Published Thursday, 28 June 2012
Now, a new documentary showing at QFT, Dreaming The Quiet Man, aims to restore the film's reputation once and for all.
I met up with Dublin filmmaker Sé Merry Doyle to talk about his biggest challenge yet, a fascinating and revealing exploration of the most popular Irish movie ever made.
Narrated by Gabriel Byrne and featuring colourful contributions from Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovitch and most remarkably the 91 year old Maureen O'Hara. "The biggest intention I had with this film" Sé explained "was I'm going to make you look at The Quiet Man like you've never looked at it before...this is a genius at work".
The genius at work was of course Irish American film director John Ford and his dream for over twenty years to make a film in Ireland. Ford had already re-imagined the American West with Stagecoach, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande. Then, against the advice of the Hollywood studios, came The Quiet Man.
John Wayne plays Sean Thornton, a retired boxing champion trying to put a tragedy behind him by returning to the Irish village of his birth, Innisfree. Back home surrounded by the pastoral splendour of Connemara he finds fiery love with the flame-haired Mary Kate, played by Maureen O'Hara.
Wayne and O'Hara's first kiss is one of the great romantic scenes in cinema, striking and sensual in the foreground of a storm. The Quiet Man is John Ford's Technicolor love letter to the Emerald Isle that garnered him a Best Director Oscar. Never has a movie caught the public imagination of a place, as The Quiet Man captured a mythical Ireland.
For a new generation of Irish filmmakers The Quiet Man was the very antithesis of modern Ireland.
They wanted Irish films to be authentic and gritty reflecting real life not soppy and stereotyped. More stone than blarney. Sé Merry Doyle felt differently, "You almost had to try to hide the fact that you had an admiration for The Quiet Man because it was so reviled" he said "How can it be a bad film? Its John Ford, his signature is on it and his love of Ireland".
Dreaming The Quiet Man begins with an uncompromising quote from the brash American director Ford "The truth about my life is nobody's damn business but my own". Famously Ford never gave interviews, so Sé Merry Doyle unlocks the truth about the film by revisiting the director's roots.
He was born not John Ford but John Martin Feeney in Portland Maine, the son of Irish immigrant parents from Connemara. "He grew up in a very large family" said Sé "with a mother who never let them forget who they were and they grew up speaking Irish."
The Quiet Man was more than a dream for Ford, it was a ancestral quest. As Sé explained "His cousin Nora Connolly, she remembered John Ford as if it was yesterday when he came to make the film. His father's cottage is still there in Connemara, abandoned. And she says in Irish, he just wanted to walk the road his father walked, he wanted to see the bed he slept in, he was living this."
Now is the time for The Quiet Man's controversial reputation finally to be redressed and for Irish audiences one and all to delight in that Innisfree state of mind.
Sé Merry Doyle's documentary is a film to shout about for fans or not of The Quiet Man.
Dreaming The Quiet Man is showing exlusively at the QFT from Friday 29th June to Monday 2nd July.