Monday, May 7, 2012

On May 5th 2012 Donald Clarke wrote a damaging and disingenuous article about the people behind the movie Charlie Casanova for the Irish Times titled: ‘Five stars? I don’t f*****ng think so’

Hugely influential British critic, Mark Kermode tweeted a link to the article on the same day with the words "Good piece from Donald Clarke at Irish Times on the misuse of crix quotes" and, as fallacy became fact in both Ireland and the UK, the Irish Times refused a right of reply. (In an ugly update, Newstalk's Tom Dunne facilitated 'critic' George Byrne in presenting a further attack but we'll get to that later). First is Donald Clarke's article followed by the rebuttal the Irish Times refused to print (There are four *footnotes* at the end of this.) 

Five stars? I don’t f*****ng think so

On a bus near you, a DONALD CLARKE quote is selling'Charlie Casanova. The problem? He didn't like the film and he really doesn't like the ads
WHEN I’M ASKED to list my favourite films, I rarely fail to include Alexander Mackendrick’s great Sweet Smell of Success. The picture, released in 1957, features Burt Lancaster as the malevolent journalist all hacks secretly wish to become. JJ Hunsecker can destroy careers with a few carefully placed syllables. Politicians quake when he raises an eyebrow. More to the current point, he has his name written on the side of all the newspaper’s vans. When Tony Curtis, playing a dishonest publicist named Sidney Falco, stops for a cup of coffee in Times Square, the street behind him swells with automotive advertisements for Hunsecker’s column.
This week, I finally got a sense of how it must feel to be JJ. Are you reading this in Dublin? Then glance out of the window and, likely as not, you’ll see my name emblazoned on a passing bus. They’re everywhere. Ten per cent of the fleet appears to be wearing the new Clarke livery. Why am I not happy? The vehicles are carrying commercials for a new Irish film, Charlie Casanova. Apparently Donald Clarke of The Irish Times thinks that Terry McMahon’s social satire is “a pretty jaw-dropping piece of work”. Mine is the only quote on the advertisement. The lettering is not small. It looks as if, like Pauline Kael standing up for Bonnie and Clyde, I am going out of my way to promote a brave new experimental film.
Here’s the problem. I would rather drink dilute caustic soda then sit through Charlie Casanova again. The quote is drawn from my report on the 2011 Galway Film Fleadh. After admitting that jaws may drop, I went on to say that the acting was satisfactory and that (a bit generous, this) the “tech-work is up to scratch”. The paragraph finished: “As the existentially troubled antihero engages with this contemporary Hades, large lumps of quasi-philosophic waffle squash the preposterous voiceover into puzzling indigestibility.”
We will, for two reasons, refrain from detailing too closely the abundant deficiencies of Charlie Casanova. Firstly, it is polite to delay such rabbit punching until the week of release. Secondly, given the film’s marketing to date, it looks as if there is no comment, however savage, that it is not prepared to regard as a recommendation. In the “reviews” section of the film’s website, it extracts the phrase “borders on audience abuse” from Variety’s unremittingly negative notice. If I were to say that the film plays like the deranged, over-reaching ramblings of a glue sniffer who has read the jacket blurbs – but no more – of too many Albert Camus novels, there would be every chance of that phrase appearing prominently in the publicity material. So I’ll say something else instead.
This business of pulling quotes out of context for promotional purpose has been going on for aeons. My favourite example of the art involves another Irish film. A little over a decade ago, an unprepossessing little picture called The Most Fertile Man in Ireland made it into British cinemas. Mark Kermode, standing in for Philip French at the Observer, was not in the least impressed. “Sadly, The Most Fertile Man in Ireland is every bit as hilarious as its title suggests,” Kermode wrote. When the film emerged on DVD the sentence was quoted on the box. But there was a tiny, significant omission. The word “sadly” was nowhere to be seen.
Kermode has granted that, in this case, you really have to admire the marketing wonks’ chutzpah. Whereas the misuse of my quote in Busgate involved a degree of creative ambiguity, the distributors of Most Fertile Man were implying Kermode’s phrase meant precisely the opposite of what he intended.
THE LEGAL POSITION is slippery. When I mentioned the bus business to fellow critics, few of whom were any more fond of Charlie Casanova, they made comical side-clutching gestures and fell theatrically from their seats. After pulling himself together, one then commented: “That has to be illegal.” A phone call to The Irish Times’s lawyers confirmed that such quote-mining could conceivably involve an infringement of the journalist’s copyright. Misrepresenting a critic for financial gain is not considered “fair usage”.
It hardly needs to be said (relax, Terry) that, even if I were on sounder legal ground, I would not consider suing. My main emotion is amusement. Still, it is only fair to hold the distributors to account. Element Pictures, which handles the film in this country, explained that its partner Studio Canal, the French-based company that acquired the film for the UK and Ireland, was responsible for plastering my name on all those blameless buses. The company’s London office offered a bland response: “The marketing assets for Charlie Casanova were created following close collaboration with the producer/director. The quote was directly taken from an Irish Times article on July 12th, 2011.”
Though the law may be ambiguous, there is a degree of moral dubiousness to such Machiavellian jiggery-pokery. When excerpting a misleading quote, the distributors are exploiting the consumer’s trusting nature. We are grown-ups. You don’t have to be Umberto Eco to grasp the uncertain nature of language. Of course, “jaw-dropping” can imply both delight and horror. If, however, one encounters that phrase in promotional material one, quite reasonably, assumes it was intended as a compliment.
Yet these sorts of games are played all the time. In recent years the movie trailer has become increasingly unreliable. A recent promo for Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus portrayed the film as an unremitting action picture loaded with explosions and trademark grimacing from the fearsome Gerard Butler. Few excerpts of dialogue are longer than six words. Why, it’s almost as if they don’t want you to know the film is an adaptation of a play by William Shakespeare.
Distributors frequently issue trailers of foreign-language pictures that conceal the product’s origins. You could sit through the promotional slots for The Lives of Others or the original version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo without getting any sense that the dialogue was, respectively, in German and Swedish. Most promos for Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd did an admirable job of concealing the fact that the film was a musical.
Why do we put up with it? Well, moviegoers may be trusting, but few of them are complete idiots. Surprised by iambic pentameter, Swedish verbs or Steven Sondheim melodies, average punters sigh and remark, once again, upon the dubious nature of marketing. No sane person really expects that yogurt to reverse heart disease or that unguent to turn you into Rachel Weisz.
Let us return to Sweet Smell of Success. In it, Hunsecker muses upon the treacherous aspects of Sidney Falco’s business. “Mr Falco, whom I did not invite to sit at this table tonight, is a hungry press agent, and fully up to all the tricks of his very slimy trade,” JJ remarks. The columnist is a little harsh. But we have to allow a degree of artistic licence. Don’t we? As we’ve seen, that’s the way of the world.


“Kill me, push me through a window somewhere, 
I walked into this hallowed ground without knocking.” 


World-class film critics like Anthony Lane or Pauline Kael are alchemists. They possess the psychological and moral strength to facilitate cinema. Irish Times film critic, Donnie Clarke might be one too. (Perhaps only his friends call him Donnie, but he has referred to me like he knows me in a few of his articles so I feel a kinship). I also have a man-crush on Donnie. I may have a crush on that entire cultured circle of his. Comprised of a cosy coterie of critics when this circle heard Donnie had been quoted on bus advertisements for a new film, Charlie Casanova, they, “made comical side-clutching gestures and fell theatrically from their seats.” Then The Irish Times lawyers were called to find out how “slippery” the law might get as dear old Donnie wrote his damning Busgate article.

Donnie, you see, would “rather drink dilute caustic soda than sit through Charlie Casanova again.” Now, some of you may feel that a futile, self-fellating Friday night poison-penning about drinking caustic soda belies an ego so fragile it requires a mocked-up poster of one’s face on a Dublin bus to quell the reality of being a eunuch, but you’d be wrong. Donnie has risen above the frailty of the human condition. 

According to the Big Book, Saint Paul was on a road trip to Damascus when God had a word. Now Paul never met the carpenter-cum-Christ but that didn’t stop him claiming the inside track on all things Jesus and building his own religion. Like Paul, Donnie’s acutely attuned ears must have heard the cinema gods exalt the glories of abstract theory because only fools make actual films and Donnie's no fool. It takes a real genius to critique. And, the way he built his Busgate article around the 1957 movie Sweet Smell of Success, be in no doubt, Donnie is a genius. If you don’t believe me, ask him.

I’m not a genius. In fact, since Donnie outed me, I have to confess to you now, I am a glue sniffer. There, I’ve said it. Describing Charlie Casanova as “the deranged, over-reaching ramblings of a glue sniffer who has read the jacket blurbs – but no more – of too many Albert Camus novels,” Donnie knows a thing or two about writing. People like me, you see, can’t read Camus. People like me pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of Camus. People like me only read the tabloids and, when we hit big words, we turn to the page 3 girls we will never meet or make love to. People like me know nothing about cinema. People like me don’t know Sweet Smell of Success or that Burt Lancaster played Donnie’s hero JJ Hunseker in that movie. People like me have no right to conceive of making a movie examining the delusions of corrupted elitism and the malignancy of class separation. If you don’t believe me, ask Donnie.

Only people like Donnie and his kind can read Albert Camus. Only people like Donnie can quote JJ Hunseker. Only people like Donnie have the right to examine complex ideas. That’s why I am making a secret second confession. I want in. I want to reach past the jacket blurbs and read the inside pages. I want to be told by my betters how to react to books and movies. I want people like Donnie to tell me what to see, think and feel until it sends spasms up my corpus spongiosum. (See? Simply thinking of joining Donnie’s gang has rendered this luddite conversant in Latin). I want to discuss the modern philosophical movement in movies the way Kant can’t but Cannes can, (with the ‘s’ silent as I now also speak French). I want to be paid to spew sneering prejudice onto newspapers. I want to luxuriate in never having to make anything. Goddamit, I want The Irish Times lawyers on my speed dial. I do. If you don’t believe me, ask Donnie.

“The next time you want information, 
don't scratch for it like a dog, ask for it like a man.” 


One of the articles where Donnie writes about me like he knows me is from July 22nd last year. Donnie evidently logged on to the Charlie Casanova website, and, selectively taking quotes, he constructed a disingenuous piece aligning Charlie Casanova with a dubiously used Mark Kermode review of another film. (He rehashed the same anecdote in his recent article). This was done without my permission but when I reached to speed-dial my lawyers I remembered I didn’t have a lawyer. At the time Charlie Casanova had won a few awards and lost a few more but we had some heavyweights behind us who recognized something in the film that others hadn’t.

Despite a crippling Variety review, Janet Pierson picked Charlie Casanova as one of the top films of the 2011 SXSW Film Festival. Selected for Edinburgh and a couple of other festivals, Charlie Casanova’s polemic screenings were dividing audiences but attracting serious advocates too, including major distributors, Studio Canal. Boasting one of the greatest modern film libraries around, Studio Canal invited Charlie Casanova to join that library and a May 11th 2012 cinema release was set. Multiple quotes were available but, in deference to the reputation of Donnie Clarke, we used a quote from his July 12th piece on The Galway Film Fleadh where Charlie Casanova had just won Best First Feature. It appeared Donnie was conflicted by the film but he also seemed to give a balanced overview and we used his precise words, “A pretty jaw-dropping piece of work.” This is his piece below where you can verify that he was neither misquoted nor recontexualized :

"Parked and The Pier could not be more different in tone and setting to Terry McMahon’s utterly bizarre Charlie Casanova . The film has already been picking up various classes of buzz at festivals such as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. It turns out to be a pretty jaw-dropping piece of work. This is one of several recent films that (a little belatedly, perhaps) seek to address the phenomenon of the new young rich in post-boom Ireland. Selling itself as the first movie conceived and constructed via Facebook, Charlie Casanova follows a psychopathically selfish berk as he slaps, shags and ultimately murders his way around a city trapped in near-permanent night. The actors are pretty good. The glossy, claustrophobic tech-work is up to scratch. But, darling, the dialogue! McMahon, a man of no small ambition, has (deliberately or not) pitched his tent somewhere between Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Albert Camus’s L’Étranger (and on the same plain as Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man) . As the existentially troubled anti-hero engages with this contemporary Hades, large lumps of quasi-philosophic waffle squash the preposterous voiceover into puzzling indigestibility.

The film reaches tipping point when the hero begins a rant at a comedy club with the opening line of that Camus book. Thank heavens the poor fellow’s mother wasn’t alive to see it. (Get it?) Charlie Casanova clearly worked for many viewers. McMahon’s film shared the best first feature award with the less overheated Parked . There is, thus, every chance it will reach your local cinema some time soon."

Now, have a look at Donald Clarke's article written several days later, dated July 22nd. We hadn't been picked up for cinema release by Studio Canal yet and mister Donald Clarke's tone is almost friendly.

Films can embrace bad reviews, writes DONALD CLARKE

A FEW WEEKS ago, Terry McMahon’s Charlie Casanova , a somewhat overheated study of modern-day Irish depravity, played at the Galway Film Fleadh. Not everyone liked it, but the film still managed to share the prize for best first feature. Hats off, Terry.

If you want to get some sense of the acclaim gathering around Charlie Casanova then make your way to the press section of the film’s website. Something called Off Plus Camera said, “ Don’t Miss It! ” No equivocation there. An organ entitled LA2DAY argues that the film “pulses with a voracious lust to provoke”. Good for it! The really interesting entry, however, detailed the responses of the prestigious Variety magazine. Here’s the quote in full: “A punishing experience . . . Borders on audience abuse . . . Aggressively abrasive.”

Now, there are, I guess, three reasons why the film-makers chose this (at best) ambiguous snippet from Andrew Barker’s unimpressed review. Firstly, they may have decided to honestly own up to the fact that some critics were not won over. Secondly, proud of their film’s controversial tone, they perhaps savour shocked responses. Thirdly, they may feel that, plucked from their context, the naked adjectives would look as if they were meant as a peculiar class of recommendation.

Our purpose is not to slag off the canny entrepreneurs behind this low-budget film. With no marketing budget to speak of, the Charlie Casanova folk must use all available means to promote it.

This business of using quotes from the press for promotional purposes is, however, a peculiar one. Certain periodicals seem to offer particularly fecund slabs of complimentary copy. Rare is the rom-com that fails to include a quote from Grazia magazine on its day-glo poster.

If mention on three-sheet banners were a measure of influence, then the website Little White Lies would be regarded as more powerful than the New York Times. (Perhaps it is. Media moves so quickly these days.) At least the quotes from less prestigious organs generally comprise unedited sentences. The single words plucked from reviews – “Stunning” – positively invite suspicion. Anybody with half a brain will wonder if the journalist actually wrote, “It is stunning that anything quite so awful could be imposed on a largely blameless public”.

Alas, the most outrageous example this writer has yet encountered of context-abuse occurred in relation to another low-budget Irish film. One DVD release of The Most Fertile Man in Ireland carried the following quote from Mark Kermode’s review in the Observer : “ The Most Fertile Man in Ireland is every bit as hilarious as its title suggests.” But that paper’s website shows that Mark placed the word “sadly” at the start of the sentence.

It’s hard to get angry about this. The sheer chutzpah is so impressive you have to applaud it. Anyway, it’s nice to know that somebody somewhere still gives a hoot about the blatherings of print journalists. It may not last.

Is there anything misleading thus far? Somebody is indeed misrepresenting quotes. But it's not us. If you don’t believe me, ask Donnie. Actually don't. I will.

“Don't remove the gangplank, Sidney - you may wanna get back onboard."


The Ahern-esque hubris of your suicidal caustic soda comment aside, Donnie, you remain a humane and passionate protector of cinema. Your ability to quote verbatim from Sweet Smell of Success is testament to that. Yet, how did it evade your unimpeachable radar that this glue sniffing, overreaching illiterate slipped a direct quote from Sweet Smell of Success into Charlie Casanova? “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.” Do you recognise that quote?

You see, Donnie, some of us know more about Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success than you and your cosy coterie presume. It’s a quote from Tony Curtis playing Sidney Falco and we use it in the opening sequence of Charlie Casanova. Clifford Odets wrote that line. But you know that already, don’t you?

You dismiss me as an illiterate who can’t read Camus, concoct misleading articles about quotes, then select Sweet Smell of Success to build an article damning the film and the filmmaker, yet you miss a direct quote from the very film you selected to flex your cinematic knowledge? I’d explain the dramatic irony to you, Donnie, but you’re smart enough to be aware of it already. Aren't you.

You see, Donnie it’s not that you didn’t engage with Charlie Casanova that bothers me. Nor is it your elevated sense of self. Or that you’ve never had the courage to personally make a movie. What bothers me, Donnie, is your belief that only people like you and your coterie can reference MacKendrik or Camus.

What bothers me, Donnie, is there are entire generations out there that you and the Irish Times know nothing about.

What bother's me, Donnie, is we exist in a culture where alleging a politician has a predilection for booze results in a 450,000 Euro payout but you can say or write whatever you want about anybody from the working class with impunity.

What bothers me, Donnie, insults is you can print what you want about me yet, even though this has the same word count as your article, Donnie, the Irish Times have refused to print this.

The truth is, Donald, you don’t know me. We’re not friends. If we were, you’d know I’d come out fighting. When you speed-dialled those Irish Times lawyers, did you not feel the need to run your future article past them? Defamation is a serious business, Donald. Do your lawyers know, Donald, that, backed by the might of The Irish Times, you have unlawfully done discernible damage to the reputation and livelihood of a citizen? I don’t f*****ng think so.

So, should you find yourself forced to choose between caustic soda and a re-watch of Charlie Casanova those Irish Times lawyers will be there for you, Donald Clarke, diluted caustic soda in one hand and a copy of Sweet Smell of Success in the other, all prepped to skip to the JJ Hunseker scene where he says, “You’re dead, son. Get yourself buried.” If you don’t believe me, ask your lawyers.

*Five footnotes below*

To put this handbags at dawn bullshit to bed we were both invited onto the Arena Show on May 8th. One of us didn't show. It wasn't me.

The Irish Times refused to print my rebuttal and Donald Clarke refused to open the online right-to-reply facility at the bottom of his article.

I sued nobody.

*second footnote* 

On May 10th, the day before the film opened, Tom Dunne's show on the national broadcaster, Newstalk, had 'critic' George Byrne review the film. Byrne's review of the film is his own opinion but, aided and abetted by a surprisingly sneering Tom Dunne (who hadn't seen the film), George Byrne was given free reign to present Donald Clarke's fallacious article as fact  and then use it  as qualification to personally malign the filmmaker, as a liar and describing him thus : "Imagine, if you will, a fifteen-year old boy, who is continually refused dances when he's asking girls to dance - he's never had a girlfriend - has half read The Diceman by Luke Rhinehart, has completely misunderstood American Psycho and then give him access to a camera and a cast... a self conscious rant from the bowls of a deep and dark and disturbed mind." Tom Dunne sniggered his way throughout, proclaiming, "We don't have a clip of Charlie Casanova, which I suspect may be a merciful release." 

*third footnote*

Donald Clarke penned his promised "rabbit punching" review the day Charlie Casanova opened and, though he damned the film, he veered away from evisceration and wrote a patronizing but quite smart piece, however, precisely as he had done with his original Galway Film Fleadh review, he added a little revisionism to his recognition of the Sidney Falco quote from Sweet Smell of Success :


Directed by Terry McMahon. Starring Emmett J Scanlan, Leigh Arnold, Valeria Bandino, Johnny Elliott, Thomas Farrell, Damien Hannaway, Ruth McIntyre 16 cert, limited release, 91 min
This angry critique of post-Tiger Ireland fails to live up to its potential, writesDONALD CLARKE
PREPARE TO fan your armpits. Get ready to pat your brow with iced water. The angriest film of the year has just brawled its way into the multiplex.
Terry McMahon’s extraordinary Charlie Casanova presents itself as a Rabelaisian evisceration of post-Tiger Ireland. Sending a horrific personification of the nation about a nocturnal Hades, the film looks to be positively inviting certain unattractive knee- jerk objections.
Turn away from the thing and you risk denying that, over the past decade and a half, Ireland has given into greed and vulgarity. Hold your nose and you may give the impression that you can’t quite handle the film’s violence, profanity and queasy sexuality. Perhaps you mistake the protagonist’s half- baked pop nihilism for a sincere expression of the writer-director’s own philosophy.
You fools! You suit-wearing, limousine-driving, establishment-kowtowing stooges! A vote against Charlie Casanova is a vote in favour of – to reference Marxist cartoons of the last century – overstuffed cats in top hats who eat money and defecate on starving factory workers.
No. The problem with Charlie Casanova is not to do with its largely admirable attitude towards our current diseased polity. The problems are all to do with its execution.
This relentlessly one-note, indigestibly overwritten picture duplicates the experience of being trapped in a train carriage with a bore who’s spent too much time at the drinks trolley. There’s a good film bursting to get out, but it hasn’t been allowed space to breathe.
Emmett J Scanlan, familiar to viewers of Hollyoaks, plays a stereotypically evil businessperson named Charlie Barnum. He rents houses to unfortunate non-nationals. He wastes no opportunity to pour scorn on the working classes. “You think I’m a beast? The devil? The boogyman? I’m not. I’m you,” he says while driving malevolently about the city. If you say so, mate.
Charlie and his cohorts are staying in (boo!) a bland hotel while (boo!) attending some sort of business conference. Drifting into Bonfire of the Vanities territory, the film finds Charlie knocking over an unfortunate citizen in his motorcar. It hardly needs to be said that he doesn’t report the crime to the authorities.
Over drinks, Charlie introduces his cohorts to a new strategy for coping with life’s challenges. When confronted with a decision, the disciple is invited to determine his or her path by randomly drawing playing cards. Anyone who’s read Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man will have some idea how the action proceeds. Further atrocities follow as Charlie’s megalomania increases.
Produced on a miniscule budget, the film often makes a virtue of its limitations. Eoin Macken’s grimy cinematography chimes with the mordant narrative tone. The tight framing increases the sense of claustrophobia. But, despite the presence of a formal three-act structure, Charlie Casanova is totally overpowered by the exhausting, incessant pontificating of its baldly drawn protagonist.
Charlie says the same thing a hundred times and he always says it at nauseatingly extended length. The prose (and that’s the word) features all the clauses, sub-clauses and parenthetical asides you’d expect to encounter in the tracts distributed by embarrassing street lunatics outside mainline railway stations. Of course, Charlie really is a lunatic. But this is not dialogue. It’s an articulated screed.
It doesn’t help that Scanlan – a talented actor, it must be said – delivers the endless gibberish in a heightened, enormous style better suited to a one-man show in a pub theatre. The hand gestures are archly symmetric. Some pauses are so huge that you half expect the words “video buffering” to appear upon the screen.
The picture reaches its over- reaching nadir when Charlie presents a rant at a basement comedy club. Charlie Casanova is engorged with literary and cinematic echoes: a quote from the divine Sweet Smell of Success; frequent shadows of the idiotic Fight Club; that plot point from Bonfire of the Vanities. But having Charlie begin his diatribe with (intentionally or not) the opening line of Albert Camus’s L’Étranger is an allusion too far. It’s akin to allowing that volume to poke conspicuously from the pocket of a corduroy jacket.
Still, there is unquestionably potential on display. If everybody involved took a deep breath and reined themselves in they might yet land a blow on the nation’s unreconstructed vultures.
Too in love with itself, Charlie Casanova just lets the bastards off the hook.
On the same day The Irish Times also ran this article from Tara Brady :


Charlie Casanova is a hardcore tale of a post-Celtic-Tiger sociopath. ‘We’ve had profoundly extreme responses,’ writer- director Terry McMahon tellsTARA BRADY
WHEN A SMALL, low budget, independent film makes a splash on the festival circuit, it’s a cause for celebration. And when a small, low budget, independent, Irish film makes a splash and gets picked up by a major distributor, that’s even better news, right? Not always, apparently. The hardcore content of Charlie Casanova, a controversial new Irish indie, was never likely to attract a street parade or a feel-good following. Still, by now the makers have become accustomed to metaphorical missiles and figurative rotten fruit.
“We’ve had profoundly extreme responses,” notes director Terry McMahon. “We’ve had standing ovations. We’ve had walkouts. There have been awards. There have been fights and spitting fury. We’ve had it all.”
A pointedly amoral polemic rooted in the same sociopathic framework as Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man, Terry McMahon’s debut feature re-imagines Cathleen Ní Houlihan as a privileged, moustachioed, middle-class murderer. The film’s titular protagonist, as energetically essayed by Hollyoaks’s Emmett J Scanlan, allows the turn of a card to determine every action. So, by Charlie’s reckoning, if the devil’s picture-book produces anything between an ace or a five then sleeping with his best friend’s wife or even killing a random stranger has to be okay. “When I created the character I thought he was a grotesque,” says McMahon. “The notion of being a sociopath, the idea of being somebody for whom everybody else is a mark, and is there to be exploited, I thought that I had exaggerated those aspects of his character to an operatic degree. And now look at where we are. Look at the lies that were told pre-election and post-election. Charlie’s not an exaggeration – he’s a poster child for a generation.”

For its detractors, notably Variety critic Andrew Barker, McMahon’s abrasive creation is just that: “A film about an intolerable man who does intolerable things to his friends while pontificating for intolerably long periods, Terry McMahon’s Charlie Casanova is a punishing experience,” wrote Barker in March, 2011.
Last weekend, Donald Clarke, writing in one of this imprint’s more grown-up sections, dismissed the film as “ . . . the deranged, over-reaching ramblings of a glue sniffer who has read the jacket blurbs – but no more – of too many Albert Camus novels”.
McMahon, a softly spoken and articulate father of three who could not have less in common with his demented, misanthropic anti-hero, is philosophical about the negative notices.
“If I had set out to make a romantic comedy and you didn’t have a bit of a giggle then we’d have a problem,” he says.
“Charlie Casanova was always intended to be a divisive film. We got murdered in Variety. But I always knew as I was writing it and executing it, that everything about it – from how I directed the actors to how we edited it – was difficult and confrontational. I wanted Charlie to be abrasive. I wanted it to be punk rock. It’s meticulously structured but that structure is concealed. I didn’t want it to give any answers. I wanted it to provoke nothing but questions. And some people adore that about it and some people fucking hate it.”
The film’s admirers include the judging panel at the European Independent Film Festival in Paris, where Emmett J Scanlan picked up the award for best actor, and the Galway Film Fleadh, where Charlie Casanova shared the best first feature award with Darragh Byrne’s Parked. Meanwhile, across the pond, McMahon’s scathing satire became the first non-American title to make it into the narrative feature competition at the SXSW Film Festival.
Indeed, festival programmer Janet Pierson, an industry maven who helped to bring She’s Gotta Have It, The Blair Witch Project, Clerks and Slacker to the big screen, is one of the film’s most vocal champions. “Janet Pierson stood up in front of the world’s press and said ‘My favourite film used to be Mike Leigh’s Naked but now my favourite film is Charlie Casanova’,” recalls McMahon. “This is a woman who is legendary. The things that she has done, the films she has been involved with are remarkable. And she puts her reputation on the line for this tiny film from an unknown film-maker featuring an unknown cast. What she did was incredible.”
For all the haters, Charlie Casanova, the movie, has led a charmed life to rival that of its unblinking protagonist. Terry McMahon – a veteran actor who turns up in Batman Begins, who featured alongside Paul Bettany and David Morrissey in The Suicide Club, and who appeared with David and Robert Carradine in Dangerous Curves – has written for Irish soap Fair City and has a mantle of awards at home. He’s won the RKO Pictures Hartley-Merrill International Screenwriting Prize in Cannes and Los Angeles and the Tiernan McBride Screenwriting Award. He’s been commissioned to write screenplays for Daryl Hannah and Paddy Breathnach. Crucially, however, none of these projects have made it into a multiplex near you.

“I had had three films that were green lit by the Film Board that had fallen through,” recalls McMahon. “They’ve always been generous towards me but they hated Charlie from day one. I was writing for Fair City and that was paying the mortgage but as I approached 40 I started to ask myself why I got into this business in the first place. And it wasn’t to make money or get famous or get laid. It was to make films like the work that had hit me hardest growing up — work like that of Alan Clarke or early Ken Loach or Alan Bleasdale.”
Frustrated by his experiences in development hell, McMahon had the words, “The Art is in the Completion. Begin.” tattooed on to his arm and threw down a gauntlet on his Facebook page: “Intend shooting no-budget feature, Charlie Casanova, a provocatively dark satire, in the first couple of weeks of January. Need cast, equipment, locations, and a lot of balls. Any takers? Script This is sincere so bullshitters f**k off in advance. Thank you.” Within 24 hours, McMahon had received 130 responses and had assembled a skeletal virtual cast and crew for Ireland’s first Facebook film.
“I was surprised because it was such a hard sell,” says McMahon. “Bizarrely, it attracted very experienced people from across the industry who understood its Brechtian nature. A reference point that keeps popping up is American Psycho but even that allows you enough distance to step away from the main character and look at his grotesquery. With Charlie every time you think you know where you are – fuck you, and every time you think you’ve recovered from that – fuck you again. This guy is a liar. This guy uses language and physicality and emotional cues to manipulate you. I wanted to reflect the way that our leader and politicians appear on TV to talk bullshit and yet always get away with what are obvious lies.” McMahon, who had worked with Roger Corman at the uber-producer’s Irish operation, went to work with not much more than wishful thinking.
“Corman is one of my heroes,” says McMahon. “The Corman studio in Galway was amazing – and frowned upon by the snobs of course – but I had a ball. I worked on four films up there. He had a house built with four different facades – each from a different era. Inside, every stairwell and corridor was built to accommodate cameras. The experience taught me about film-making based in the practical realities. It’s not about needing half a million to build a set; it’s about walking into a room and deciding what the available light is and what do we have that we can use to make this happen.”
Three weeks after the writer-director’s Facebook post, once he had rooted out the “whack jobs”, he was on set. On the first day of principal photography, they shot an astonishing 23 pages of the script. They completed the screenplay within 11 days; the cameras had to be returned by midnight on day 11.
“That’s what was so exciting when we were accepted by SXSW and by the festivals at Edinburgh and Krakow,” says Ireland’s newest mumblecore filmmaker. “They didn’t know about Facebook or the budget. They just watched it as a film and accepted it on those terms. Our budget was €1,000 or maybe less but that figure is disingenuous because the film, in reality, represents two-and-a-half years of my life before we started shooting. And I had to drag it back up out of the grave so many times. Because a film like Charlie Casanova is going to be dismissed. And aggressively dismissed at that.”
Having failed to attract an Irish backer, Charlie Casanova went one better and was picked up by Studio Canal for European distribution: “I’ve always known that the likelihood of the film attracting a broad audience was very, very slim. It has taken astonishing courage for someone like Studio Canal – this legendary, major distributor – to pick it up. They have a long-term plan for it. They think it’s going to be reassessed and looked upon in a very different way over the next decade.”
McMahon smiles. “Studio Canal have just got their reports back from film magazines in the UK. Some are saying Charlie is an unprecedented new voice in cinema; others are saying it’s absolute dirt. So it’s complete division. Once again."
*fourth footnote*

The national broadcaster, RTE's flagship, 'Joe Duffy Show' also spent a strange half-hour eviscerating Charlie Casanova. Though he never covers cinema, the titular host, self-confessed 'man-of-the-people', Joseph Duffy decided to make an exception with this film. Four callers came on air to defend the film - with several more calling to do likewise but they were not put on air  - yet while twice claiming, "no agenda", Joseph introduced the film as, "the worst reviewed film in the history of Irish cinema" then he insisted on reading out several bad review - then rereading them - while ignoring any good reviews. When he exhausted that avenue, he proposed the filmmakers were exploiting people then he finally ended the discussion by asking, if the prohibitive cost of babysitters, parking etc. was not reason enough for to refrain from taking a chance on this film in the cinema? The man-of-the-people had not seen the film.

*fifth footnote*

The follow up film to Charlie Casanova titled Patrick's Day which was written by the same author at the same time as Charlie Casanova went on to win The Irish Times Ticket Award for Best Irish Film Of The Year. As JJ Hunseker would say, "I love this dirty town."