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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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. .
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.
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.