2015 THE REEL JAMES JOYCE
Director Wayne Pearn
James Joyce: Steve Gome
Charlie Chaplin: Dan Walls
Bridgette Burton: Mimi, Fifi, Gigi
Kelly Nash: Maria Jolas, Nora Barnacle (later Joyce), Coco Chanel, Mae West, Whore and Bella Cohen
Eric Satie and others: Silas James
‘Actor’ playing Molly Bloom and Gerty MacDowell, and others: Sarah Plummer
The play, The Reel James Joyce, sets up a fictional scenario, but one based on careful historical research. What if, in the period he was attempting to make serious films, just after A Woman of Paris, Charlie Chaplin had been inspired to adapt Joyce’s Ulysses for the silent film? What we do know is that Eisenstein sought the rights to Ulysses in 1929, and that just before the censorship tide turned and the novel was declared not to be pornographic in Justice Woolsey’s monumental 1933 judgment, Warner Brothers in 1931 also sought the rights. A Woman of Paris (1924) had convinced Chaplin that he should not only direct, but also be a character in his own films. His public demanded him. What kind of Leopold Bloom might the sad clown have made? What might Joyce’s pitch to him have been? What scenes would Charlie choose as representative and as ‘treatment’ pieces? How adaptable is Ulysses to the new medium of modernity?
The play is set in Paris in the 1920s and many people, from both sides of the Atlantic and even Hollywood, want a bit of the action: Coco Chanel, Mae West, Erik Satie, and the ‘Vamp’ herself, Theda Bara, and there’s also Nora and Lucia, and many of Joyce’s characters. A glittering array. Lots of cinema history. And Joyce’s text as never before heard.
For more about the scripting of this play see Di Silber's interview with Frances Devlin-Glass in Tinteán, the Irish-Australian magazine.
Performances ran from 10-16 June at Library at the Dock, 107 Victoria Promenade, Docklands. 8.00pm Wednesday 10 June – Sat. 13 June; 3.00pm matinee Sunday 14 June, and 8.00pm Monday 15-16 June.
WHAT THE CRITICS AND PATRONS
HAD TO SAY
Writing for Tintean, the Irish-Australian magazine
In his paper, ‘Shooting Ulysses – Joyce’s Masterpiece at the Movies’ given at this year’s Bloomsday Seminar, Dr Steve Carey outlined three justifications for attempting to make a film of Ulysses: as an introduction to the novel for an audience unfamiliar with it; as an original interpretation of Joyce’s work for those who know and love it; and finally as entertainment. The play performed later that same evening, The Reel James Joyce, about a failed (fictional) attempt to make such a film, fulfilled all three of Dr Carey’s criteria. In its division into ‘master scenes’, largely featuring Leopold Bloom as played by
Charlie Chaplin and involving a cast of characters well-known in popular culture, such as Mae West in best wise-cracking form, the play was accessible to everybody. And from the beginning, while the baffling concept of the ‘ineluctable modality of the visual’ was made comprehensible by translation into a succession of approximating clichés, the play addressed interesting ideas about Ulysses’ filmic qualities.
Kelly Nash plays Coco Chanel
Tintean, the Irish-Australian online magazine
The general conclusion of both theatre and seminar this year was that a film of Ulysses is unrealisable. But that doesn’t mean we cannot realise theatre pieces about the novel and film. The ruse was that James Joyce and Charlie Chaplin planned to make a movie together, but ambitions, or egos, or artistic integrity, or time, or other projects, or love interests even, got in the way. Out of this unexpected, but not entirely unlikely, meeting of creative minds came a Bloomsday theatre piece of considerable insight.
Steve Gome as Joyce and Dan Walls as Chaplin
Their unsolicited comments
The concept of the play was so very clever and its execution, brilliant. We enjoyed every minute, especially the performances of Joyce, Coco, Mae West and Chaplin's assistant(s). And Gerty's exit was one for the record books!
We also loved the commentary by 'the megaphone man', Satie.
I was much moved by the agony experienced by Joyce and Chaplin in trying to translate one art form into another, and was greatly relieved when the plot allowed them to call it a day, respectfully acknowledging each other's mastery of his own craft.
Bridgette Burton played a series of assistants to Charlie Chaplin - Mimi, Gigi and Fifi.
THE BLOOMSDAY SEMINAR
at Library at the Dock,
JOYCE AND CINEMA
SHOOTING ULYSSES – JOYCE’S MASTERPIECE AT THE MOVIES
Let’s take a couple of educated guesses about the bravado or sheer bloody stupidity involved in attempting a movie adaptation of Ulysses.
The first observation, and it’s a particular difficulty to do with filming Ulysses, is its technical virtuosity, and specifically its stream of consciousness. Reading the book gives the illusion of being inside the characters, or being inside Joyce’s head, or being inside the novel. It’s an experience of association. Watching a movie, by stark contrast, is about surface, about the relationships and connections between things. Reviewing Strick’s adaptation on its release in 1967, Joyce’s biographer Richard Ellmann points out that ‘the camera has to assume, as words do not, that palpable surfaces are primary. What Joyce, distinctively, presented was a multiplication of linguistic perspectives, which included the questioning of its own method, of language itself. Through this Babel his characters scarcely move, conserving their energy to affirm only the power to express.’
THE OPTIC NERVE : SEEING JAMES JOYCE SEEING
Ulysses is a huge casebook of the psychology of perception, “thought through my eyes”. Joyce’s pet theory of epiphanies goes exponential as he cunningly arranges words to make us see the everyday objective reality of the city, so that it becomes a main character.
THE (VERY) SHORT FILM COMPETITION
Inspired by the Bloomsday theme, Joyce and Cinema, this year (2015) Bloomsday in Melbourne launched its first Joycean film showcase. Wisely, however, they didn’t attempt it alone, instead partnering with Filmonik Melbourne, itself a partner of the booming world Kino movement, which started in Montreal in 1999 and now has cells across North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia.
So it was that on a weekend earlier this year a bunch of Joyceans, including Racker Donnelly, met up at Docklands Library with a group of young filmmakers dedicated to a belief in ‘film-making with minimum resources in a collaborative environment.’ Together we explored passages of the text, with Racker in particular expounding learnedly and entertainingly about the context, the implications and the insinuations… And off they went! Filmonik took on the challenge with admirable boldness, and produced a collection of very short films (Ulysses in five minutes?!) of widely varying creative approaches.
We were also delighted, in this our very first year, to receive entries from Ireland, too.
In the end, and after much discussion and debate, the panel chose as its winner ‘The Leg of the Duck,’ one of two entries by Andrew Cullimore, who in this instance very smartly took advantage of the presence of Racker to provide voiceover talent.
Within a week of Bloomsday, the Filmonik entries were shown in Dublin.
This was the first Joyce Film Showcase. Don’t bet on it being the last…