Saturday, November 22, 2008


Henry Rollins in Northern Ireland: Media Review.

"Uncut" on IFC débuted last night, November 21, 2008, so I watched it. Alerted by a clip featuring Anthony McIntyre-- whose "Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism" I reviewed a week ago here-- I found the show fair and intelligent. A bit compressed, inevitably into an hour, and perhaps more difficult to follow for those less informed about the North. Still, Rollins comes across as typically confident, probing, and humbled by the replacement of his well-honed cynicism with a more tolerant, humane understanding of the need for all of us to listen more than we talk. He does both, balancing his own "stand-up" social commentary (I wouldn't call it comedy) at the Empire Music Hall in Belfast with interviews from politicians, activists, and veterans of the struggle.

It's heartening to see that veteran of my city's punk scene, from Black Flag-- a band that played my college dorm's rec room (he and I were born thirteen days apart) after they were banned circa '79-80 from many of the local clubs-- bring his own activist stance to the masses. Rollins has also visited Israel, New Orleans, and South Africa for similar investigations of the intersection of radical ideas, government oppression, economic inequality, and cultural ferment. As punks grow up, few of them continue their intervention in ways that go beyond the usual reunion tour for "filthy lucre" or re-recording their songs for "Guitar Hero"! (Yes, I know that the Pistols were screwed over by Malcolm, etc.)

The IFC site lacks detailed coverage of the episode. So, in the interests of anyone curious, here's my scorecard. I took notes as it ran, and I could not record it, so I did not catch all the data I would have wished; times are approximate. A few clips can be seen at the IFC site, but not the entire episode. (It may be up on YouTube, however, in time.)

00:00-05:00: Overview of the background to the Troubles. It's intriguing that Rollins refers to the tension beginning circa 1969 over the "Nationalists or Republicans" to wish to "remain" independent rather than submit to continued British rule in cooperation with the "Unionists or Loyalists."

05:00-10:00: Stand-up about shopping in Tescos with brusque and invasive locals.

10:00-15:00: Eamonn McCann in Derry shows HR the Bogside site of Bloody Sunday.

15:00-20:00: Anthony McIntyre as a former IRA member and prisoner at Long Kesh tells HR about the parallels between the NI and Iraqi occupations. This comparison weaves in and out of this entire episode. He alone in the episode is subtitled, although my wife, with her film industry experience, tells me it may be as much due to the outside shots of them walking around the shoreline with poor miking-- presumably HR only was wired up well-- as AM's Norn Iron articulation!

20:00-25:00: Kevin Ned Murphy, "Republican farmer, South Armagh," gives an rundown on British army surveillance. He contrasts the "nonsense" of U.S. claims that the Iraqi surge has been succeeding with his insistence that any occupied people will naturally resist.

25:00-28:00: Frankie Brennan and another man (I didn't catch his name; he rarely speaks) from Belfast's beleaguered Short Strand Republican enclave describe their situation under harassment and assaults by the surrounding Loyalists.

28:00-36:00: Stand-up about HR's easy cynicism vs. his mature realization of adult responsibility. He tells a moving anecdote about a worker at Subway's own family crises while the man makes HR's sandwich and deals with minimum-wage circumstances.

36:00-41:00: McCann returns to take HR around Derry's "insipid" Peace Murals. "SF/RUC scum" & "Kill all SF/RUC members" graffiti juxtapose with stylized hands releasing doves. McCann vigorously argues how the peace process fails to bring people together post-GFA. Rather than a "recipe for long-term peace," it's a "cosmetic" bridge. There's a hunger to get over sectarian divisions, while poverty remains. Radicalism's muted as if a threat to the officially sanctioned peace process.

41:00-45:00: Willie Frazier, "Protestant activist," shares his perspective. "The past is not past for us," and his people cannot forget so easily. Four Land Rovers pass in the background as he's interviewed; this attests to the continuing British military presence even as he talks of the "peace." (I am not sure where this was filmed.)

45:00-47:00: More evidence of a lingering military is shown. Security cameras monitor, and the lack of sectarianism in the Republican campaign is asserted.

47:00-49:00: Dawn Purvis, head of the PUP (Progressive Unionist Party) tells HR how in NI you're "born with a mental map in your head" of where it's safe to go. She suggests the goal should be instead a striving for common human connections.

49:00-50:00: Peter Robinson relates the importance of conflict resolution by dialogue.

50:00-52:00: Mitchell McLaughlin of Sinn Féin explores the possibility for Iraqi self-determination and NI parallels with the U.S. playing an "honest broker" role.

52:00-53:00: Purvis on negotiation with all willing protagonists as essential.

53:00-58:00: Stand-up on freedom. American-bred selfishness rooted in jingoism vs. the natural impulse to defend one's nation against invasion: contradictions of U.S. stance by its interventionists vs. the American pride in standing up to the British! Importance of giving dignity and respect to others.

HR's humbled at the lessons of freedom he's witnessed in NI as in South Africa, and thanks his audience. He tells them now he learns why poets write their poems about Ireland. He also appreciates why they fight over their women, and why even in NI, blues records are made.

Photo: from IFC "Uncut" site; Eamonn McCann wears the red, of course, skullcap.

3 comments:

Tony Bailie said...

Hi John
it was interesting to see that the two members of the governing parties here in the north got a whole three minutes, with Peter Robinson, who is effectively prime minister (although) with very limited powers) getting just a minute... while Anthony (who I know reads your blog) and Eamonn McCann who probably have a more radical (and entirely valid) perspective on the Iraq situation got about 15 minutes between them. And Willie Frazer (who was probably filmed in south Armagh) what was his take on Iraq?
If you can point me towards any clips I would be extremely grateful.
Ta suil agam go bhfuil tu go maith.
T

Fionnchú said...

Tony a chara: I'm responding here so others interested might also learn more. The whole Iraq-NI parallel was the primary motivation, from what I could gather, for the larger narrative that linked, if subtly, the interviews. Frazier did not comment on Iraq from what I could recall, however; his clip proved shorter. Both McCann and McIntyre, naturally, did indeed provide explicit parallels between the occupations of the U.S. and Britain in nations where their presence was resented and resisted. You're correct: those in power, whether SF or Robinson, garnered a fraction of air time. The show's slant definitely skews on a wary, skeptical, and contrarian humanitarian-radical perspective! This punkish approach did match HR's own stand-up stance, and I assume it aligns with his other "Uncut" travelogues.

The only clips I found are snippets on the IFC site that my entry links to. Although a check now found none, I hope YouTube may provide more in the future for international viewers-- and those of us un-Tivo'd even on home turf.

Bhain sult asam freagra seo agat, T!

AM said...

John, I must have an accent like Rab C Nesbitt. A couple of times now I have found myself subtitled!! It is all down to my proletarian roots!

Anthony