mums THE COMMITMENTS
Ever unpredictable, Alan Parker‘s latest film The Commitments finds him deep in the heart of Dublin‘s grottiest housing estate. Trevor Johnston reports on the sights. the sounds and the hilariously profane vernacular of Ireland‘s hottest new soul sensations.
our music should be about where you come from and the sort of people you come from. It should speak the language ofthe streets. It should be about struggle and sex. An‘ I don‘t mean mushy. shite love songs about “I‘ll hold your hand and love you to the end oftime". I mean ridin‘. fuckin‘. tongues. gooters. boxes — the works.‘
There are the words in which manager. moving force and man with a mission Jimmy Rabbitte expresses the vision that is to give birth to the World's Hardest Working Band. the Northside‘s very own Famous Flames. Temps and Stax/Volt Revue rolled into one. They are. of course — yes! yes! yes! yes! laydeez and gentlemen. a big hand for —
And the music to which Mr Rabbitte refers with such undeniable elegance?
We are talking S-O-U-L . . . Soul!
We're also talking the most profoundly enjoyable two hours I have spent within the confines ofa cinema for a fair old while. After battering us over the head with Big Issues in the likes of Mississippi Burning and Come See The Paradise. Alan Parker has rediscovered the cinematic pleasure principle. The Commitments is a picture that throbs with the sharpest-tongued dialogue and most convincing musical performances you could wish to hear.
The film may not set out to tackle Man‘s Inhumanity To Man. but in its own beautifully shaped. totally beguiling way. this modest story of a bunch of Dublin kids has its piece to say about courage and hope and the dreams you have to have if you‘re ever going to get out of the scummy housing scheme you live in. Without patting himself on the back in the time-honoured BFI/Channel 4 manner. the boy from the grimy end ofNorth London has made one of the best-ever films about working-class experience. It doesn‘t patronise its characters. It doesn‘t resort to salt-o'-the earth sentimentalism. There are Otis
Redding numbers. And the audience gets to laugh. A fuck ofa lot.
'It‘s really very rewarding watching a film with an audience and hearing people laugh.‘
“The List 11— 24 October 1991
concurs Parker. his small round specs and lengthening centre parting lending him the air ofa burly. unreconstructed hippy type. ‘I suddenly realised that there‘s something else I can do. I‘m not an entirely serious person. but it seems I‘ve latterly gone into an area ofpretty serious movie and I don‘t quite know why.‘
Actually Parker has the English and Geography teacher at Kilbarrack's Greendale Community School to thank for this unexpected lunge in the direction of levity. because The Commitments is quite faithfully based on Roddy Doyle‘s debut novel ofthe same name. Originally published in Britain in 1988. this slim tome. consisting for the most part of dialogue in the local salty vernacular. soon saw Doyle acclaimed as the funniest Irish comic since Flann O‘Brien. and with a host of bona fide laugh-out-loud moments. the book does indeed merit such plaudits. Its pages offer the most profoundly enjoyable two hours you’ll spend within the confines ofa paperback for quite some time.
Since this first visit to Dublin‘s fictionalised ‘Barrytown‘. Doyle has continued the adventures ofJimmy Rabbitte in a further two books. The Snapper (pregnancy hits the Rabbitte household) and the recently-published The Van (the Rabbittes acquire a clapped-out chip van). the latter a surprise nomination for this year‘s Booker Prize. Coming in the same month that The Commitments opened to smasheroo business in the US and premiered triumphantly in Dublin‘s fair city. the head on Mr Doyle‘s Guinness must surely taste especially creamy just now.
Screenplay collaborators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais sent Parker the novel when he was in pre-production for Come See The Paradise and such was the director's enthusiasm that he signed to do it almost immediately. When he might have been promoting Come See around the world. he was already in Dublin starting into The Commitments. ‘With the great music explosion over the past few years. they say that in Dublin there are more than 1200 bands playing at any one time .‘ Parker takes up the story. ‘so there‘s an incredible pool of
talent to choose from. I wanted to not cheat on the music and do it live. so primarily l was looking for musicians who could act. rather than the other way round. I saw 3000 young people and. of the final main cast oftwelve. ten oftliem had never acted before.
'Their own personalities were close to the characters they played. but ofcourse as musicians they‘d already takemhat decision to be performers and so they‘d already broken through that barrier in terms of revealing themselves dramatically. In the end. all you can ask of an actor is to get close to the truth of the character they‘re playing. and the cast here knew the truth ofthose kids‘ lives better than anyone else. Really. it was just about teaching them the mechanics of filmmaking. and after five weeks of rehearsal they could run through the script from the top like it was a play or something. Terrific.’ !
Parker uses the word honesty" a number of l times in the conversation and. from opening credits to end titles. The ( 'ommitments certainly rings true. Doyle‘s ear for the way young people actually speak has been honed by listening into the teenagers at school for a number ofyears but. even with the local lingo down pat to make the non-pro cast feel