Terry McMahon’s Mullingar Patrick’s Day parade

Today (Wednes­day Jan­u­ary 28) will see writer/director Terry McMa­hon bring his new film ‘Patrick’s Day’ on a bit of a parade back to his home­town Mullingar for a spe­cial screen­ing at the Mullingar IMC. For me it’ll be my first chance to see one of his fea­tures on the big screen. I only got to see ‘Char­lie Cas­sanova’ on DVD, so I can’t wait. Equally I’m look­ing for­ward to the Q&A after­wards with Terry and actor Moe Dunford.

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I spoke to Terry last week for a fea­ture in the West­meath Topic and we noted the irony that the screen­ing takes place just a few metres from where Terry grew up, in the tough neigh­bour­hood of D’Alton Park and the cin­ema is located on ground that was once part of St Loman’s Men­tal Hos­pi­tal, at one stage the biggest employer in Mullingar.

Terry’s first expo­sure to the cathe­dral of cin­ema was at Mullingar’s Ritz Cin­ema (also called the Hibern­ian) where he saw ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ as a young­ster and his life changed. That cin­ema was a crack­ing place. Every­one knew the staff and no mat­ter what rat­ing the film was you could go. Loads of my own happy child­hood mem­o­ries were in the Ritz — My first date (to see ‘Back­draft’), learn­ing how to swear, spit­ting polo mints onto the peo­ple below the bal­cony, cheer­ing along to ‘Rocky 3′ and ‘Rocky 4′, the entire cin­ema on its feet for the lat­ter chant­ing ‘Rocky, Rocky, Rocky!’ as Rocky took on that mur­der­ing Com­mie bas­tard Ivan Drago, and hun­dreds of amaz­ing movies, espe­cially a mid­night screen­ing of ‘With­nail & I’ where all you could hear was the click of lighters rolling joints, and the pop of beer bot­tles and cans; and then see­ing two films which would become two of my top 5 movies of all-time: ‘the amaz­ing ‘Mid­night Run’ and Verhoven’s ‘Robo­cop’.  There was loads of oth­ers, many now long for­got­ten. It was the 1980’s and action flicks were ten a penny. Because the Ritz had only one screen, often a film would come for a night, and then head off to some other rural cin­ema. Even­tu­ally as the 1990’s arrived, the cin­ema was updated to two screens, a tiny one and a main one. I think The Doors was one of the open­ing movies, or Ter­mi­na­tor 2. Thank­fully, even in “mod­erni­sa­tion” many of its charm­ing fea­tures remained: the lamps that stood either side of the bal­cony, the shop down­stairs, the door and ticket machine, the stairs, the toi­lets, the car­pet, the smell. The cin­ema even­tu­ally fell out of favour and was closed, then replaced with a multi-screen devoid of any char­ac­ter or redeem­ing fea­tures set on the edge of a motor­way and a 700-house Celtic Tiger hous­ing estate. Progress.

The cin­ema is now Wilfs menswear and before it opened its owner Daragh Caf­frey allowed a local artists Andrew Mac­Manus to stage an art exhi­bi­tion there. Patrick Gra­ham turned up and it was bril­liant. I man­aged to take a few bits of the cin­ema home with me — some film can­nis­ters, a cou­ple of let­ters from the board, noth­ing major.

I knew Terry and his brother Glen a lit­tle when I was younger. They were well ahead of me in the same school, pos­si­bly also tor­tured by the same Chris­t­ian Broth­ers and beaten by the same lay teach­ers that beat me and my pals. When I went to Dublin as a stu­dent I would occa­sion­ally meet Terry in Rath­mines and in places like Brux­elles. He told me then he was going to make it in movies. I believed him. A cou­ple of years later I used to pass his house in North inner city Dublin on a street where reg­gae and Pink Floyd poured out of peo­ples win­dows all day. It was like a dream street, Terry out play­ing with his daugh­ter whilst just down the road a load of Dubs sat stoned lis­ten­ing to reg­gae non-stop. My house­mate in Phib­s­bor­ough knew him much bet­ter than me. Other friends spoke of him and we all knew he was going to make it in the movies.

As a proud Mullingar man I was proud when he got a gig in Fair City and years later was happy to only in a tiny way ‘like’ his efforts at get­ting ‘Char­lie Cas­sanova’ made via his Face­book page. I read the script before the film was made and liked it. I loved the movie.

And now comes ‘Patrick’s Day’. I can’t wait to see it.

In the mean­time, here’s that arti­cle from last week’s West­meath Topic on a film auteur des­tined for even big­ger things.

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Acclaimed direc­tor returns to Mullingar for ‘Patrick’s Day’

by Ronan Casey

 

It’s not often the for­mer Ritz Cin­ema is hailed as an inspi­ra­tion for an award-winning film career, but the long-closed Mullingar cin­ema played a key role in set­ting acclaimed writer/director Terry McMa­hon off on a path which can seen him win mul­ti­ple awards at some of the world’s most pres­ti­gious film festivals. 

The direc­tor, whose lat­est work ‘Patrick’s Day’ will receive its Irish pre­miere at the IMC on Wednes­day week (Jan­u­ary 26) ahead of its national release on Feb­ru­ary 6, remem­bers clearly the visit to the Ritz (then called the Hibern­ian) that changed everything. 

“One Sat­ur­day my par­ents wanted us kids out of the house, so they gave us money to go to the cin­ema. We went, think­ing we were pay­ing in to see a mati­nee, a children’s movie, but what came on was a funny, smart, vio­lent war movie totally not suited to three small chil­dren from D’Alton Park: ‘Kelly’s Heroes’. It blew my mind. I had dis­cov­ered this Cathedral.” 

The movie maker now describes his career as “the stuff of child­hood fan­tasy”. Two films in, with another two almost ready to shoot, rave review… oh, and did we men­tion awards? 

The Mullingar man, son of George and Brenda, brother of Carol and twin brother of musi­cian Glenn, has seen his lat­est pick up seven major film fes­ti­val awards: the Grand Jury Prize and two oth­ers at the Wood­stock Film Fes­ti­val; a Direc­tors Guild of Amer­ica 2014 ‘Find­ers Series’ Award; the Cin­ema Own­ers Grand Jury Prize at the Mannheim Film Fes­ti­val; and the Audi­ence Awards at both the Cork and Gal­way film fes­ti­vals. This is on top of four awards for his con­tro­ver­sial debut fea­ture ‘Char­lie Cas­sanova’, released in 2012. 

“I don’t feel enti­tled to these things,” Terry tells Topic frankly. “Of course we all dream of being up there on a podium col­lect­ing an award for some­thing or other when we’re young, but never in a mil­lion years did I see what would come with my own movies. I never wrote or made a movie to win an award. But it seems this film has a vital life force that tran­scends what peo­ple see in big-budget pop­corn and Coca Cola movies. It has a heart­beat and peo­ple are responding.” 

ROCKY

He remem­bers his for­ma­tive years in Mullingar well, with the cin­ema on Cas­tle Street (now Wilfs) at the cen­tre of it all. “There were piv­otal movies enjoyed there — the ‘Rocky’ movies in par­tic­u­lar, the whole cin­ema cheer­ing on this fic­tional char­ac­ter and every­one leav­ing want­ing to become a boxe. And many oth­ers. My favourite movies are the great films that will out­live all of us but they may not be cel­e­brated or award-winning. Movies like ‘The Odd Cou­ple’, ‘One Flew Over the Cuck­oos Nest’ and ‘Mid­night Run’ all had that cer­tain something.” 

After a period of teenage home­less­ness in Dublin where he scoured Dublin’s streets find­ing com­fort with unlikely peo­ple — Dublin’s alco­holic home­less, groups of maraud­ers drawn like char­ac­ters straight from John Healy’s ‘Glass Arena’. He would spend days and nights walk­ing the streets, dream­ing, think­ing big, smok­ing other peo­ples cig­a­rette butts… Even­tu­ally, Terry man­aged to qual­ify for the dole and then secured a bed-sit in Rath­mines, close to a 24 hour video store. Here he vora­ciously con­sumed films 24–7 tak­ing advan­tage of cheap ‘same day return’ deals and between odd jobs includ­ing one at a chip­per he put pen to paper, writ­ing a prison drama and other treat­ments. Through word of mouth, the prison script found its way to the right per­son in Hol­ly­wood and soon Terry was on on a plane to write a movie for 80’s star­let Daryl Hannah.

The boy from D’Alton Park got his first taste of “la la land” and whilst his prison script wasn’t filmed (he intends return­ing to it as his next project) he enjoyed the industry.

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DUBLIN’S FAIR CITY

Back in bedsit-land he joined Dublin Youth The­atre, took odd jobs here and there and took to sev­eral stages before he set­tled down and moved to a house with his part­ner. He then got his big break on RTE soap ‘Fair City’ where he had a mem­o­rable star­ring role as the demented, doomed gang­ster Ter­rence. Once he fell off a cliff, Terry moved to the other side of the cam­era, script­ing and direct­ing episodes of the soap. 

As boom turned to bust, Terry was out of work and in finan­cial dif­fi­culty with a fam­ily of three and a house on the North­side of Dublin to sup­port. He kept writ­ing scripts. ‘Char­lie Cas­sonova’ was one of them. After it was rejected by RTE and the Irish Film Board Terry took to Face­book to say he was going to make it any­ways. He asked his Face­book friends for help, ini­tially advice and thoughts on the script, then equip­ment, loca­tions “and a lot of balls” and within a month he was shoot­ing the provoca­tive drama on bor­rowed cameras. He returned to Face­book to see what peo­ple thought of his poster ideas etc. It was truly a people’s picture

Star­ring then unknown Emmet Scan­lan and Leigh Arnold and made for less than a grand, the film became, as Terry fondly recalls, “one of the most reviled films of all-time”. Stu­dio Canal in France loved it and dis­trib­uted it world­wide. A dark, polit­i­cal com­men­tary on greed in Celtic Tiger Ire­land it totally divided audi­ences. Pro­mot­ing it, Terry cut a loud, pas­sion­ate fig­ure. A Tarantino-esque brash new kid on the block. He had arrived.

Viewed again today, ‘Char­lie’ has par­al­lels with the so-called ‘Anglo Tapes’ of bank execs laugh­ing at the masses as they coined it in. 

DEHUMANISATION

To fol­low it up, Terry returned in his mind to a job he had years ear­lier, as a trainee care worker psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. There he saw feel­ings of gen­uine inti­macy and loved frowned upon by staff. 

“There was a remark­able dehu­man­i­sa­tion as peo­ple were treated only in one way, with human con­tact not allowed by a strange moral struc­ture. Peo­ple were hor­ri­fied by what was per­fectly nor­mal. Par­ents would come and visit and some would be reviled by their loved ones show­ing inti­macy towards them.” 

He turned these expe­ri­ences into a script and whilst there wasn’t as much hus­tling, beg­ging and bor­row­ing to get this film made, he still relied on his wits and gen­eros­ity of oth­ers to get it made. 

‘Patrick’s Day’ tells the story of Patrick, a schiz­o­phrenic 26-year old Irish­man who falls for Karen, a sui­ci­dal flight atten­dant. How­ever, his overly pro­tec­tive mother Maura goes to extreme lengths to pro­tect her son from falling in love. What fol­lows is a provoca­tive and heart­break­ing love story about the right to inti­macy for every­one. The tagline says “Patrick’s Day proves when it comes to love, we’re all a lit­tle crazy!” but there’s much more to it than that. Like ‘Char­lie Cas­sonova’ there is a polit­i­cal sub­text to it. Terry is a highly politi­cized man, a free speaker, human­ist and advo­cate of people’s rights. He hopes the new film will serve to heighten aware­ness of men­tal dif­fi­cul­ties and lone­li­ness, things he suf­fered from him­self dur­ing his spell liv­ing on the streets of Dublin. . 

MULLINGAR 

The Mullingar screen­ing will be ner­vous for Terry. The loca­tion is less than a mile from where he grew up and will be the first time one of his films has been screened in his home town. Like Niall Horan said over Christ­mas, he can sing to thou­sands any­where in the world, but he is more ner­vous speak­ing to a few hun­dred at home. 

Niall Horan at Mullingar Golf Club over the Christmas holidays. He admitted more nerves talking to a few hundred here than singing in front of 60,000 per night.

Niall Horan at Mullingar Golf Club over the Christ­mas hol­i­days. He admit­ted more nerves talk­ing to a few hun­dred here than singing in front of 60,000 per night.

The screen­ing is a ticket only affair open to com­pe­ti­tion win­ners, and will be fol­lowed by a Q&A with Terry and star Moe Dun­ford. Terry was keen to get the film to Westmeath. 

“I told the dis­trib­u­tors to ‘Never under­es­ti­mate the power of the parochial’ and they lis­tened. You should never for­get where you’re from and, yes, I’m going to be ner­vous see­ing my own film on a screen in Mullingar just down the road from where I grew up but I’m look­ing for­ward to it too.” 

- ‘Patrick’s Day’ is on national release from Feb­ru­ary 6. ‘Char­lie Cas­sonova’ is on sale on DVD now via StudioCanal.

- see www.patricksday.ie for more.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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