Monday, 11 March 2013

'The Committments': Souls Reaching for a Future

Surely the British Hollywood director Alan Parker is better known for his other musical films ‘Fame’ (1980), ‘Pink Floyd - The Wall’ (1982) and ‘Evita’ (1996), but also ‘The Commitments’ left a lasting impression and turned out to be Ireland’s most successful film so far. The film is based on a novel by one of the most renowned among contemporary Irish authors, Roddy Doyle, that is now being published under the title ‘The Commitments although it first came out as ‘The Partitions’ in 1987. It’s the first novel of the writer’s ‘The Barrytown Trilogy’ telling the story of the Rabbitte family in Dublin, Ireland. 

The Commitments’ was entirely shot on locations in Dublin. The film was released in August 1991 starring mostly unknown young actors with predominant musical talent and little or no acting experience like Andrew Strong as Declan "Deco" Cuffe, Maria Doyle as Natalie Murphy, Bronagh Gallagher as Bernie McGloughlin, or Angeline Ball as Imelda Quirke. Robert Arkins plays Jimmy Rabbitte and Johnny Murphy gives the part of Joey "The Lips" Fagan, the only veteran in the band. Colm Meaney in the role of Jimmy Rabbitte’s father, Jimmy Rabbitte, Sr., also appeared in the other two, less famous film adaptations of Doyle’s books from ‘The Barrytown Trilogy’ (‘The Snapper’: 1993; ‘The Van’: 1996). 

The plot of ‘The Commitments’ is as simple as that of most films of this kind. Living in the working-class north side of Dublin, a group of unemployed youths decides to start a band to escape the desolate and desperate conditions of their surroundings. When they find that they don’t know enough about the music business to be successful outside their own quarters, they ask their former school mate Jimmy Rabbitte to be their manager and impresario. Although his father thinks little of it, Jimmy Rabbitte accepts the offer under the condition that he’s allowed to make fundamental changes. First of all he wants the band to play classical soul music because he loves it and because he’s convinced that this could be the right niche for a young Dublin-based band with their background. It fits perfectly into Jimmy Rabbitte view that “the Irish are the blacks of Europe and Dubliners the blacks of Ireland”. The next step is to give the band a new name. Jimmy Rabbitte proposes ‘The Commitments’ because it resounds the names of many famous soul bands of the 1950s and 1960s. Then they make an audition to fill up their rows with new musicians and backing singers. That way Joey "The Lips" Fagan, a 45-year-old trumpeter with an inclination to talking big about his past and going after the young backing singers, joins the band. From then on the band’s success is rising, but soon the members begin to quarrel (with the backing singers and their relationship to Joey offering more than once a good cause) and Jimmy Rabbitte has a hard time keeping the band together. In the end he can’t prevent the inevitable and the band falls apart. 

It’s certainly true that ‘The Commitments’ doesn’t show much of grand acting or stunningly good dialogues, but it’s entertaining and it probably gives a good picture of how life might have been like in the quarters of Dublin that were widely stricken by unemployment around 1990. Besides, the musical performance of the cast is excellent and in my opinion always makes it worth the while watching this film.

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