So what’s the verdict on The Irish Pub? A well-meaning film, but lacking in excitement.
The Irish Pub, directed by Alex Fegan. at the Kendall Square Cinema
By Gerald Peary
Are their gay bars in Ireland? Are their brawls, or rampant alcoholism? You wouldn’t know from Alex Fegan’s The Irish Pub, an unabashedly sentimental, nostalgic homage to the old-fashioned Gaelic tavern. Here, all bartenders are philosophers and storytellers, all patrons are salt of the earth. And each pub is a place where those behind the bar and those drinking on the other side of it are one cheery family.
And if a stranger enters? No territorial paranoia, just friendliness. “They go up to your arse to find out who you are,” says an Irish alehouse proprietor.
A story? A dramatic arc? Not with this documentary. For its seventy minutes duration, The Irish Pub simply bounces about for short visits from ancient tavern to tavern all across Ireland. Counties Donegal, Mayo, Tipperary, Clare, Galway, Cork, etc., and with several stops in Dublin. There’s not much difference place to place. Similar stone floors, wooden ceilings, dusty memorabilia, and affable pub owners. Nice spots to have a pint. Even the imbibing is the same. There’s nobody choosing Irish whiskey when there’s a Guinness to be poured. “Let it settle and then put a head on it,” explains a bartender. “A good creamy top.” A prideful owner of a pub in Ireland’s capital: “They all come for a pint of Guinness. Ours is the best in Dublin, thus the best anywhere.”
One pub claims to be the setting for stories in Joyce’s Dubliners. Another was where several generations of the Behan family drank, the easygoing parents and then their stormy, hard-drinking son, playwright Brendan. “My father threw him out many times,” says the current owner. And there was another late father who owned the pub where bits of David Lean’s epic, Ryan’s Daughter, were shot. Some of the rich crew tried to buy the stone floor. Today’s owner remembers his stubborn dad. “He told them that the floor was there before you arrived and it’ll be there after you leave. It won’t be moved.”
What remains in the bar from Ryan’s Daughter is an enigmatic mash note from womanizing star, Robert Mitchum, written on his celebrity photograph: “Celine, recall that we pledged on the night of passing.” Figure that one out.
So what’s the verdict on The Irish Pub? A well-meaning film, but lacking in excitement. The stories, frankly, are too polite, sanitized for the camera. There’s only one which gets at the ribaldry and rawness and jingoism of a functioning pub, a few pints in everyone’s belly. A bartender tells us with relish about the time an American woman (hiss!) came in, used the john, and complained that the lock didn’t lock on the ladies’ room. The bartender told her of his great grandfather owning this very pub and passing it to his grandfather and then his father and then him. He said to her disdainfully, “Nobody’s stolen a shit yet.”
Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of 9 books on cinema, writer-director of the documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess