Identity, Image and Ideology in Film
This society which eliminates geographical distance reproduces distance internally as spectacular separation.
Guy Debord 1
Bemoaning the inability of recent films about Northern Ireland to ‘advance understanding’, John Hill, writing in 1988, ended his consideration of ‘images of violence’ in Irish cinema with the following remarks:
This is not to suggest that there is then a ‘correct’ interpretation of the conflicts which films about Ireland should be supporting. What it does imply, however, is that the ability to respond intelligently to history, and the willingness to engage with economic, political and cultural complexity, would need to be considerably greater than that which cinema has so far demonstrated. 2
This perceived absence is one that Hill's book Cinema and Ireland (cowritten with Kevin Rockett and Luke Gibbons) returns to repeatedly. While this text is, in many ways, a key work of definition and codification, its prevailing tone is one of regret for missed opportunities and a slight fatigue with the manner in which films about Ireland, both North and South, circulate obsessively around tired oppositions and implicit prejudices. In these terms the history of Irish film-making, as Cinema and Ireland charts it, conforms to a more general lament often found in materialist film criticism. As Annette Michelson in her essay ‘Film and the Radical Aspiration’ proclaims with understandable frustration: ‘The history of cinema is, like that of revolution in our time, a chronicle of hopes and expectations, aroused and suspended, tested and deceived.’ 3 Hill's complaint, then, can perhaps be perceived as a symptom of what Jean-Pierre Oudart refers to as ‘the utopia of a Marxist cinema’: a cultural practice unrealised