this reading downplays the ambivalent nature o f the film. In fact, the style and form operate to offer multiple points o f resistance and interpretation. 44 Bloody Sundaf s simultaneous appeal to the modes o f melodrama and documentary both creates and disguises the essential ambiguity within . T h e invocat ion o f documentary tropes, o n examination, calls attention to the very limits o f representation; at the same time, the employment o f melodrama comments o n the instability and insufficiency o f the film's pretence to realism. Excessive focus o n the 'realism' o f the film shows a critical indifference to the interplay o f other modes o f address. Bloody Sunday uses a number o f effects that are associated wi th a cinema verity style. Shaky handheld camerawork, unmotivated pans and, zooms, naturalistic sound and lighting, nonclassical framing and obstructed point-of-view shots are used i n conjunction wi th a grainy and desaturated film stock. A t the same time, the narrative trajectory essentially follows a conventional mode l i n its three-act structure and rising dramatic tension, aspects o f melodrama permeate the film, and the sense o f objective realism is offset by small, but key, moments o f subjectivity. T h e realism o f Bloody Sunday has a counterpoint i n the film's use o f melodrama. If, i n a typical melodrama, the excess o f the.visual style undermines the sentimental affect o f the story, i n Bloody Sunday the melodramatic elements o f the narrative similarly undermine the semblance o f realism. The personal and the polit ical realms are not distinct or contained; rather, the film blurs these distinctions, most notably i n Cooper 's c laim that he is marching " fo r" his relationship. The domestic subplots — Gerry and Hester's doomed relationship and Ivan and Frances' similarly coded romance — are underdeveloped and cliched, more generic markers than synthesized parts o f the narrative; their very excess seems a self-conscious r ecogn i t ion o f the film's place wi th in the wider frameworks o f Nor the rn Irish s torytel l ing. \ 45 Melodrama, according to Geoffrey NoweU-Smith,. .is centred around an element o f hysteria, and it is i n the moment o f hysteria that "the realist representative convention breaks d o w n . " (Nowel l -Smith , 272) In this light, the melodrama o f Bloody Sunday may be seen as the expression o f the ultimate collapse.of .a 'realistic' depiction o f events. A documentary style inevitably fails to contain the hysteria.brought o n by the teal historical••trauma', and melodrama serves as the recognition o f this failure, a failure illustrated by not what the f i lm shows, but what i t fails to show. B y l imit ing its coverage to a single day, Bloody Sunday removes the events from their wider historical context. A s we have seen, this is a familiar crit icism o f fiction films made.about Nor the rn Ireland. In Bloody Sunday, this lack o f context has two particular effects. First, it exposes the degree to wh ich the f i lm assumes viewer knowledge. Lirrle attempt is made to provide the audience wi th background mformation or to explain the significance o f players and deeds as they unfold. Second, and i n direct relation to this first point, the lack o f context allows space for the film to be understood very differently by individual viewers. T h e critical readings o f Bloody Sunday, when they acknowledge ambiguity at all , focus o n the narrative ambiguity generated by what is not depicted onscreen. Specifically, one essential detail is unseen - w h o fited first. T h e first l ive rounds fired are heard but ate not explained and their source is not shown; the 'mystery' p f those shots — perhaps the; central point o f contention — provides some o f the chaos and uncertainty w h i c h drives the action i n the second act o f the film. B y leaving.some doubt about the origin o f those shots, Bloody Sunday allows viewers to continue with the film according to their o w n preconceived understanding, 46 accepting the narrative by fitting it into their o w n framework. T h e f i lm projects doubt, w h i c h the committed viewer may ignore i f desired, or exploit to meet his or het o w n needs and orientation. Through its impl ic i t acknowledgement o f the subjective interpretation o f events,. Bloody Sunday, calls the very concept o f 'witnessing' into question. A t the same time that it proposes v is ion as the source o f knowledge, it reminds us that our o w n vis ion is always incomplete and subjective. Soldier 27, faced wi th the choice to assist i n a cover-up or speak out against bis fellow soldiers, insists " I saw what happened", to wh ich his comrade replies wi th an alternative version o f the day's events, concluding wi th " Y o u know what happened, right?" Soldier 27 reluctantiy accepts and repeats this version as truth. W h a t one.'sees' and what one 'knows ' and teiterates after the fact are not the same thing, and repetition i n this case provides exculpating distance f rom the trauma. This scene is recalled at Cooper 's final press conference, at w h i c h he insists "They were innocent. W e were there." T o the assembled journalists, E a m o n n M c C a n n cries " Y o u saw it. Y o u saw it. G o home and tell i t ." T h e viewer, o f course, was "there" as we l l and yet his or her o w n version o f the story contains gaps and uncertainties. Commemora t ion does not, then,. guarantee an empirical 'truth', but the perpetuation o f collective (mis)understandings. These are not the only references to the breaches o f viewer knowledge, however. The narrative uncertainty is echoed i n the frequent use o f fades, each lasting only a few seconds, throughout the film. T h e fades to black that punctuate Bloody Sunday serve not to transition between scenes and settings (where a straight cut is more often used), but within scenes, where, like jump cuts, they create disjunction and rupture. The blackouts do not serve to unify the 47 narrative, as some critics have suggested, but to disjoint. Just as the split narrative means that there are some details left unseen, these blackouts ate points where audience vis ion i s denied; literal representations o f the 'unknowing ' that occurs , in relation to history^,reminding the viewer o f the limits to the representation. Trauma theorists have written o f the 'black hole ' o f traumatic memory that "cannot be articulated wirJiin the structure o f rational discourse". (Gomel , 163) Despite the preferred reading o f the film as a,complete representation, these blackouts (or black holes) seem at the same time to call our attention to the film's very incompleteness. The blackouts offer moments o f silence i n opposi t ion to the (ovet)spoken narrative, provid ing a sort o f 'breathing r o o m ' f rom the clamour o f me fi lm. Visual ly, wi th its pans, obstructed composi t ion, and aurally, wi th incessant.telephones and overlapping dialogue, the film is oppressive; the blackouts provide dramatic silence. Wha t is the effect o f that silence? Felman suggests that such silence may function as "muted testimony" that makes the v iewer aware o f the victims o f the trauma by their very absence; G o m e l — among others - conversely argues that silence covers over the existence o f the v ic t im, denying their existence and specificity, (ibid, 164-165) These moments are too brief,, perhaps, to be considered reflective, but they do create hesitation and invite contemplation. I f recourse to the models o f melodrama or documentary is insufficient to account for the firm's ambiguities, the no t ion o f spectacle may provide some explanation of Bloody Sunday's ro le as resistant, counter-memorial cinema. In bis work Modernism, Ireland and the Erotics of Memory, Nicholas M i l l e r argues for a distinction between 'telling' histories and ' showing ' histories. T h e earliest films about Irish history relied on ' showing ' the spectacles o f the past, rather than o n 48 ' telling' narratives. The eventual dominance o f narrative f i lmmaking went hand-in-hand wi th a conservatism o f historical perspective. Mi l l e r — w h o w o u l d seem to agree wi th the majority o f . critics that Nor the rn Ireland lacks a strong opposit ional cinema — uses T o m - Gunning ' s arguments about the cinema o f attractions to explain the role o f spectacle wi th in historical f i lm, and his points seem especially applicable to the commemorative cinema identified here. A n element o f spectacle is always present i n purportedly narrative films. W h i l e narrative strives to impose causality and order, to render comprehensible the chaos o f history, " i n spite o f narrativity, the comfortable separation o f viewer, and history nevertheless breaks down,... where the past suddenly occurs, and demands that the viewer undertake the complex and ambivalent task o f memory-work." (Miller, 113) Bloody Sunday, like the early films M i l l e r discusses, relies o n 'showing';, even.more, it relies o n 'not showing'.. Its use o f spectacle has been mistaken for truth-telling. Q n the contrary, though, spectacle is used, in accordance wi th Mil ler ' s argument, to create a space for memory-work and the contemplative hesitation that may permit mourning. T h e ambiguity engendered by the narrative form and the use o f blackouts is complemented by the film's refusal to l imit itself to a single central subject. T h e dominant structural device o f the film, its mtercutting between storylines, results i n a polysemic text that offers a plurality o f voices. Perspective is split between four groups o f players, and the film shuttles between these four narratives - the Br i t i sh General F o r d and his men, the Paratroopers o n assignment, Ivan Cooper and his fellow march organizers, and Gerry and his group o f friends — mtercutting to show the cross-purposes, misunderstandings and mount ing tensions. Bloody Sunday opens and closes wi th parallel press conferences, and throughput, commentary on, the situation is delivered by the leaders o f the respective camps. This creates the opportunity for multiple 49 points o f viewer identification; the assumption that viewers w i l l orient themselves exclusively i n respect to Cooper (as most critics do assume) is a tenuous one. T h e multipkcity o f voices and viewpoints not only permits each player to articulate his, o w n posit ion, but also provides some endorsement o f those positions. Typically, melodramatic texts depict a v ic t imized perspective; Bloody Sunday invokes such a perspective,.but problematizes it by granting screen time and authority to conflicting positions as well . Rather than espousing a Manichean v iew o f a universe divisible into 'good ' and 'evi l ' or v i c t im ' and 'oppressor', the film presents a more nuanced mora l diegesis. Reading Cooper as the heroic mora l centre and F o r d as the villainous adversary is an overly simplistic approach: Whi l e it is true that Cooper is the primary narrator, he is also an unreliable narrator. The viewer is aware o f Cooper 's o w n gaps i n knowledge; moteover, his motives are proclaimed to be as m u c h personal as political. Cooper is an 'outsider'; his own ability to speak for the community is called into question. Certainly there is r o o m for viewers to shift identification, i n a resistant reading, o n to another player. Moreover , the film emphasizes the heterogeneity o f perspectives through its presentation o f dissent within communities. N o n e o f the communities created by the film's structure is unified or homogenous; each is fractured and contentious. T h e preferred reading fixes Bloody Sundayas a cautionary taleabout the futihty o f violence, and yet the film's closing does not privilege such an interpretation. Cooper 's idealism has been shattered; asked what he w o u l d say to those w h o w o u l d join the I R A , Cooper responds, " I feel very ill-equipped to do any preaching to them after today." T h e very last line i n the film is given not to Coopet , but to a vict im's relative, w h o angrily insists "we w i l l not rest unti l justice is done." F o l l o w i n g o n the image o f a line o f young men waiting to receive guns, this call for 'justice' does not suggest legislative justice so m u c h as frontier style vengeance. This sequence 50 leaves the "message" of the film in doubt, suggesting that a violent response is not only tactically justified, but morally acceptable. At the same time, the ending can also be seen to invoke Unionist anxieties about current and contemporary British policy changes. General Ford, having insisted on an aggressive stance towards the protestors, leaves Brigadier MacLellan and the local constabulary to deal with the fallout, saying that, after all, "my role of course was only as observer." The remark might well resonate with those in me. Unionist community who see recent British policy (such as the removal of troops, softening of rhetoric, or Savillc Inquiry) as abandonment and hypocrisy; or with those Nationalists who perceive the British establishment as insensitive towards their own position as 'victims' of Unionist intransigence. In this way, the ending plays off the real- concerns of the two communities in the present day, and offers possible avenues of identification for individuals of varying perspective. Resurrection Man Despite criticism and concern over the problematic 'preferred meaning' of Resurrection Man, viewers from both Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland, as..well,as--a wider audience identifying with neither community, have been able to find sources of pleasure in the film. What elements of the text might account for this? As discussed in the preceding chapter, the film's critics have generally explained Resurrection Man in terms, of genre, particularly the horror genre. Certainly the film's use of horror convention is one expkriauon. But along with Resurrection Man's play with generic form, it is a highly ambiguous text which undermines any single coherent reading and allows divergent understandings. 51 Resurrection Man creates moments o f hesitation through its disjunctions, hesitation w h i c h the viewer may exploit to create meanings not predicted by the critical discourse. O n the one hand, the f i lm incorporates the tropes o f crime photography, T V and print news reportage, docudrama, and the social problem fi lm to create an expectation o f objective realism, an expectation enhanced by viewer awareness o f the real life events that inspired the f i lm. O n the other hand, the f i lm plays wi th conventions o f G o t h i c horror, religious iconography, and hallucination to add a heavy layer o f subjective realism. T h e 'realistic social and psychological surface' o f the f i lm is troubled by its allegorical and fantastic dimensions. T h e narration.is fractured and circular, and cause and effect relationships muddied. Identification wi th a clear protagonist is problematized. The ending achieves little closure or satisfaction — although V i c t o r has been kil led, the future o f the film's other characters is uncertain; we have also seen the literal destruction o f domestic space by violence. Finally, the film's seeming appeal to i rony adds yet another layer o f ambiguity and increases the contemplative hesitation o f the text. T h e work is one o f a small number o f films wh ich confine their diegeses to the Protestant community o f Belfast. In the. context o f the perception that narrative cinema has largely neglected the experiences o f the Protestant Unionis t viewer, the film may arguably be seen as an attempt to correct this neglect, even as a work o f counter-memory i n its ostensible narration o f events from the perspective o f the community held responsible for. the actions o f the Shankhil l Butchers. Rather than a story about me victims o f Loyalis t violence, or about the forces o f Bri t ish law and order, this is a story about the perpetrators and those w h o live wi th them. Confront ing one version o f history, i n wh ich the Protestant Union i s t is seen to be absent, the film offers up a collection o f Unionis t voices. It also makes some attempt to justify 52 the violent events as symptomatic o f the community 's o w n vict imizat ion. A s Vic tor ' s mother, Dorcas , explains it, al l V i c t o r wanted was to be loyal to the C r o w n , but "he's suffered.. .he was i n pain because o f l ife." In this way, the film.-appeals to the myth o f the siege and the sense o f betrayal by the Bri t ish C r o w n , which - it is impl ied - has let V i c t o r down and driven h i m to psychosis. Th is aspect o f the film, ignored by critics, is made still more apparent i n the original nove l f rom wh ich M c N a m e e adapted his screenplay. Vic tor ' s uncanny ability to recognize the streets o f Belfast (in several sequences, he closes his eyes and names the streets upon--which the gang is cruising) is not only a way o f setting the f i lm i n a specific and familiar locale for domestic viewers, nor simply a way o f ascribing a supernatural.dimension to V i c t o r , but makes direct reference to place names wi th symbolic weight. "Palestine Street. Balaklava Street. T h e names o f captured ports, lost battles", writes M c N a m e e , "forgotten outposts held against inner darkness. There is a sense o f collapsed trade and accumulate decline." (McNamee , 3) Vic tor ' s first appearance at the start o f me f i lm wou ld seem to support a reading o f V i c t o r as defensive killer. T h e opening sequence shows a boy, later appearing as the young Vic to r , a iming a gun directiy at the camera/audience. The camera then pans quickly and i n a tracking shot, moves i n on the figure o f the adult V ic to r , before cutting to another sequence altogether. W h e n the film cuts back to this shot o f V ic to r , he raises a gun and, i n an identical fashion as his younger self, points it direcdy at the camera — i n effect, remrning fire. I f betrayal and vict imizat ion are offered as possible rationales for Vic tor ' s actions, another explanation is offered by the revelation that Vic tor ' s father was a Catholic. Whi l e critics have petceived this as a dramatic device that provides psychological motivat ion for Vic tor ' s anger — 53 an anger we are presumably to see as pathological — it also serves as a possible source o f the monstrous i n Vic to r . In a sense, his 'Cathol ic b lood ' is the taint that makes V i c t o r evil. It may also be a strategy that makes V i c t o r 'not Protestant' at the same time he is 'not Catholic ' . Viewers identifying strongly wi th either group may then reject both V i c t o r and the blame attached to bis actions (as we l l as those actions' historical equivalents). Y e t another possibility offered by Resurrection Man is that Vic tor ' s violence is an inevitable product o f the dystopian city into wh ich he has been born; less a product o f religion or poli t ical identity than environment. (This may be an appealing interpretation, especially, to younger domestic audiences seeking alternative explanations that lie outside o f the Nat iona l i s t /Union is t framework, or to those seeking to explain the f i lm >in socio-economic, rather than stricdy religious or ethnic terms.) Th is ambiguity about the'cause o f Vic tor ' s monstrous nature — does it stem from a Freudian mother complex, f rom his Catholic mutation, or f rom the community i n wh ich be lives?. — allows multiple readings o f me film's polit ical orientation and w o u l d seem to provide avenues of. access and identification for audiences. The framing device o f the film casts it as a eulogy for V ic to r , i f not for his victims. Voiceovers by other characters reflect o n Victor 's persona and speculate as to his motives. Rather than explaining the onscreen events, though, these voiceover segments are separate and autonomous channels wi th in the f i lm. They do not directly correspond to the visuals they accompany, and are often placed over or lead into events that the speaker could not have witnessed or have intimate knowledge of. This disjunction functions both to comment o n the film's representation o f history (as sometiting shaped by the selection o f w h i c h stories are to 54 be told) and also to provide a vacillation between voices and viewpoints wi th in the narrative itself. Strucftiring the film i n this way permits Evans and M c N a m e e to present competing voices. Dorcas , Heather, and Ryan each are given the status o f narrator at various times. Whi le i t is . Dorcas w h o dominates the voiceover — we begin with, return to, and end wi th her voice on the soundtrack, perhaps suggesting her equally dominant influence over V i c t o r — the fracturing and divided narration prevents a simple acceptance, or rejection o f Dorcas ' , version. Vic tor ' s o w n voice is, surprisingly, absent i n the film. H e is a largely silent onscreen presence,* and his motives and emotions are left unexplained, to be pieced together f rom the claims o f the film's competing focalizers. T h e camera does o n occasion adopt Vic tor ' s point o f view, principally at the moment o f murder. T h e first instance i n which the camera shares Vic tor ' s point o f v iew is as the chi ld V i c t o r watches Public Enemy while kstening to the description o f the death o f a Cathol ic gir l (once again, sound and image are disjointed). T h i s moment predicts the other appearances o f Vic tor ' s subjectivity, as when he cuts the throat o f an unseen v ic t im; the b l o o d splashes up onto the mirror and washes d o w n as Vic tor ' s o w n reflected face appears i n its path. In these cases, V i c t o r . i s identifying wi th a victim,.substituting his o w n visage for the vict im's or voyeuristically studying Cagney's face onscreen, and the viewer is led to make a similar identification. Th is ambivalence — is V i c t o r a gangster-hero like Cagney or a v i c t im for slaughter — recalls the opening sequence again, posit ioning V i c t o r as bo th perpetrator and target. This ambiguity about Vic tor ' s role makes h i m an unstable point o f reference arid opens his chatacter to a mote complicated undetstanding, one that exists to be exploited or negotiated by viewers according to their o w n view o f the Loyalist subject. 55 T h e structural parallels between Ryan and V i c t o r are obvious. The film uses mtercutting, graphic matches and sound bridges to transition between scenes o f the two men, emphasizing their similar proclivities and downward trajectories. O n e o f the premises behind the prevailing crit icism o f the film is that viewers are faced wi th the opt ion o f identifying wi th , or refusing to identify wi th , Ryan and /o r V ic to r . This assumption,, while not incorrect, may be incomplete, undervaluing the ability o f viewers to identify, wi th .other figures i n the narrative; moreover, I believe that the text complicates the issue by its refusal to provide straightforward points o f identification for the viewer. O n the surface, it w o u l d seem that the journalist Ryan represents the film's central protagonist and source o f identification. Alternately (and m keeping wi th some theoretical approaches to . the horror spectator), the monstrous V i c t o r might be a source o f identification. Y e t again, there is the possibility o f identification wi th the Catholic victims o f the Resurrection M e n . O n closer examination though, none o f these provides a complete or satisfying site o f orientation. Possible structural explanations for this have been offered: the polyphony o f narration, for instance; the engendering o f distance through generic play; the lack o f sympathy, for psychologically unstable and v io lent protagonists. W e can also connect the lack o f stable identification to the film's refusal o f Ryan's agency. H e is a passive character whose drives seem opaque even to himself. E v e n the beating o f his wife, revealed through incomplete and disconnected flashback sequences, is presented as a clouded, surreal incident. Ryan himself is unsure what has happened and takes no control over his actions. Ryan is finally forced into action at the film's climax: he goes to confront V ic to r , and failing, is asked to shoot, a brutalized Darkie . T h e sequence is f i lmed not f rom Ryan's point o f view, but first f rom 56 Vic tor ' s , then Darkie 's , and finally f rom a third, unmotivated angle, that o f a concealed and detached onlooker. V i c t o r is awkwardly framed i n the foreground, Ryan i n the rear. W h e n V i c t o r leaves, Darkie asks Ryan to kil l h im . Ryan raises the gun, shakes his head, and the camera cuts away. T h e ki l l ing is not shown, and the possibility Hater refuted) remains that Ryan has i n fact made a different choice. E v e n when it is announced that Dark ie is dead, Ryan's reasoning is unclear — is this a mercy ki l l ing, or the moment in, w h i c h Ryan embraces his murderous, Vic tor - l ike , nature? T h e f i lm opens wi th tides that ground i t i n historical fact —."January 1975", " . . . i n a divided c i t y . . . " — but also deny specificity by posi t ioning the film, before it has even begun, as a w o r k o f genre fiction — "the streets are m t x i r m o i l . ..gangsters draw boundaries i n b lood . " Right away, the spectator has access to two modes by wh ich to make sense o f the narrative. T h e play wi th and between genres is not simply a way o f avoiding 'real' historical or poli t ical context, as some critics have argued, but a way o f offering viewers more possibilities. Attempts to read the film via generic markers and polarities (victim and monster^ order and chaos, hero and vi l lain, authority and lawlessness...) w i l l ultimately fall short. Gener ic conventions are combined and exaggerated to create instabihty. Resurrection Man's overdetermined qualities increase the ambiguity o f the film. This is perhaps best illustrated by the scene i n w h i c h V i c t o r and M c C l u r e meet i n McClu re ' s office. T h e r o o m is decorated wi th a U n i o n Jack and pictures o f K i n g Bi l ly ; M c C l u r e wears an S.S: officer's cap; ' A Green and Pleasant L a n d ' plays o n the radio as M c C l u r e gives an impassioned defence o f N a z i ideology. J i n k i n g Loya l i sm wi th N a z i s m and homosexuality. (McClure caresses V i c t o r , and the men discuss erotic photographs o f G e r m a n soldiers), the mise-en-scene and 57 exaggerated dialogue create the possibility o f i ronic distance. This is o n the surface neither an endorsement nor a cri t icism o f Loyalis t extremism, but Loya l i sm as slighdy absurd theatre. T h e scene encapsulates the irony present i n the film as a whole, the way i n wh ich " . . . t w o meanings, the 'said' and the 'unsaid' rub together. . ." (Hutcheon) Resurrection Man exploits the rhetoric and symbols o f r ightwing extremism at the same time that it implies cri t icism and an emptying-out o f those symbols. Hutcheon 's discussion o f irony and nostalgia, "Irony, Nostalgia, and the Pos tmodern" , points to another function o f irony here. Irony, w h i c h calls the process a n d . feasibility: o f representation into question, more specifically draws attention to the futility o f representing the past, and to the way i n wh ich the medium o f film bo th reconstructs history and its inevitable failure to adequately construct that history i n the present. Crit ical distance and affective engagement are both invoked. Whi le it may be a stretch to read this scene o f Resurrection Man as a deliberate statement o n the nature o f commemorat ion, the excess certainly opens up the representation o f Loyal i sm to a multiplicity o f interpretations by engaged viewers. Hu tcheon points out that i rony is less an mtrinsic quality o f a w o r k than a response to a work, (ibid) Irony cannot exist, without a subject to read the work ironically. I believe this is a critical point i n regard to Evans ' film. Cri t ics have tended to receive the film more or less at face value, seeing allegory perhaps, but not irony. T h e film's frequent consideration alongside films such as Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction, (works mentioned specifically in.the films' marketing and packaging as well) suggest that studying the film through the filter o f irony might be a productive approach, and it seems to be an approach available to and embraced by audiences. 58 Some Mother's Son Some Mother's Son shares many o f the same concerns and uncertainties as Bloody Sunday and. Resurrection Man, concerns and uncertainties which define the 'cinema o f resistance'. It is essential to approach it as an open text that offers multiple possibilities o f orientation and understanding to individual viewers. L i k e the other commemorative films discussed here, it uses multiple perspectives and contradiction to demonstrate the limits o f representation and to complicate audience identification. In doing so, it reveals an impl ic i t ambivalence about its o w n explicit meaning, al lowing for negotiated readings by commit ted viewers. Some Mother's Son is posit ioned explicitiy as a work o f Nationalist counter-memory; the struggle for engaged viewers is whether to read it as an endorsement o f a radical politics or a liberal politics, accepting Annie ' s or Katherine's as the more tenable posit ion: T h e preferred reading, unsurprisingly, favours Katherine's perspective, and approaches the film as a closed text that unequivocally guides the viewer towards that understanding. Audiences are thus expected to either accept or reject that reading; the possibility o f negotiation is largely ignored. However , Some Mother's Son compellingly illustrates h o w formal and narrative ambiguities create a space for resistance. T h r o u g h its engagement w i th melodrama, its problematizing o f viewer identification and subject posi t ion, and its challenge to dominant representations, the film offers the further possibility o f contemplative hesitation. W i t h i n Some Mother's Son, the individual and collective dimensions o f memory and history are collapsed. T h e real historical events are accompanied by, but not secondary to, the maternal melodrama o f sacrifice. T h e film approaches the questions o f commemorat ion and representation through the private realm and explores the way i n w h i c h mdividual choice and 59 trauma impact not only the events o f history, but the. way these are memorialised and transmitted to maintain community. In doing so, Some Mother's Son asserts that the. personal is political, and - just as importandy •— that the poli t ical is personal. In the critical discourse; the decision to privilege the experience o f individuals is problematic; it is variously claimed that its "melodrama subsumes the poli t ical landscape" (Flynn) and that the characters are so "symbol ic and universal [that they] have no life o f their o w n . " (Barton, 45). F o r some critics, me film's melodrama masks its poli t ical agenda and tenders the f i lm inherendy dishonest. F o r others, the use o f melodrama simply makes the film unattractive to audiences. O n the surface, George's film appears to comply wi th at least some aspects o f Green's mode l o f the dominant cinema, possessing realistic social and . psychological surfaces, a linear, narrative, and sympathetic protagonists. Some Mother's Son is fairly conventional i n its aesthetic choices. Its characterizations seem to encourage a reading o f the film as domestic melodrama. T h e film follows two paralleled, women , A n n i e and Kathleen. T h e w o m e n are different i n class, temperament, and poli t ical orientation, yet share c o m m o n social positions as mothers and Catholics. W h e n the prisoners lapse into comas while o n hunger strike, A n n i e allows her son Frank to die, presumably believing that she is respecting.his views and aiding the poli t ical struggle; Kathleen removes her son Gera rd f rom the strike. Kathleen's decision has been widely interpreted i n the critical discourse as the narrative t r iumph o f universal maternal love over poli t ical ideology. This straightforward reading, though, is problematized by the film's shift i n perspective and by visual cues.that keep the poli t ical nature o f the work always.in the foreground. 60 A s the preferred reading o f Bloody Sunday focuses excessively o n the documentary pretensions o f the film, and the pteferred reading o f Resurrection Man o n the adoption o f a horror aesthetic, the preferred reading o f Some Mother's Son treats the engagement wi th melodrama, too simplistically. In fact, the ambivalence which emerges from this meshing o f historical fact and melodrama contributes to the film's status as a vehicle for commemorat ion and. resistance. The incomplete recourse to a melodramatic mode blurs the distinction between pol i t ica l and personal and provides a challenge to viewers by simultaneously distancing and invi t ing identification. Some Mother's Son makes an.effort . to.bring.the viewer closer,to the.historical events by emphasizing individual relationships and encouraging identification with-sympathetic protagonists. Simultaneously, though, the f i lm self-consciously speaks to issues o f representation and distances the viewer through contradictions and reversals. F r o m the opening sequence, documentary footage i n wh ich Margaret Thatcher pledges to br ing order to N o r t h e r n Ireland, the images .of private and public history ate.mediated and controlled. A s important as having a voice, being heard-and seen, i s seeing and hearing, and the transmission and wi thholding o f information and images is a central narrative concern, one that is embodied i n the figure o f Kathleen. She begins by knowing nothing, o f her son's involvement i n terrorism, o f the poli t ical machinations, or even o f me most c o m m o n catch phrases (Annie must explain the meaning o f the Nationalist slogan "Tiocfaidh ar la", for example); she becomes the conduit o f information wi th in the f i lm. This takes literal form when she carries, i n her mouth , a smuggled message for the I R A , a message-she insists o n reading herself i n an act o f resistance. Because o f the control over the transmission o f information and images, the mothers are reliant-on-the mediated discourse o f the visitors ' r o o m partition, clandestine communiques, and news reports. T h e distance created between 61 the w o m e n and 'the truth' o f events is a reminder o f the similar mediation performed by the f i lm itself, and by all representations o f traumatic history. This point about the limits o f representation is most clearly illustrated by what Terry George has referred to as the "missing.image" o f the f i lm, that o f the hunger striker's body. (George, "Some Mother's Son, letter to the editor, 15) W h i l e the hunger strikers are given screen time and presence, and the iconic images o f the 'Blanketmen' are prioritised, the starving bodies themselves are neither fetishized nor confronted; they are concealed by blankets and kept at a distance. T h e death o f Annie ' s son Frank occurs entirely o f f screen. T h e death o f Bobby Sands, so central to the Nationalist mythology o f the Hunger Strikes, is depicted i n the f i lm, but as a heavily mediated and distanced occurrence. The. deathbed scene.is intercut wi th scenes o f the c rowd that gathers outside for a prayer v ig i l ; the moment o f Sands' death is represented by a close-up o f an E E G flatline, and by a high angle long shot o f the c rowd as they receive the news. T h e death i s a.symbolic moment , not an mtimate one. This emphasis o n the reception o f the event, rather than its visceral reality, can also be seen i n Gerard's description o f the 'dirty protest'. Elsewhere i n the film, the protest is referenced by the omnipresent face masks w o r n by the guards and by the. smoke o f fumigation, but none o f the reality is shown as Gerard narrates the events to Kathleen i n the visitation room. T h e filth and excrement covered walls are present only i n her imagination; what is driven home is not the conditions o f the hunger strikers, but Kathleen's reaction to the story. This not only points to what cannot be represented, the inability to recreate the smells and horrific details o f such a scene, but to the way that historical narratives transform individual sufferers into symbols. 62 I have argued that polysemy is a critical quality o f the resistant, commemorative cinema. L i k e Resurrection Man and Bloody Sunday, Some Mother's Son offers a multiplicity o f voices. T h e narrative shifts between trie stories o f the mothers, the prisoners, and the officials in the Br i t i sh Foreign Office. T h e perspectives o f the Bri t ish government, Catholic Church , constitutional nationalists, I R A , . and the hunger strikers themselves are allowed some. expression through the f i lm. These narratives are not equally privileged, nor are they consistently presented. In particular, the Protestant community is largely unrepresented i n Some Mother's Son, an erasure o f perspective so glaring that i t seems not an oversight, but a carefully constructed absence. Accept ing the film as counter-memory, it is possible to see this absence as a strategic attempt to l imit the narrative range, making the film a story not about Nor the rn Ireland, but about the specific experience o f the Cathol ic communi ty during the hunger strikes. T h e awkwardness o f such an approach only increases the film's ambiguous appeal, as this absence becomes another sort o f 'black hole ' i n the centre, begging viewers to question the text's completeness. T h e internal conflicts and heterogeneity o f views wi th in communities is also shown (with the notable exception o f the hunger strikers, w h o are. presented as a unified community o f wil l ing sacrifice; any conflict amongst: the men is negated or displaced onto the farnilies). Th is fracturing o f communities adds a layer o f ambivalence to the rigid representations o f communities on offer i n so much o f Irish and Nor the rn Irish cinema, and also reflects discomforts and dissensions wi th in Nor the rn Irish communities about their o w n identities. This is evident i n Some Mother's Son not only i n the most obvious conflict between A n n i e and Kathleen, but i n the film's depiction o f the Catholic C h u r c h and the Br i t i sh officials involved i n the hunger strikes. 63 Narrative weight is not equally distributed between A n n i e and Kathleen. Th rough screen time, gaze, and point o f view, the spectator is encouraged to identify with Kathleen, whereas A n n i e serves as a double or foil . M o r e than just the "emotional centre" o f the fi lm (Irish Film, 76), Kath leen acts as a surrogate and focalizer for the audience, as i n the pub scene i n w h i c h A n n i e 'explains' to Kath leen the poli t ical circumstances and symbols she w o u l d most assuredly already know. Kath leen is given power over the gaze as A n n i e is not, and her character undergoes change while Annie ' s remains static. T h e audience experiences events subjectively through Kathleen's perceptions, as: when she watches politicians argue her son's- fate: the sound retreats and events move into slow mot ion as she withdraws emotionally. Th is identification wi th Kathleen no doubt feels comfortable for the spectator; Kathleen's decision to save her son despite the poli t ical ramifications is a highly sympathetic (and melodramatically coded) one. George, however, upsets this neat identification i n the film's final shots, creating a sense o f ambiguity that shifts the spectator's posit ion. A s a despairing Kathleen signs the paper to remove her son from the strike, her face obscured by shadow, the suggestion is o f failure, not relief. Afterwards, Kathleen is led away by guards, then framed alone i n a med ium close-up, behind bars. T h e shot completely personifies the government policy towards the nationalist community (stated by Margaret Thatcher i n the film's opening documentary footage): Isolation, Criminal izat ion, and Demoral izat ion. T h e visual impact undermines the seeming endorsement o f and identification wi th Kathleen's posit ion. Th rough their shared experience, the two w o m e n arrive at acceptance o f each. other's perspective: " I had to do it, " Kath leen explains; A n n i e replies "Someone had to." This 64 acceptance, though, is underscored by the knowledge that their collective understanding is incomplete: "you're lucky you have a choice", A n n i e tells Kath leen i n justification o f her o w n decision not to save her son, a statement that emphasizes the distance between the two. T h e film, by this last-minute shift, also encourages a collective approach to mourn ing and memory; A n n i e is not alone despite her loss, but is part o f a communi ty o f other mourners. Meanwhi le , Kathleen's isolation is driven home by the film's final shots: standing alone, she looks out to sea i n a sequence wh ich through its music and composi t ion recalls an earlier exile, that o f Kathleen's emigrating daughter. Kathleen's contrary insistence o n individual action and reconciliation over the communal has left her not a mourner, but a v ic t im. 65 Chapter Four - Film Audiences and the Resistance of Cinema I began this thesis by arguing that resistance in and to cinema about Nor the rn Ireland is greater than the standard crit icism has allowed. I have tried to establish the preferred readings constructed by critics, putt ing the films into the context o f the discourse which dominates their analysis. In the preceding chapter, I have argued that the films themselves are ambiguous and open texts constituting a cinema o f resistance. I w o u l d l ike to turn now to the other side o f the equation, the resistance o f cinema. The claim for a resistance o f cinema is predicated o n the assumption that viewers are active, participants i n meaning creation, and ' the observation that thete is an identifiable level o f domestic audience dissatisfaction wi th the representations and readings o n offer. T h e ideas o f speetatorship and resistance wh ich have developed i n other areas; of. film studies have relevance to Nor the rn Irish cinema as wel l , and suggest bo th the limits and possibilities o f viewer tesistance. A p p l y i n g these concepts to the specific case o f Nor the rn Irish cinema audiences shows that the commemorative cinema presents not only a particularly potent site o f resistance, but an opportunity for productive renegotiation o f identity and memory. The case for a resistance of cinema O n what grounds can it be claimed that the audiences for these films are, i n fact, resistant? Audience reception o f Nor the rn Irish cinema generally, let alone o f the specific group o f films discussed here, has not been explored. Clearly there is a danger i n talking about strategies o f resistance when that resistance has been inadequately measured. However , anecdotal evidence 66 certainly suggests that the critical readings are not i n sync w i t h the popular reception. Audiences are dissatisfied, and yet are finding points o f access, as can be inferred, by not. just box office or rental figures, or the continued selection o f these films at community festivals and screenings, but by more intangible evidence. E v e n a quick survey o f the various internet forums and message boards reveals a more complex relationship wi th the films. Viewers are not only dissatisfied wi th the" representations o n offer, but they are constmcting resistant readings, using identifiable strategies wh ich have clear parallels to those observed i n other areas o f audience study. Moreover , i t seems not unreasonable to take what is k n o w n about audience behaviour and extrapolate these findings to the particular case o f Nor the rn Irish cinema reception. What audience studies can show us about the resistance of cinema T h e not ion o f the passive and undifferentiated viewer is no longer widely accepted. T h e theories o f H a l l , Mor ley , E c o and others have provided the. basis for a number o f audience studies that reposition the viewer in an-active relationship wi th the text. Researchers have illustrated the usefulness o f audience studies i n challenging our assumptions about the powers o f the cinematic text i n particular and have given teeth to psychoanalytic approaches, by providing quahtative (and, more rarely, quantitative) evidence o f h o w actual viewers respond to specific texts. These studies have been primarily concerned wi th gendered spectatorship and fandom, but the findings o f these studies have wider application, suggesting m u c h about spectatorship, identity construction, and resistance. Theories o f spectatorship have been used as a way o f approaching identity issues, most notably i n regard to the female spectator. Br ig id Cherry's study o f women and horror films is one o f a 67 number o f studies that challenges the once-dominant theories o f female spectatorship, proposing that w o m e n actually engage wi th the films i n a more active manner than previously supposed. Assessing women's attraction and response to horror films, Cherry found that women expressed a preference for certain types o f horror, emphasizing the storyline and the relationships between characters. W o m e n also.emphasized elements o f eroticism and emot ion i n the films; the pleasure they derived was' different f rom that ascribed to men. W o m e n often expressed sympathy wi th the monster and its isolation, identifying not wi th the v ic t imized heroine but w i th the monster — taking possession o f the gaze. Cherry also discusses the 'pretended response'. Consciously or unconsciously, she argues, bo th male and,female viewers express their reactions i n ways that conform to socially accepted gender traits. Cherry's study shows the ability o f viewers to ignore or reinterpret aspects o f the. text that are difficult to reconcile wi th the audience's pre-existing beliefs or sense o f self. Moreover , i t suggests that viewers are able to change their v iewing posi t ion by identifying wi th characters i n the narrative other than the ostensible hero or heroine. Finally, the participants clearly engage i n film-going as a social process: enjoyment o f me f i lm experience comes i n part f rom the opportunity to reconfirm social identity. Cherry's study shows female viewers using the films to conf i rm their o w n pre-existing identities. Thomas Austin 's study o f viewing practices and gender identity reveals similar use o f the film texts to negotiate social roles, and further emphasizes the self-consciousness o f viewer strategies. Aust in 's study focused o n young heterosexual men and their discourses about the film Basic Instinct. A s the major reason they choose to see the film, men cited the marketing o f Basic Instinct as a sexually explicit film, and their responses largely focused o n the sexual appeal o f the w o m e n i n the film. M e n distinguished the film from 'porn ' , however, o n 68 the basis o f its product ion values, plot and stars. Whi l e w o m e n viewers (in letters to A u s t i n as wel l as i n the public discourse) described the female protagonist as strong and power fid, the men i n Aust in 's study tended to ignore this and described the character i n aesthetic- and sexual terms; furthet, men sought to posit ion the female characters as sexual objects rather than objects o f narrative agency. A u s t i n suggests that the aggressive female poses a threat to men's preconceived notions and that by objectifying the woman , this threat is removed. In this way, the act o f watching "effectively reinforces certain viewer dispositions". (Austin, p. 151) Impottantly, the men w h o participated i n t h e study showed self-consciousness about their responses. They sought to identify themselves wi th appropriate sexual behaviour by distingiushing between 'good ' (i.e., consensual) sex and 'bad' (i.e., violent) sex portrayed i n the fi lm. Moreover , the men used the act o f discussing the film to continue that self-identification, both to assert their masculinity wi th in a group and to legitimize their response by comparing i t to that o f others. A u s t i n points out that men employed the text to meet both private needs (sexual enjoyment and voyeurism) and public needs (defining membership i n a group). This quality o f self-awateness is discussed by Annet te H i l l as the "shared knowledge o f appropriate responses". (H i l l , 176) H e r study o f film violence further articulates the concept. Focus groups o f men and w o m e n were asked to discuss their engagement with extremely violent popular films. Participants were also asked questions that required them to recollect their o w n reactions i n the theatre, as we l l as the reactions o f other audience members. Watching film violence, according to H i l l , is a " r i sky" activity, as we l l as a. social activity; viewers actively choose to participate i n an activity that society labels dangetous or undesirable. A t the same time, viewers understand that there are 'appropriate' (socially accepted) and 'inappropriate' (deviant) responses to watching violent films. Accordingly , H i l l ' s subjects were 69 highly aware o f the responses o f other individuals. W h e n speaking o f particular film experiences, the collective response contributed to the mdividual 's level o f satisfaction. F o r some, the social experience o f watching the firm wi th other people took priority over the natratives o f the films themselves. Just as the men i n Aust in 's study used their conversation about the film to present their behaviour as appropriate, the participants i n Hi l l ' s study seemed to use discourse to present themselves as intelligent and sensitive viewers by denying their own susceptibility to the violent messages presented i n the text. This allowed them to express belonging wi th one group — die discerning and intelligent — while distancing themselves f rom another — the sick and twisted o r overly susceptible. Viewers not ordy~ used discourse to identify themselves as part o f a group, but also tested personal identities by considering a variety o f reactions to the film. Some participants, engaging i n this practice, explained their interest i n the film as a trial o f nerves or an attempt to see i f they could 's tomach' the violence. Finally, the participants i n H i l l ' s study showed awareness o f social factors i n shaping their responses. They used social and cultural labels such asgendet, age, race o r class to explain and justify their o w n responses or to understand the responses o f others. H i l l ' s concept o f 'shared knowledge' is further demonstrated by Jackie Stacey's investigation o f audience memory, and discourse. Stacey describes the related phenomenon o f "double voiced discourse". (Stacey, 29) B y this she means the self-aware stance that viewers take when describing their relationship to a text. Stacey studied female filmgoers w h o identified themselves as fans o f female H o l l y w o o d stars. W o m e n were asked to recall their experiences going to the cinema i n the 1940's and 1950's. T h e elderly w o m e n spoke about their perception o f the stars, their memories o f film narratives and the circumstances under w h i c h they attended the films. Stacey's participants have a strong personal investment i n their 70 identification wi th the star. Art iculat ing individual response opens the viewer to criticism; the w o m e n i n Stacey's study anticipated criticisms,. and went o n to defend against them, pre- emptively. T o avoid social ostracization and receive validation, Staccy surmises, the viewer may offer explanations and justifications for their response. Viewers also reconstruct remembered responses; when recounting their memories o f fi lm-going, participants aligned themselves wi th a group, such as their friends or other fans. The i r accounts emphasized the social event o f going to the f i lm over the text itself. Stacey suggests that this sort o f discourse uses memory as a way o f preserving (if only in . the mind) social bonds, bonds created or reinforced by the original act o f reception are reaffirmed through the discourse o f communal as wel l as individual memory. A s the above audience studies have established, film-goingis a social process that encompasses audience discourse and audience participation. Mar t in Barker explains that process as twofold. Audiences are aware o f film as a constructed text. Furthermore, audiences are aware o f their o w n and others' responses to that text. Barker and Kate Brooks studied film audiences and their relationship to the movie Judge Dredd, interviewing viewers and analysing the patterns o f discourse that emerged. Barker's conclusions concur wi th those o f the studies already mentioned, finding that audiences use other viewers as a way o f strategically posi t ioning themselves and denning individual identities by judging them against the projected identities o f others. Barker has identified three elements to this process. First, a viewer interprets the discourse o f others i n ways that correspond wi th his o w n ideas, either validating these ideas or confirming membership to a group. M u c h o f Barker's analysis is devoted to the nature o f the participants' talk about film-going. Ta lk ing about films, he points out, is a significant part o f the experience as a whole. Besides provid ing pleasure i n social interaction and al lowing the 71 viewer to demonstrate social competence, discussion o f the film helps viewers negotiate conflicts between their o w n ideas and those they, perceive i n the text. Moments o f contradiction or ambivalence i n the text provided a foundation for group discussion. Just as Aus t in and Stacey found that viewers used shared knowledge to create or perpetuate social bonds, Barker finds that participants, i n the Judge Dredd study used filmic references, such as lines o f dialogue or comparison wi th the comic book, to create a c o m m o n group language. These served as a sort o f secret handshake that reconfirmed a sense o f group belonging while excluding non-members. L i k e Aus t in , Cherry, Stacey and H i l l , Barker finds that viewers, are sensitive to anticipated crit icism o f their responses and. engage i n what Barker calls "disciplinary discourse." (Barker, 68-69) In the second element o f the social process, the viewer chooses a v iewing posi t ion and his response to the text itself. In the case o f the Judge Dredd viewers, this posit ion was based largely o n h o w closely the f i lm met with the preconceptions and ideals held by the viewer. It was also a strategic choice based o n theiresponse o f others i n the audience, and i n the viewer's social group. T h e participants were again highly aware o f the collective response to the film; Barker explains that viewers 'play a role ' by choosing a strategic posi t ion that meets both social and individual needs. T h e third element identified by Barker is commitment. T h e viewing posit ion taken depends at, least i n part o n the level o f commitment the viewer makes to the text. A t the lowest level, that o f a casual or disinterested viewer, an individual is more incl ined to simply receive the text passively. W i t h higher levels o f commitment comes greater expectation and greater cri t icism as wel l as more resistance to the supposed messages o f the text. Viewers that have a h igh level 72 o f commitment are those who have closely aligned their o w n values or experiences wi th those they perceive i n the text. This is consistent wi th othet research o n fans, such as that done by Annet te K u h n or Jackie Stacey. Barker finds, evidence o f this i n Judge Dredd fans w h o express possessiveness over the text, as when participants i n his study complained about the perceived misappropriation o f the Judge D r e d d narrative by H o l l y w o o d . Fans have created a personal identification wi th the work , i n this case the • original comics, and feel they have legitimate c la im over how the text is interpreted by others. Barker's findings are illustrative o f the way audiences create a discourse around the text; the w o r k o f Henry Jenkins more explicitly relates audience behaviour to the options and ambiguities available wi th in the texts. Jenkins uses M i c h e l de Certeau's not ion o f ' t e x t u a l poaching ' to explain how communities o f fans appropriate and re-read television shows-to meet their o w n interests, salvaging what they find pleasurable i n the texts. Aga in , Jenkins observes that viewers are highly conscious o f their relationship to others i n their social group and make sense o f the narrative through mteraction wi th other fans. H i s study finds that fans — viewers wi th a high level o f commitment and sense o f ownership over the text — use particular v iewing strategies and interpretive practices. T h e viewers i n his study exploited the gaps and excesses o f the narration o r form o f the shows, engaged i n speculation to fill in missing narrative information, and used the shows themselves as impetus for the product ion o f new cultural products and other texts. T h e way the viewers engaged wi th the texts was highly subjective, drawing o n parallels to their o w n life experiences and to the meta-text created through the community discourse. 73 Perhaps the most significant finding o f Jenkins ' study is that the audience members engaged i n a strategy o f 'double viewing ' : Viewers are able, to shift, between two differing positions i n relation to the text, one w h i c h privileges the fictional w o r l d and judges the work/according to its generic compliance and melodramatic appeal, and one which privileges the real wor ld , gauging the work 's adherence to personal and collective memory o f actual events and its compatibility wi th existing meta-narratives. Jenkins attempts to account for the ambivalence between distanciation and emotional appeal (an ambivalence notable i n the commemorative cinema discussed here) through recourse to me double v iewing model . Whereas a Brechtian model , o f the sort endorsed by M c L o o n e , H i l l , et al:, argues for distanciation as a necessary too l o f resistance, Jenkins argues that "emotional closeness" serves to permit greater possession o f the text by viewers. Whi le Jenkins does not explicidy make, the point, i t seems clear that this possession o f the text may provide a basis for resistance. F r o m these studies, certain principles emerge w h i c h can help to anticipate and explain the. relationship o f domestic viewers to Nor the rn Ireland's commemorative cinema. • Viewers use the acts o f film-going, discussing, films, and remembering film-going to strengthen social bonds and to establish or conf i rm membership i n groups. They ^ both consciously and unconsciously - use group identification to justify or categorize responses. • Viewers use these same acts to establish or conf i rm their personal beliefs and sense o f self. • Viewers selectively express their responses to film texts and show awareness o f cultural constraints, choosing their relationship to a text m l imited ways. • Viewers are not confined to a fixed subject posit ion, but are capable o f selectively identifying wi th onscreen representations. • Personal experience modifies a viewer's relationship to a text. Viewers use extra- textual and inter-textual references to in fo rm their readings. They selectively use elements o f a text to reconfirm what they already know, feel or believe. • Viewers ignore or reinterpret elements o f film texts to sustain self-image. • Viewers have varying levels o f commitment to film texts and to social contexts. • Viewers engage i n a strategy o f double viewing. 74 • Viewers use the moments o f rupture and ambiguity within the narrative as an opportxuiity for intervention. • Viewers are capable o f resisting the intended or perceived messages o f a text. These principles are borne out by studies particular to Nor the rn Ireland. W h i l e m u c h work remains to be done, several, key studies have explored the role o f the audience wi th in a Nor the rn Irish context. In particular, the studies performed by Raymond Watson , Paul N o l a n and D a v i d M i l l e r suggest that social and poli t ical identities are maintained through viewer strategies not unlike those observed i n the studies o f fandom and gender. W h i l e the Nor thern Irish studies examine audience responses to television, rather than f i lm, the f i n d i n g s r a n certainly be applied to a discussion o f othet media. R a y m o n d Watson's 1991-1992 study explores the influence o f group identification o n readings o f television news. Watson and his assistant interviewed six families, three w h o identified themselves as Unionis t and three w h o identified themselves as Nationalist , all Hving-in towns outside Belfast. In the first phase o f the study, the families were asked to discuss their cultural and polit ical identities. In addition to questionnaires, Watson also used writ ten diaries kept by participants and the interviewers' impressions. H e then analyzed the material by looking. for patterns o f response o n selected themes: the Brit ish A r m y , paramilitaries, the media, police, history, religion and politics. In the second phase o f the study, participants watched news programs wh ich Watson had compi led f rom clips o f actual broadcasts. Watson included "clips o f culturally charged news topics alongside other news topics wh ich possessed no overt cultural or poli t ical significance." (Watson, 152) Viewers were then asked to discuss the stories and to rank them i n order o f importance. Watson analyzed, the responses and found consistent patterns both i n ranking o f the stories and in the v iewing positions taken. F o r 75 example, the Unionis t families saw a clip about an I R A bombing as most important, displayed anger when discussing the clip, and focused on the damage/shown. T h e Nationalist families downplayed the significance o f the story and the event, focused o n the poli t ical motivations o f the act and discussed the comments o f the newscaster and interviewees i n greater detail. Watson was able to identify certain pre-existing beliefs o n a variety o f themes, draw a picture o f the viewer's cultural context, and note in-group and out-group attitudes. Watson finds that viewers used their preconceptions and cultural conventions to make sense o f and prioritise the news stories. There was a tendency by viewers i n bo th groups to ignore elements i n the text that might present a challenge to the participants' beliefs; such claims made by the text were frequently left out or misstated as the viewer presented his or her response. Similarly, viewers remembered more clearly the elements o f the text that were i n agreement w i th their o w n preconceptions. Just as the w o m e n i n Br ig id Cherry's study were observed to identify wi th the monster, the Catholic viewers i n Watson's study showed a similar shift. F o r example, several viewers chose to identify wi th the I R A bombers (who were not personalized or prioritised i n the clip), attributing sympathetic characteristics and increasing the narrative agency o f the bombers. V iewer commitment seems to have been a factor i n the responses. T h e participants gave highest priority to, discussed i n most detail and recalled best those stories wh ich they perceived to have personal relevance. T h e responses and priorities o f the Union i s t and Nationalist samples diverged the most o n the issues wi th the highest personal relevance. This is consistent wi th M a r t i n Barker's findings i n regard to Judge Dredd fans - suggesting that identification wi th 76 a comic superhero and identification wi th a poli t ical orientation may engender similar feelings o f 'ownership' . A s i n other studies, the viewers used discourse as a way o f reconfirming membership i n a group. This was done through explicit discussion o f group membership, through the use o f " u s / t h e m " language and through language that belittled or mocked representations o f the other group i n the text. Watson also finds selective perception o f bias. B o t h the Nationalist and the Unionis t families found elements.of textual bias against their o w n group. This in. turn caused bo th groups to express distrust o f and resistance to the news stories. Watson concludes that viewers mobi l ized pre-existing belief structures to make sense o f the stories. The i r responses were further motivated by their identification wi th a pre-existing social group. Thus the viewers generated different responses to the same texts. T h e ability o f the audience to selectively respond means that the text is not all-powerful. Th i s suggests both that the text's potential for social harm is less than some have feared and that its potential for social improvement is less than some have hoped. Pau l N o l a n points out the limits o f the media i n promot ing positive 'pro-social ' messages. H i s study o f community, relations broadcasting i n Nor the rn Ireland was designed to test the idea that broadcasting can act as a cohesive agent i n a divided society. N o l a n chose as his text the television program Orange, Green and Yellow (1991), part o f a B B C series A Sense of Place. T h e series was produced wi th the stated intention o f improv ing relations between Catholics and Protestants i n Nor the rn Ireland; the selected episode deals wi th the issue o f sectarianism and consists o f interviews wi th representatives o f several groups: two public servants, two politicians and two entertainers as we l l as a B B C moderator and an academic. Nolan ' s study is based o n the 77 responses o f men and w o m e n f rom nine pre-existing Belfast community groups, chosen as representative across religious, class and polit ical lines. N o l a n finds that most respondents were resistant to the text's perceived messages. Despite the professed objectivity o f the creators, viewers f rom all the groups saw the text as biased, each against his or her o w n group. M o s t viewers, i n the preliminary questionnaires, had expressed the belief that the media was biased. In discussion, they cited elements o f me program mat they interpreted as evidence o f that bias. In turn, viewers found i n the text evidence that supported their o w n previously held biases. Viewers also saw the text as exclusive, refusing to identify wi th the 'representatives' presented to them. In this way, they identified selectively wi th the onscreen subjects. Whi l e middle-class audience members were more wi l l ing to accept the content o f the piece than were working-class audience members, they were also resistant to the tone o f the piece, saying that it was overly negative. Conversely, many o f the working-class viewers claimed mat the piece was not negative enough. A s evidence, viewers cited personal experiences. T h e Orange, Green and Yellow program, despite its pro-social agenda and attempts at balance was not accepted as such. Viewers actively resisted the text, finding it exclusive, biased and untrustworthy. It failed to meet the ideals and expectations o f the audience. D a v i d Mi l l e r also explores the ability o f audiences to resist media messages. H i s o w n study was conducted i n two phases. T h e first phase considered U K audiences and their general perception o f the Nor the rn Irish conflict. In the second phase o f the study, Mi l l e r looked specifically at audience perceptions o f the Gibral tar incident. In both phases, viewers were asked to write their o w n news bulletins based o n still photographs compi led from actual television news broadcasts. Participants then responded to open-ended questions i n wr i t ing and i n group discussions. T h e created bulletins were compared to the facts and to what 78 viewers said they believed to be true. Participants also discussed their reasons for accepting or rejecting the perceived messages. F r o m the first phase o f the study, M i l l e r determines that most viewers understood the message o f the bulletins i n the same way - 95% agreed that, the clips showed Nor the rn Ireland to. be a . violent place — but more than h a l f resisted the message as inaccurate. W h e n participants not l iv ing i n Nor the rn Ireland discussed their reasons for not believing the message, some cited alternative media sources as evidence, privileging one text over another. M o s t , though, rejected the message o n the basis o f personal experience. The i r evidence consisted o f their o w n experiences visi t ing Nor the rn Ireland or, more commonly , the relayed experiences o f friends and family. A m o n g viewers l iv ing i n Nor the rn Ireland, personal experience o f events and media coverage was the most commonly given reason for rejection o f the message. M i l l e r concludes that the credibility o f personal contacts is higher than that o f the media. Importandy, though, almost half o f the sample not l iv ing i n Nor the rn Ireland still said that they w o u l d not visit because o f the violence shown i n the media. M i l l e r points out that this shows the limits o f resistance; i t also demonstrates the uncertain relationship between viewer response and real social action. The limits o f resistance are further explored i n the second phase o f Mil le r ' s study. Here , he examines the extent to wh ich participants accepted the mainstream media version o f the Gibraltar incident. Mi l l e r finds that most viewers, while resisting elements o f the news coverage, d id accept the facts presented, including some w h i c h were later revealed to be fabricated. M o s t o f the Cathol ic participants rejected the claim o f the S A S (that they believed a b o m b was present at the scene) as we l l as the media smear campaign against Carmen Proetta, 79 the main eyewitness. Mi l l e r credits the "power o f poli t ical identity i n withstanding propaganda assault". (Miller, 131) H e goes on , though, to point out that resistance only goes so far.. I n discussion o f Proetta, for example, he found evidence that at least some elements o f the smear campaign had been incorporated into viewer discourse. Some participants accepted that Proetta had been a prostitute (as the media claimed) but used poli t ical rhetoric to try to restore her credibility; others w h o claimed to absolutely believe Proetta's account nonetheless expressed doubts about her personal character. M i l l e r finds such discourse as "evidence that even when an opposit ional poli t ical identity is a strong patt o f everyday life it is possible for elements o f official propaganda to be accepted." (Miller, 134) T h e media cannot hope to simply replace one set o f identities wi th another; even small changes are likely to be only partially accepted. Anticipating viewer resistance: some predictions, and more questions Audience studies o f gender and fan communities have shown h o w viewers-participate i n meaning construction; meanwhile, studies o f Nor the rn Irish television viewers have shown how those audiences participate i n memory and identity construction as well . T h e results allow us to make tentative predictions about the strategies o f Nor the rn Irish cinema audiences, predictions wh ich seem to be supported by anecdotal evidence but wh ich require further investigation. T h e general presumption o f academics that cinematic representations o f Nor the rn Ireland are inadequate and cksappointing, or even damaging to domestic audiences, seems to be upheld by even a cursory look at audience discourse. U p o n hearing o f this author's thesis topic, for example, one Nor the rn Irish viewer replied via email, " I am glad that someone is look ing at the dreadful films that are made about Nor the rn Ireland. T h e plots are 80 always the same; poor Taigs v r ich Prods blah blah blah," 1 " whilst another complains that " W e haven't seen the dimensions o f the place; its not like stage or T V where there's more representation." 1 1 Wi thou t suggesting that these are 'typical viewers', these expressions-of frustration wi th the existing representations o f Nor the rn Irish history and communities ate illustrative, and point to the need for a sustained study o f real viewers, their attitudes, and the social discourses they have developed. A s audience studies have amply demonstrated, film is experienced socially, and responses are used to conf i rm or establish group membership: F r o m what we have seen o f audience behaviour generally, and f tom the w o r k o f Watson , Mi l l e r , and N o l a n i n particular, it can be predicted that Nor the rn Irish viewers w i l l use not only the films, but talking about the films and debating the films' meanings, as ways o f reinscribing their o w n ideological and community identification. In the particular context o f the commemorative cinema, this becomes also a way o f participating i n the ritual o f commemorat ion, actively endorsing or rejecting the communal memories o f a contested event. A s Hosk ins has suggested, this may also be a way o f witnessing at a distance. Those w h o were not able to participate i n a traumatic event, by dint o f age, social posit ion, or geographic distance, may use me films to claim membership in the group o f victims or victors. Consciously or not, these same viewers w i l l use group identification to validate their projected responses; T feel / f e w a y because I am this.' T h e acknowledgement o f the social and cultural constraints i n place means that viewers w i l l selectively express their opinions. L i k e the participants i n A u s t i n and Hi l l ' s studies, they possess a "shared knowledge o f appropriate responses" and engage i n disciplinary discourse 1 0 Gavin Bell, personal correspondence with author,-July 11 2003. 1 1 Martin Lynch, private conversation, July 8 2003. 81 that anticipates cri t icism and distances them from socially unacceptable responses. Because neither the viewing subject nor his social community is fixed, it can be expected that responses w i l l change, or be differendy expressed, according to the venue. Personal experience w i l l shape, too, h o w viewers orient themselves to the text. T h e 'truth' o f the representation is judged against, and priority given to, the individual viewer's, o w n perception o f the social and historical context. In practice, this means that we can expect viewers, anxious to establish their o w n authority as participants i n moments o f history and members o f a group, to at the same time engage in. a disciplinary and distancing strategy. This may produce an ambivalent viewer w h o is not only capable o f reorientation, but is essentially required to shift between subject positions. W h e n personal experience fails, either.because it is insufficient or because i t is uncomfortable to the viewer, we can expect the viewer to fall back o n the meta-narrative and inter- or extra-textual references offered by the community. The providential or redemptive frameworks delineated along the lines o f the two religious communities, provide only one example o f subject posi t ion, one to wh ich viewers have recourse but are not l imited. Viewers identify wi th multiple communities, ranging f rom other poli t ical affiliations or social and environmental organizations, to professional, university, and artistic communities. Further research w o u l d need to consider the tensions and points o f discord between these multiple points o f identification. Particularly, viewers are likely to reject such interpretive frameworks when they conflict wi th other, more deeply held, aspects o f personal identity. A s evidenced by the audience studies above, viewers are selective i n wh ich elements o f a text they adopt, choosing those ideas,facts, or representations w h i c h best mesh wi th their own self-identification. In the case o f the 82 commemorative cinema, this means that we can expect viewers to have shifting and complex approaches to the historical 'truths' presented. In practice,, viewers o f the same films w i l l produce contradictory readings,.differing i n their memories even o f the content o f a given film. Similarly, viewers wi l l choose selective elements as ' important ' to the ultimate meaning, and dismiss others. Because the films are so ambiguous,, there are numerous points and images w h i c h can be either co-opted or disregarded. It can also be seen and expected that members do and w i l l petceive bias against their o w n group, regardless o f the intended messages o f the films or o f the academic and critical reception o f the films. Such findings o f bias w o u l d be consistent w i th the findings o f Raymond Watson. Watson found that Nationalist and Union i s t families v iewing the same news clips saw the clips as prejudicial to the other group; moreover, each group,claimed to be under-represented i n the news coverage. Similarly, Pau l Nolan ' s afore-mentioned study o f the supposedly balanced Orange, Green, Yellowprogram found a high level o f resistance among.al l the participants because o f the perception o f bias o n all sides. 1 2 O n a corresponding note, it can be observed and anticipated that viewers w i l l remember the actual historical events, referenced i n the films, differentiy. Wha t individuals remember o f events has been shown to be dependent o n the manner i n w h i c h events are originally reported, but also o n the manner i n wh ich events are represented over time and o n the social 12 For ample anecdotal evidence of the perception of bias, see Fionnuala O'Connor's In Search of a State: Catholics in Northern Ireland or Gillian Mcintosh's The Force of Culture: Unionist Identities in Twentieth- Century Ireland: Alan Parkinson insists on the reality of anti-Protestant bias in his Ulster Loyalism and the British Media; Louisa Burns Bisogno takes an opposing position in her own Censoring Irish Nationalism: the British, Irish, and American Suppression of Republican Images in Film and Television, 1909-1995. Patrick Magee's examination of anti-Nationalist bias in 'Troubles' literature, Gangsters or Guerrillas?: Representations of Irish Republicans in 'Troubles Fiction, also has implications for cinema studies. 83 transmission o f memory. Whi l e this presents particular challenges to research and analysis, it can also reveal significant fissures between communities and perhaps provide opportunities for reconciliation. Studies by McKeeve r , Joseph and M c G o r m a c k and by Hunter , Stringer and Watson have examined memory and bias i n regards to violence i n Nor the rn Ireland. M c K e e v e r et a l , i n their article " M e m o r y o f Nor the rn Irish Catholics and Protestants for violent incidents and their: explanations for the 1981 Hunger Strike", attempt a quantitative assessment o f such bias. They found not only significant differences i n w h i c h events were recalled, but i n the preferred explanations for events. Groups are most likely to encourage and preserve those memories that sustain positive in-group identification. Elements o f events that do not assist i n the functions o f commemorat ion are likely to be forgotten. These functions include continuity (members need a consistent view o f the past to make sense o f the present), collective self-esteem (making heroes o f group members, for example), distinctiveness (showing a group's uniqueness), efficacy (by remembering victories) and cohesion (emphasizing the unifying elements i n the group's history). Th is process o f selective remembering may account for Watson's discovery that Unionis t and Nationalist families remembered different elements f rom the news stories and forgot facts that w o u l d seem not to support their interpretations. A s wel l , the more personally relevant the narrative appears, the higher the level o f investment may be expected, as i n the aforementioned Watson study, i n wh ich participants remembered most clearly those events to w h i c h they saw a personal connection. It seems reasonable to anticipate a similar correlation between memory and group commitment i n the interaction wi th fictional works as wel l , and this too seems a fruitful area o f scholastic exploration. 84 It can be anticipated that resistance to a film's preferred reading w i l l increase according to individual commitment to. personal poli t ical identity. W e have seen that fans o f a particular genre or text display more involvement wi th the texts and the discourses around them; having higher expectations and needs; these viewers are more resistant to misrepresentations o f 'theit' concerns. In the context o f the commemorative cinema, wi th its depictions o f traumatic historical events claimed by communities^ this means that the more an individual has invested i n ahgning himself w i th a particular group, the more possessive he w i l l be over the representation o f the group as wel l as the events. T h e more entrenched the sense o f group identity, the more emotional and; commit ted the response. This w o u l d suggest that the potential o f commemorative cinema for productive pro-social change w i l l be most realized amongst those viewers w i t h the least investment i n their poli t ical identities. Less 'possessive' viewers are perhaps more likely to engage wi th the films' ambiguities and to take advantage o f the contemplative hesitation that is offered. 85 Conclusion "...it is recognized that victims have a right tq remember as well as to contribute to a changed society..." - The Northern Ireland Agreement, April 10,1998 O v e r the last decade, the central enterprise o f cinema made i n and about Nor the rn Ireland has shifted. Rather than l imit ing itself to nostalgic envisionings o f the past, this new commemorative cinema addresses the processes by wh ich history is constructed, documented, and contested, and tacidy acknowledges the .ongoing formation o f memory, i n the-present. This shift is significant; alongside the unfolding and uncertain Nor the rn Irish-peace process, artists and audiences have increasingly turned to film as a medium through which to express not only individual but collective memories o f traumatic moments i n Nor the rn Ireland's conflicted history. Remember ing and mourn ing is an essential component to recovery, and the commemorative cinema o f Nor the rn Ireland represents an opportunity for the sort o f mourning work that can br ing about productive social change. T h e critical consensus is that Nor the rn Ireland's cinema is too l imited by its adherence to mainstream conventions and its denial o f poli t ical complexity to produce meaningful opposit ion. Th is premature conclusion ignores the complexities o f the relationship between text and audience. I n fact, the commemorat ive cinema consists o f ambivalent works wh ich allow active and commit ted viewers to read the films i n highly resistant ways. A cinema ofresistance; a resistance of cinema F r o m a sampling o f the commemorative cinema, certain textual elements can be identified,, elements wh ich define a cinema o f resistance. Some Mother's Son, Resurrection Man, and Bloody 86 Sunday, each a fictional recreation o f a moment i n kv ing memory, are examples o f a cinema that uses ambivalence and ambiguity to create instability and problematize. viewer identification. These films use generic conventions to bu i ld and then to undercut audience expectations. They complicate their conventional narratives through a lack o f closure, uncertain cause and effect relationships, and shifting perspectives. T h e films call attention to their o w n construction through their multiple contradictions. Realistic surfaces are troubled by moments o f rupture and subjectivity. A t the heart o f each work is an impl ic i t recognition o f the unrepresentable nature o f history and trauma. Through their instabihty, these films operate as open texts wh ich offer manifold points o f access and permit divergent understandings. F o r their part, viewers are empowered and engaged, actively exploiting the points o f rupture and contradiction wi th in the films. Through recourse to personal experience, communa l frameworks, and competing community alignments, viewers approach the films as 'poachers', capable o f rejecting or co-opting elements and adding to or teplacing the meanings ascribed by the preferred readings. T h e refusal o f the films to provide a single or stable explicit meaning encourages viewers to engage wi th the w o t k selectively and defiantly, bo th enhancing and l imit ing the power o f the text to alter social perceptions or influence poli t ical identification. The resistance o f cinema has mixed implications for a divided society. O n the one hand, viewers have access to multiple and complex sites o f identification, al lowing the individual viewer to move beyond the simple binary mode l o f identity impl ied by so m u c h o f the criticism. Negotiat ion o f these viewing positions does not only allow for resistant understanclings o f a particular film, but perhaps more broadly, permits refusal o f static or entrenched identities. T h e commemorative cinema can be used as a tool for productive 87 refiguring o f the past. Conversely, this same tendency o f resistance means that viewers w i th a strong commitment to an identity (pr identities) may. be less accepting o f challenges to conceptions o f Self and Other. The cinema o f resistance can embody opposi t ion to the hegemonic institutions, representations, and narrative frameworks, but equally, to the counter- hegemonic intentions o f filmmakers, community leaders, and critics. It is important not to valorize the individual texts, but neither should we be entirely pessimistic about their potential as works o f opposit ional cinema. O n e might therefore ask i f commemorative cinema is necessarily a productive avenue o f resistance. O n the surface, its obsession with the past, and wi th the harms inflicted u p o n communities, seems perilous, lending itself to cooptation by the cult o f vict imizat ion, to , further polarizing o f the Protestant and Catholic communities, and to what has been called a "pol i t ical economy o f helplessness". (Robert El ias , quoted e.g., i n O 'Mal ley , 8) A s closer examination o f these films has shown, however, a more complex strategy o f interpellation is undertaken i n these films, and an equally complex response is generated. In navigating the ambiguities o f these works, viewers confront and — at least some o f the time — compromise or convert. A s counter-memory, these films give voice to communities; as commemorat ion, they create bonds between individuals; as ambivalent texts, they permit change. T h e commemorative cinema is not necessarily progressive, but it does provide a mode l for a progressive cinema and viewership. A s we understand more about audience response and involve audiences i n the discourse o f meaning product ion, the commemorative cinema may become a, site o f mourn ing as wel l as memorial izing. 88 On the need for further research It has often been remarked that, for a small region, Nor the rn Ireland has produced a disproportionate amount o f poli t ical and historical analysis. Consider ing the overshadowing effects o f the conflict, it is.perhaps not surprising that film analysis has been somewhat less prodigious; i n the context o f the serious issues facing divided communities, concerns about film going may seem irrelevant or trivial. T h e issue o f f i lm reception i n particular has been largely neglected. A s a med ium o f commemoration- and identity formation, however, the cinema's social significance should not be underestimated. Meanwhile , continued debate over questions o f cinematic representation is futile without ample consideration to the role o f actual audiences. This thesis points to some o f the essential, questions and makes predictions about viewer behaviour based u p o n the existing models o f the active audience. Further research,-in .the form o f controlled and detailed audience studies, w i l l help to develop the potential o f commemorative cinema as not only an academic concern, but a social instrument. T h e critical call for more progressive texts that overtly challenge the commonplace dichotomy, o f Unionis t /Nat iona l i s t or Protestant /Catholic is certainly val id and timely, as is its critical counterpoint, M c l l r o y ' s petition for a more engaged spectatorship. W e should not ignore, however, what is being done wi th the films that already exist and the audience that already engages. 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