James Joyce is regarded worldwide as one of the most important writers of the last century. His most famous novel, Ulysses, may be demanding, but it is also viewed as one of the most influential books ever written. Joyce led an eventful and turbulent life. His story is presented by the Oscar winning actress, Angelica Huston, who has a close affinity with his works.
Interview with Writer/Producer David Blake Knox
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
My interest in Joyce and his work began when I was still at school. I started to read “Ulysses” because I had been told it was a book about sex. At that time, the novel was virtually unobtainable in Ireland, but there was one copy in our school library. I was, of course, disappointed by what I read – at least, as far as its erotic content was concerned – and soon cast the book aside. But something about Joyce’s novel had snagged in my mind. I read his “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", before returning to “Ulysses”, and this time I was able to finish the novel.
Since then, Joyce had exerted a kind of gravitational pull on me. I made my first film about him some years ago. That feature documentary was entirely devoted to “Ulysses”. It consisted of 18 short films – each of which related, directly or indirectly, to the 18 episodes in the novel. However, I wanted to make another film that would connect his life and work more directly. This time, I wanted to feature a range of writers, talking from their own creative perspectives, about Joyce as a writer.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I believe that this film tells the story of both an extraordinary life, and a unique artistic achievement. Joyce's story begins with his chaotic childhood in Dublin. What follows is a roller-coaster of ambition, rejection, fame, madness and, above all, sacrifice – both of himself and of those close to him. Joyce's unflinching commitment to his art took place in a continent convulsed by political upheavals and cataclysmic war, and his life ended in a last desperate flight from the Nazis.
He was both denounced as a pornographer and acknowledged as a towering literary figure, and he experienced both miserable poverty and international celebrity. His influence has been long-lasting, diverse and profound – not only in literature, but also in cinema, art, music and many other aspects of popular culture. I hope that this film can appeal to those who already know a lot about Joyce and his work, to those who know virtually nothing, and to all those in-between who would like to learn more.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
All of “Ulysses” is set on just one day in Dublin in 1906. It is full of extraordinary detail about the city, and its inhabitants – so much so, in fact. that Joyce claimed if Dublin were ever destroyed in some natural catastrophe, it could be re-built through a close reading of his book. When I first read the novel, I thought it was impossible for anyone outside Ireland to have any idea what it was all about. However, in this and his other work, Joyce's genius is to find the universal in the particular.
Although the book is demanding of its readers – even of native English speakers – it is now one of the most translated books in the world. In fact, some translators in China during the Cultural Revolution were imprisoned for their attempts to translate his novel. In fact, Joyce’s work has viewed as dangerously subversive in a number of countries – including Ireland – and, even today, it is still virtually unobtainable in some.
In this documentary, I have tried to present some of the themes in Joyce's work, and to suggest why they have such a universal connection. I have also tried to show the links between Joyce’s life and his work – and how the exceptional circumstances of his life related to his creation of work that continues to absorb, intrigue, delight and perplex people across the world.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The script went through many different drafts. But, broadly speaking, there were two different phases. In the first, I tried to identify what I thought were the key themes and events that I wanted and needed to include in the film. This process involved recognising that in such a crowded life as Joyce's, and with such a huge range of work that he produced, there was a great deal that had to be excluded.
The second phase involved connecting that provisional draft to the interviews we had conducted, to the archive material that we wanted to use, and to the original visual material that we had shot. I wanted to make the film accessible and without too much exposition. Finally, this part of the process also involved Anjelica Huston expressing her own views on what she considered to be the most important elements, and allowing her distinctive voice to emerge through the script.
There were three funders of the film, and the level of knowledge of Joyce varied considerably between each country. In effect, we were making three different versions of the same film, which meant that the script had to be capable of being understood in France, Germany, Italy, etc, as well as Ireland.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
So far, there has only been positive feedback. The film has, of course, been shown in Ireland, but also in the UK and continental Europe. Both the critical and the public reaction in all of the different territories where it has been shown has been extremely positive. This confirms to me the continuing relevance and the continuing challenge of Joyce’s work. I was particularly pleased that the film received a public screening in Trieste – where Joyce began to write Ulysses - on Bloomsday a few weeks ago.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
It has delighted me that viewers in different countries and cultures have responded so positively to the film. And it has also intrigued me that different elements of the film seem to appeal more strongly to some national audiences than others.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
That more people will view the film.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I would like to find a distributor for the film – particularly, one in North America. I would also like the film to be available to be viewed in third-level institutions anywhere that Joyce's work is read and taught – and that means everywhere in the world where literature is read and taught.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I would like viewers to learn from the film something about the type of personal struggles and sacrifices that are usually involved in the creation of great art. I would like viewers to appreciate the contribution that Joyce has made not only to world literature, but also to popular culture. I would also like them to understand the important role that he played in changing public attitudes towards censorship and promoting freedom of artistic expression. They might also consider reading some of his books.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Why were Joyce's books banned for so many years in so many countries – and why are they still unobtainable in some?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Anjelica is on location, filming a new movie. The editor, Vinny Beirne, is editing a new series for the BBC. Kieron J. Walsh is working on a new drama. I’m developing a new series on cinema, and trying to finish my next book.
nterview: June 2018
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ANJELICA HUSTON ON JAMES JOYCE: A SHOUT IN THE STREET.
James Joyce is regarded worldwide as one of the most important writers of the last century. His most famous novel, Ulysses, may be demanding, but it is also viewed as one of the most influential books ever written. Joyce led an eventful and turbulent life. His story is presented by the Oscar winning actress, Angelica Huston who has a close affinity with his works.
Director: Kieron J. Walsh
Producer: David Blake Knox
Writer: David Blake Knox
About the writer, director and producer:
DAVID BLAKE KNOX has worked as a producer in Dublin, London and New York. He is also an author, and has published several books and many articles.
KIERON J WALSH is an very experienced director who has worked both on TV drama, and on feature films, primarily in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Key cast: Anjelica Huston, David Simon, Colm Toibin, Anne Enright, Edna O’Brien, Jeffrey Eugenides, Dominic West, John Banville, Fintan O’Toole, Frank McGuinness,, and Elmear McBride.
Looking for: distributors.
Funders: RTE, BBC, ARTE,