Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Ireland in the Cinema

ENGL 292.601
instructor(s):
W 6:30-9:10

Set againist better-known national film traditions like those of Italy, France, Germany and the United States, the phrase "Irish cinema" may seem almost a contradiction in terms. Yet the history of film in Ireland--and of Ireland in film--offers a unique prism through which to view the political and social issues that have surfaced repeatedly and more prominently in the country's literary, musical, poetic and dramatic traditions. In historical terms, Ireland's national identity and its cinematic tradition go hand and hand: the debut of indigenous film production in Ireland coincided precisely with the country's emergence, through rebellion and civil war, as an independent national. The concurrency of these developments, the one technological, the other political spawned a cinema preoccupied with issues of nationalism, political division, religious faith, mythological tradition and the codes of personal and social identity. This course will focus on film as a means of challenging traditional images of Ireland-its remantic West, its ravaged North, its religious South-and suggesting new ways of understanding its divisions of social class, sexuality, religion and national identity. Students will examine the special problems and advantages of the film medium in tackling such issues, and try to develop personal perspectives on their treatment and representation. We will explore the parallel developments of film history and Irish history through screenings ranging from Robert Flaherty's celebrated "documentary," Man of Aran(1934), to the starkly original and overly iconoclastic films that mark the Irish film renaissance of the last decade. As a corollary to these cinematic texts, we will consider representative literary treatments of nationalism and related issues by authors such as J.M. Synage, W.B. Yeats, Marianne Moore and Seamus Heaney. While the course will emphasize the Irish context, it will also serve as a general introduction to film history and theory.