“THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE SEAN NOS DANCER” ~ AN APPRECIATION
“THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE SEAN NOS DANCER” is an affectionate and wryly knowing, low-budget comedy that sits perfectly with the canon of writer-director Dermott Petty.
Petty’s films “Man Band” and “Paddy Takes an Interview” had already established his cleverness as a writer and his ability to produce big laughs for small money. But it was with experiments like “For Goth and Country” and “The Man from Q” that his distinct personal brand began to emerge, in which he blended a wonderfully regional Irish comedy with cinema’s classic genres.
The increased urbanisation of Irish society in the last several decades had pushed this regional sensibility into the media background, and after John B. Keane it had gone unserved for some time, until finally revitalised by Pat Shortt, and later more abrasively by the plays of Martin McDonough. But it is a seam of comedy waiting keenly to be mined, and Petty as both a native West Clare man and a veteran of the American media industry is perfectly poised to engineer that process.
On the surface, “THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE SEAN NOS DANCER” is an anomaly ~ a Spaghetti Western set in the West of Ireland. But of course anomaly is precisely the point of Petty’s comedy. But the two cultures, Irish and Western, blend instantly in the opening theme music. We’re on our way!
In fact, any question as to the “validity” of the film’s core idea completely ignores the history of the American West and of the Western itself. The entire Spaghetti Western genre is a history of filmmakers borrowing from each ~ often across multiple cultures. Furthermore Ireland’s connection to the West and its contribution to the Western genre is hugely significant.
The desolation inflicted on Ireland and the Irish people by the mid-nineteenth century merged effortlessly with the deprivations they experienced on the American frontier. The rebel spirit of the Irish thrived there, and several of its legendary outlaws and fighters were Irish. Billy the Kid’s real name was McCarty; Custer’s regiment were known as The Garryowen. Most importantly of all, it was the son of a native Connemara couple, filmmaker John Ford, who was to forge the very mythology of the West itself.
But it was with Kurosawa’s samurai “Western”, “Yojimbo”, and its subsequent re-imagining by Sergio Leone in “A Fistful of Dollars”, that the subversion of this mythology began. The world of the Spaghetti Western was a more merciless place, exposing a venality that was far removed from the honour and nobility of the American vision of itself. As “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” famously quoted, if you have to choose between the truth and the legend “print the legend”. Now the legend was being exposed as a myth.
Central to the Spaghetti Western was the spectre of endemic corruption, cruelty and injustice, particularly to the undeserving and weak. It’s a deeply anti-establishment genre ~ hardly surprisingly, considering that it was being financed in, among others, an Italy riven by political chicanery and a Spain still writhing under Franco’s rule.
Also central to the genre was the trope of the Travelling Angel, the unknown stranger whose arrival in town becomes a catalyst in the lives of all concerned, and the agent by which that corruption is brought to book ~ often in the form of The Big Showdown. In “THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE SEAN NOS DANCER” these templates have all been faithfully honoured. But Petty goes even further, referencing many other tropes of the form: the sneering desk man, the barroom temptress and the surly mentor, for instance, and also incorporates the classic mechanism of the genre ~ the merging of the Hero’s enemies into a mass alliance ranged against him, pushing the obstacle to his task to near insurmountability.
But to fully see the film’s place in this tradition, you have to look to the later development of the Spaghetti Western. That evolution was into broad comedy ~ with the “Trinity” series from Terence Hill & Bud Spencer. And it is here that the near-nihilism of the genre was replaced by triumphal clowning, and by an archness that is almost out of Italy’s other great tradition, the Commedia del Arte.
Physical comedy was a key element of the “Trinity” series. And it is easy to see the sean nos dance-off of our Big Showdown as continuous with this, the final culmination of the farcicality of the entire film. This is a farcicality which the “Trinity” series wholeheartedly embraced. Hill & Spencer turned the genre on its head, exposing it almost as a zen joke: in a world of madness the only sane thing was to be mad oneself! “THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE SEAN NOS DANCER” has captured that daftness ~ in spades. That great edit where the Hero wonders where he’ll get a dance licence, and we suddenly cut to a close-up of the sign reading “Dance Commissioner” tells us hilariously that we’re now into the realms of highest farce.
In fact, the pervasive bathos and the shambolic quality of the film are the zen joke here. (“The Man With No Name” is now “The Man With No Donkey”.) A rough, homemade quality was also a key characteristic of the Spaghetti Western. This film includes us, the viewers, in the fact ~ even the gloriousness ~ of the low budget and the challenged circumstances that produced it. (Petty’s inclusion of his viewer, a sense of sharedness in watching his films, is a consistent characteristic of his work.)
But beyond the throwaway tone, there is a more resonant film here. And it is very hard not to see in it a metaphor for the corruption that has infected Ireland’s body politic in the recent past. The greed, petty graft and egregious cunning that characterised the opening of the American West makes a perfect echo of Ireland’s age-old parish-pump politics and the “greasy till” gombeenery that found its full flowering in the crazed land-grab of her so-called “boom” years ~ a “cowboy” culture if ever there was one!
What our Hero goes up against is a dark alliance of the town’s power players, one a licensor who refuses to license (suggesting both cartel arrangements and banks that won’t lend), another a gun-toting Sherriff with vested interests: a political boss who’s clearly on the take. There’s a lot more going on here than simple small-town “differences”, to put it mildly.
It’s also interesting that sean nos dancing provides our battleground. Obviously this allows the film to have the shambolic equivalent of a climactic gunfight. But the right to dance at the core of the storyline is a hugely resonant leitmotif. Native dance in any society is deeply emblematic of its cultural expression at large. One only has to look at the gob-smacking impact of “Riverdance”, both globally and as a revitalisation of Ireland’s own appreciation of its native (though admittedly reinterpreted) dance.
But the idea of the suppression of dance carries a great weight of significance in Irish culture, though many viewers of the film may now experience it only unconsciously. It’s hard not to think of Dermott Petty’s own heartland of the Burren, whose desolation was famously referenced by Oliver Cromwell, yet an area where Irish traditional culture is still staunchly alive today, and not understand the link between the historic subjugations of Irish cultural expression and Petty’s apparently “whimsical” and “arbitrary” leitmotif here.
In the climactic dance-off Petty replaces suppression with celebration, and even brings in the rap music concept of competitive street dancing to settle differences ~ as an alternative to gunfights! The fit is perfect.
“THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE SEAN NOS DANCER” is a small act of cultural score-settling, a knowing reminder of the vitality of our traditions, and a gentle jab-in-the-ribs at the betrayal of our national values by recent events.
Petty’s choices are anything but accidental. Indeed the filmmaker knows exactly what he’s doing ~ every step of the way.
In a West of Ireland village, a Stranger finds out that only certain people are allowed to Dance.
The film “The Good The Bad & The Sean Nós Dancer” is a is a Spaghetti Western with Sean Nós Dancing and dubbed in Irish (in the style of Spaghetti Westerns) The Irish voices is done by Michael Canavagh and Joan O’Hanrahan.
Buachaillí damhsa Sean Nós agus Buachaillí @SnaGaeilge @popupgael @TG4TV @ireland @theirishfor @PEIG_ie@irishlanguage I sráidbhaile in Iarthar na hÉireann, faigheann strainséir amach nach gceadaítear damhsa ach do dhaoine áirithe. Is é an scannán “The Good The Bad & The Sean Nós Dancer” ná Spaghetti Western with Sean Nós Dancing
Starring in ‘The Good The Bad & the Sean Nós Dancer’ is the Irish Dancing Sean Nós Dancie champion and Dance teacher Gerard Butler.The film also stars Colin Butler who plays the Sheriff, Anne Marie Neiligan who plays the Cowgirl, Keith Bogue plays the Bandito, Gerard Howard plays the Cobbler, Lorna Bogue plays the Bar fly and Andy Grindrod plays the Dance Commissioner.
’This is a Spaghetti Western where Irish is dubbed in after shooting the film in English, which is a copy of what Spaghetti Westerns used to do. They would shoot the film in either Italian or Spanish and then would dub the film in English in the editing. The Irish voices is done by Michael Canavagh and Joan O’Hanrahan.
Written, Directed and Produced as part of the MA In Creative Media at the Institute of Technology Tralee, in Co Kerry, by Dermott Petty. This film was created to illustrate the vibrancy of how a folk culture survives in an ever-changing world by adopting, re-jigging, interpreting, and by its creation making the outside popular culture work for the existing yet constantly altering folk culture.
It is homage to genre films, folk cultures and an exploration of post modernism. Is Spaghetti Western é ‘an Good, The Bad & The Sean Nós Dancer’ le damhsa Sean Nós agus tugtar ainm ar an nGaeilge as an mBéarla. Through the creation of the hybrid film “The Good,The Bad and The Sean Nós Dancer” the question is been asked; can culture such as Sean Nós Dancing survive in a world dominated increasingly by mass Western culture? Can a story’s peculiar to one culture be told in a genre created in another culture, through a culture or technology that may not have existed or been available when a type of culture first emerged?
Through the execution of the hybrid film “The Good, The Bad and The Sean Nos Dancer” the question will be asked; can culture such as Sean Nos Dance survive in an world dominated increasingly by mass produced homogenised culture?