Dreamtime, Revisited is not an ordinary biography-based documentary. Based on the writings of John Moriarty the film paddles in the pool of the poet’s life very briefly drawing its inspiration instead from his poems and stories.
The directors Julius Zis and Dónal Ó Céilleachair managed to get access to several people close to the poet in his life, but decided to use them sparingly. For example there is a very brief moment in the film featuring John’s brother who tells the story of John’s receiving his leaving cert results and throwing them into the loft in the kitchen without checking them. This is his entire contribution to the film.
Instead the focus is largely based around readings of Moriarty’s poems and archive recordings of stories about his life. The imagery is prompted by these audio recordings as we are taken through many scenes of rural Ireland, a mixture of footage taken by the filmmakers themselves and archive footage of people and activities from Irish history.
This method of film-editing works particularly well in a scene in which Moriarty talks about the crookedness of Connemara. We are shown the rivers and mountaintops and the form being experimented with clicks here. The thing that will irk some viewers is just how much the film feels like an experiment, or a step towards something, rather than a complete work.
Much of the audio recordings are of poor quality making it difficult to understand a lot of what is being said and it becomes very easy to lose track of the story being told or the poem being recited. Using archive recordings would make this problem unavoidable but perhaps watching the film with subtitles might make it easier to follow, at the risk of losing track of the imagery.
The film is very heavily edited giving an impression that there isn’t exactly a confident guiding hand at work or a specific point to be extracted. It is rather a trial to see what works and what doesn’t. It has a kinship with early cinema in that, which much of the archive video is evocative of.
One thing is certain, there isn’t another film quite like this. By the end we may get the meaning of Dreamtime – whether good or bad – to be the feeling of being lulled into our own reverie.
Released exclusively at the IFI from 12 October 2012. Watch the trailer now on MEG.ie.