Documenting Paul Duane

Really, really delighted to be interviewing highly-regarded, and fittingly provocative, filmmaker Paul Duane for Féile an tSolais, the Festival of Light, an international arts festival held in Listowel, Kerry, in Ireland.

The Festival of Light is an extraordinary arts festival, and I would strongly recommend people check it out. I think staging unique, ambitious, large scale visual arts festivals in Kerry's small and medium sized towns is not only possible, there is probably no better location on earth to have them.

But back to Paul Duane: I was familiar with Duane's television productions, but his documentaries have been a real discovery for me.

Find below some thoughts and reflections I have had while researching. Duane's documentaries pose so many questions and explore so many complicated topics, that it is perhaps terse to try and do justice to them in the few remarks below, but please feel free to share your thoughts and participate; and do watch Paul Duane's documentaries, they are well, well worth it.

John Healy, author of the controversial auto-biogrpahy The Grass Arena, and subject of Paul Duane's documentary Barbaric Genuis

I love the way Duane's documentary films are both intimate and probing; he helps the audience understand his subjects as human beings, but he also helps us understand them as artists; understand their battles with the establishment and their often arresting artistic visions.

John Healy, the controversial Irish-British author of The Glass Arena, who was notoriously ostracised by the publishing industry in the 1980s, is the subject of Duane’s film Barbaric Genius.

Independent Filmmaker Paul Duane

Bill Drummond, one of the founding members of pop band KLF, who burned a million pounds as a symbol of discontent with consumerism, is the subject of Best Before Death. Duane follows Bill across a diverse array of locations; from New York to Kolkata, when Bill paints and does other random works of art.

His latest film, A Time for Death, will be screened in St John’s, Listowel, at 3pm, Saturday, 2nd of November. A Time- follows Drummond and his fellow ex-KLF band member, Jimmy Cauty, on their latest project, which is to construct a pyramid, the ‘People’s Pyramid’, composed of donated human ash. An interview by me will follow the screening.

In an age of 'commodified rebellion', to use Naomi Klein's phrase from No Logo, the most remarkable thing about John Healy is he is a genuine outsider. The Glass Arena, like the author himself, is genuinely subversive, transgressing social taboos and challenging some of society's most deeply held assumptions.

It is therefore unsurprising that Healy was abandoned by an establishment that is, at least now, fixated with controversy and manufactured rebellion.

The publishing industry ruthlessly abandoned John Healy in the 1980s, and the media is likely to be as baffled by KLF's latest exercise in changing how we perceive the world as they were by the notorious burning of the million pounds.

It was fascinating to watch, in Barbaric Genius (Duane's documentary on John Healy) Duane's interview of Robert McCrum. McCrum was editor in chief at Faber & Faber, at the time the British publisher was publishing Healy's The Grass Arena.

McCrum was embroiled in the alleged incident, which either did or did not happen depending on who you believe, that led to Faber dumping Healy and, ultimately, fatally damaging his writing career.

McCrum has, seemingly, changed his version of what precisely happened over the years since he left Faber. Duane is critical of McCrum in the film, but he does have the documentary evidence to back it up; McCrum, in interview with Duane, brushed off the 'incident' involving Healy as minimal and trivial, but in several articles and citations attributed to him down through the years, he appears far more swashbuckling and boastful, exaggerating what happened for cartoonish effect.

A Time for Death, will be screened this Saturday, November 2nd, at 3pm, in St John's Theatre and Arts Centre, as part of Féile an tSolais, international arts festival.

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