September 2016 Irish American News Column

Mary Corcoran with 3 of her grand daughters on The Skinny & Houli Show.

Mary Corcoran with 3 of her grand daughters on The Skinny & Houli Show.

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

My pal Skinny Sheahan mocks me on the radio by telling folks “Houli has become a PI, a professional Irishman.”

But, I feel no shame in loving Ireland, the land of my ancestors, and I’m mighty proud to have founded Hibernian Transmedia NFP with my family, to promote and preserve Irish and Irish American culture. We’re currently producing three weekly Irish American radio programs, one of which stars Skinny on the air every week smooching Democrats butts.

Add to that a dozen or so projects in the works with Irish American film, music, and literature and I’m happy to have eejits like Skinny calling me a “PI” while scoffing at my endeavors, although I prefer the term “cultural warrior”.

I’ve certainly paid my dues over the last 40 odd years working with “American culture’’ until I finally decided that most modern American culture is crap, notwithstanding stellar talents like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus.

Irish culture saved me.

I think that’s because Irish culture is as old as the earth itself. Sure America has an interesting history, but Ireland is forever. And exploring our Irish culture is a never ending adventure when we can dive into recent stories like the Easter rebellion or go deep with stuff like St. Patrick’s dialogue in “The Wanderings of Oisin”.

Hibernian Transmedia is also involved with bringing Irish and Irish American filmmakers to Chicago with our 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, running at the Siskel Film Center September 30th through October 2nd.

I’ve said before how visiting Ireland is a “preview of heaven” and you all have an opportunity to see Ireland as never before when Fís na Fuiseoige or The Lark’s View, makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sunday October 2nd at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The film was shot extensively with drones across all four provinces and seasons in Ireland, and it marries the otherworldly Irish landscape with some of her greatest living poets speaking Irish.

And I say “her” because as we all know, Ireland is actually Kathleen Ni Houlihan.

Here’s what Film Ireland had to say: Fís na Fuiseoige, the directorial debut by west Kerry man Aodh Ó Coileáin brings to the fore the voluptuousness of the Irish language in both the history it carries, its connection to place and the differing understandings of life that it carries… Using the ever increasing quality of drone technology, Ó Coileáin offers us a slow contemplative picture of the Irish landscape seldom captured so evocatively before. With such stunning aerial cinematography, the timelessness of the Irish landscape is evoked as the camera reflects over places as diverse as the Iveragh Peninsula, the Donegal Gaeltacht, Glendalough amongst others. In each of these various locations, a contributor guides us through the connection of the strong links between the Irish language and place, a connection so strong that in ancient Ireland it even inspired its own literary tradition, ‘dinnseanchas’.

This literary tradition still exists on the fringes of Irish literary life as highlighted by the contributions by the Irish language poets in this documentary, who continue to pursue a knowledge of the land’s relationship with language. In their contributions, the Irish language is associated with a reverence to place itself that pays not only homage to the land but evokes a sense of this land as being timeless, as if its history is ever recurring.

Now what about this dinnseanchas in regards to the Southside Irish? Well there’s a connection there as well. The director, Aodh Ó Coileáin, also known as “Hughie” to some members of his family, spent several months in Mt. Greenwood at his Aunt Mary’s home back in the late eighties. Hugh was even a bartender at Gaelic Park in his salad days. No doubt Hugh experienced the unique sense of being “Southside Irish” and the personalities of our streets.

We were lucky enough to have Hugh’s aunt Mary on The Skinny & Houli Show last month, and we phoned Hugh around midnight in Ireland to talk up his film. Check out the podcast from Saturday August 20, 2016 at http://skinnyhouli.com

Take the opportunity to see Fís na Fuiseoige, or “The Lark’s View” on Sunday October 2nd at the Siskel Film Center. And you can meet Hughie there as well, he’s coming to Chicago with his wife and kids and after a weekend as a guest at the Hilton, they are all headed to Aunt Mary’s in Mt. Greenwood to get reacquainted with the dinnseanchas of the Southside of Chicago.

See this film, you will love it, and take the time to meet Hugh and his Aunt, Mary Corcoran, and their delightful family after the screening. Let’s all go for a pint at The Emerald Loop after the show!

Skinny’s buying!

August 2016 Irish American News Column

Doctor Aidan MacCarthy from A Doctor's Sword

Doctor Aidan MacCarthy

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

 

“May you live in interesting times…” is an old apocryphal Chinese curse.

Looking around lately, you’d think we all might be on the wrong end of that curse. The world seems to be spinning faster and faster into a terrifying gyre of violence, racism, false prophets, mendacity and infanticide. And that’s just from the Democratic candidate!

But is this the end of western civilization? Or is it just the beginning of the end? The world keeps on turning and the best we can do is to hang on and pray to Almighty God for the best.

Yes, the world can be a very scary place, but it has always been so. Look back to World War II and the “greatest generation” and you wonder how they survived the horrors of that time and the emotional and physical terror of man’s inhumanity to man. What was the source of their obvious fortitude in those “interesting times?”

Faith, of course.

On Saturday night October 1st, The 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley will screen A DOCTOR’S SWORD, the terrific film about an Irish doctor who survived just about every major horror of WWII.

Dr. Aidan MacCarthy was his name and this extraordinary film will leave you emotionally spent and so very proud to be Irish.

Tara Brady of the Irish Times said about the film. “The doctor was Aidan MacCarthy, one of a family of 10 children from Castletownbere, Co Cork. From his youth, MacCarthy proved a capable fellow: a champion swimmer and the recipient of a Muster senior medal for rugby, he graduated from Clongowes, then UCC, before departing for London in search of work.

Having signed up with the Royal Air Force, he survived the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the fall of Singapore and four years in a Japanese POW camp on a diet of maggot and rice soup.

From there he was transported to Nagasaki – he was one of only 38 people out of 780 prisoners to make it after the cargo ship on which they were travelling was torpedoed – where he witnessed the atomic bombing of that city.

His efforts during World War II did not go unrecognised: he received a George Medal for pulling five men from the wreckage of an RAF bomber, an OBE and a Papal Medal. But being part of a more reticent generation, he seldom spoke of his experiences, or about the ancestral Japanese sword that still hangs in the family bar in Castletownbere

A Doctor’s Sword follows his daughter Nicola as she journeys to Japan to discover more about its original owner. It’s a tricky piece of detective work: some 60 years have elapsed since the blade came into her late father’s possession.

Director Gary Lennon makes terrific use of Aidan MacCarthy’s own testimony (recorded for an RTÉ radio documentary that aired just days after his death in 1995), archive footage and Ronan Coyle’s imaginative animation to recount the extraordinary events of the doctor’s life.

Even before the film closes in on Isao Kusuno, the 2nd lieutenant who previously owned the sword, we’re embroiled in a gripping saga, guided by Aidan MacCarthy’s calm, matter-of-fact narration; as capable as ever.”.

A DOCTOR’S SWORD was an emotional experience for me to watch and I am thrilled to be able to present this film to our audience at the Siskel Film Center on Saturday, October 1st at 8PM. The line that clinched it for me is when the BBC interviewer asks Dr. MacCarthy how he survived, “Well, it’s a combination really of my Irish Catholic heritage, my family background, and lots and lots of luck.”

Please join us in Chicago Sept. 30 through Oct. 2nd,  at The Siskel Film Center, for the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, where you can meet the producer Bob Jackson and other filmmakers premiering their movies that weekend.

The Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley is sponsored by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, The Emerald Loop, IAN, Hilton Chicago, Kitty O’Shea’s, and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal. For more information and updates about the schedule, go to moviehooley.org.

See you at the movies.

July 2016 Irish American News Column

Finbar Spillane & Kevin Baggott star in BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS

Finbar Spillane & Kevin Baggott star in BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS

Hooligansim

by

Mike Houlihan

 

“When I go see a movie, I want to feel like I’m peeking through a keyhole…just gimme the truth as best you can.”

So says first generation Irish American filmmaker and writer Kevin Baggott. The disciple of the late novelist Nelson Algren, is an “enigmatic cat”, much like his dead mentor.Kevin won the “Best Actor” Award at the Winter Film Fest in NYC last February, (for “Why Do You Smell Like the Ocean?”), and he’s premiering his film BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS to kick off the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on Sept. 30th in Chicago.

Baggott’s unique and funny odyssey, about an Irish American guy taking his mother’s ashes back to Ireland, is a tough adventure for this Brooklyn auteur, who plays the lead as well as directing this totally original story that walks a wobbly line between melancholy and zany. Baggott’s character, Bobby, a Brooklyn tenement super, has enough trouble surviving the wacky New York characters in his life, until he gets to Ireland and encounters Irish men and women of epic personalities and things quickly escalate to a mythical stage.

Starring with Kevin Baggott in “Beneath Disheveled Stars” are Nicole Roderick, Vic Martino, Danny Gilfeather, and Ireland’s own Colin Martin. The film also features a terrific original score by Estelle Bajou that transports the audience to Ireland as well as an Ireland of the mind.

Are they just “having some fun with the yank”, or are their motives more sinister? In the best spirit of indie film, Baggott is also the cinematographer of this haunting and comic road movie.

Baggott’s film is the cornerstone of a trio of Chicago premieres scheduled for the Hooley in the windy city this fall. The other two masterpieces are yet to be chosen, but will eventually join BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS on the marquee at the Gene Siskel Film Center, once again the home of the Annual Irish American Movie Hooley.

Kevin’s dad is from Galway and his mom from Cavan. He grew up in the Bronx, where his mother “used to beat me with the Irish Echo when I wouldn’t go to school.”

A street kid who could have easily wound up like Rocky Sullivan in the Cagney classic ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, Kevin yearned for NYU Film School, but “those bastards wouldn’t let me in.”

He wound up at CCNY, put together his first film on 16 millimeter in Coney Island, The Village Voice raved, festivals clammered, and Baggott’s revenge was sweet. “So they had me going down to NYU every year…to show their students the film.”

Shot in  West Cork in the village of Kilcrohane, Baggott recruited his crew of three for BENEATH DISHEVELD STARS: his wife and a kid from a local farm they hired to work sound, and himself.Without a script he made it up as he went along, meeting the people of the town and recruiting them as characters in the film. They turned out to be terrific actors and briliant improvisers. Kevin told me, “Oscar Wilde says the Irish talk their books away.”

“Everybody we asked, ‘we’re doing this movie, we don’t have any money, we can’t pay you anything, would you like to be in it?” The response that came back was, “Sure I can do that!”

He shot for a month with “a camera the size of a box of cracker jacks” and then returned to NYC to film the beginning of the movie with his friends. It worked, it’s brilliant, and captures the Irish from a unique and funny perspective; that of a guy with “Ireland in his DNA” who’d been away too long.

BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS premiered at the Cork Film Festival in 2014 and the entire village of Kilcrohane turned up to see it, and loved it. “It’s nice hearing a lot of laughter.”

He’ll be hearing it again when the film makes its Chicago premiere at the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on September 30th at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Kevin gets diffident when asked what he hopes the audience will get out of BENEATH DISHEVELED STARS, and after a few hems and haws tells me, “I don’t know.” he said. “I hope they will all move back to Ireland!”

Please join us in Chicago Sept. 30 through Oct. 2nd for the 2nd Annual Irish American Movie Hooley, where you can meet Kevin Baggott and other filmmakers premiering their movies-and of course, you’ll likely feel like moving back to Ireland yourself!

The Second Annual Irish American Movie Hooley is sponsored by 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, The Emerald Loop, IAN, Hilton Chicago, Kitty O’Shea’s, and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal. For more information and updates about the schedule, go to moviehooley.org.

April 2016 Column from The Irish American News

A cultural warrior leaving Texas.

A cultural warrior leaving Texas.

Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I had one beer on St. Patrick’s Day.

Unusual I know.

But I’d been guzzling gallons before it and by Paddy’s day itself I was hobbling around like a cripple with a cane. I was wounded. Why wouldn’t I be? In Chicago St. Patrick’s Day starts the day after Christmas for cripes sake! It’s nuts.

It started for me on Saturday March 5th as I boarded a plane for Austin, Texas where The Lone Star Shamrocks would be screening my film OUR IRISH COUSINS on Monday night. The Lone Star Shamrocks were the brainchild of my old pal Dennis Kearns, who had started the organization many years ago when he moved to Austin and began hosting a St. Patrick’s Day party for all the rednecks with Irish blood.

We’ve been pals since first grade and I was looking forward to meeting the Lone Star Shamrocks and knew there would be shenanigans involved but got thrown a curve as soon as my lovely wife dropped me at O’Hare.

I grabbed my bags and turned to find a red cap and my knee blew out. Ouch!

I’d been having some mild muscle pain for the last week after an ill advised return to power walking but this was the zammo! I staggered at the departure area as my wife drove away and I realized I could barely walk. Feck it, I’m still going.

I requested a wheel chair when I checked in and then wondered why I had never done this before. The guy pushing me through the airport was great, and I was brought to the front of every line and zipped through TSA without removing my shoes or trousers.

I duked him a double sawbuck, gimped the ramp to the plane, plopped into my upgraded first class seat and started drinking. Sure it was painful to walk but Conor McGregor was fighting that night and he was my inspiration for the weekend.

Dennis picked me up at the airport and whisked me back to his palatial hacienda, which included a very private apartment upstairs for my visit so he and his wife Jane could hide from me later. Luckily he’d had knee problems of his own in the past and lent me a snappy cane and knee brace to wear.  Managing the stairs was rough but I learned to navigate them once I learned where they kept the 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey!

While they were at mass I tripped over a large cardboard box in the foyer on my way back from the bar. I looked inside and discovered it was the 5,000 flyers promoting the screening I had shipped to Dennis a month earlier to get the word out about the Texas premiere of my film. It looked like there were only about 4, 850 left in the box!

“More feckin’ whiskey!”, I screamed as their dog Blanca looked at me in puzzlement.

The next two days were a blur of self-medicating through the pain. We went bar-hopping on Sunday as I hobbled up Congress Street on the cane and wound up in CBoys Heart and Soul dive bar serenaded by a three foot tall chanteuse in a cowboy hat backed by a handful of bearded pluckers singing about “Texas in my heart”. Of course it was “Terri and The Tagalongs”.

We played “chickenshit bingo” all afternoon, which is a game of chance involving a live chicken placed in a 3×3 foot cage with numbers on its floor. If the chicken dumps on your number, you win! I was havin’ a good ol’ time!

Until I found out about Conor McGregor tapping out the night before.

Still he handled defeat with class and I was going to do the same. I returned to to the hacienda after a long day of boozing and Tex Mex food and after I dropped the big one, I slept til the next day. I’m sure Los Alamos has nothing on Dennis and Jane’s upstairs bathroom after my visit.

On Monday night The Lone Star Shamrocks were sorta MIA for the film premiere. Probably not a great idea for me to come to Austin the week before SXSW to premiere a film. But it was my Paddy’s day kickoff and among the audience was Ann Soule and Austin’s own version of The Flood Brothers, Matt and Mike Flood, both Chicago Expatriates, who now live and work in Austin. We had some laughs and started plotting the rebirth of The Lone Star Shamrocks for my next cultural expedition.

If you’re reading this in Austin, get in touch at [email protected],  and we will make sure you’re invited for our next cultural event.

I can walk with both legs again and look forward to stepping back in the arena a wiser man, and just like Conor McGregor, this cultural warrior shall return. I had too much fun not to go back!

Irish American News column September 2015

iamh_logo_72x66_pixelsHooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to throw a party.

Case in point-Back in the eighties I was living in New York, City visiting Chicago, and dropped by my late brother Danny’s law office. He introduced me to the office manager Monica Dwyer Fox. (She was already a fox before she married one.)

Monica looks at me incredulously and says to Dan, “This is your brother?”

Dan starts giving me the stink eye, “Yeah?”

Monica laughs and says, “I didn’t know you were related, this is the first guy I ever saw naked!”

Former seminarian Dan turned fifty shades of red and stared daggers at me.

Seems my folks were away one night back in the sixties and word around the neighborhood was that “Houli is having a party”. Monica and her girlfriends come in the front door and yours truly is streaking around the party buck-naked and no it was not my birthday. The nude hello was a little stunt, (literally,) which I used to pull in my teenage years to break the ice and loosen up the crowd sometimes at parties.

Now remember this was fifty years ago and shenanigans like that were considered just harmless hooliganism then. Today of course I’d be arrested and sent to jail much like that Duggar kid was for coppin’ a feel from his sleeping sister.

My birthday suit now is very wrinkled and quite a bit larger to accommodate the several watermelons and barrels of beer I’ve consumed over the last fifty years, so it’s probably not the best ice breaker, but lemme tell ya back when I was a teenager I was an Adonis!

Lately I’ve been forced to learn some new tricks to entertain at parties and I’m throwing a party later this month that promises to be a doozy!

It’s the First Annual Irish American Movie Hooley on September 25-26-and 27th at The Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street in Chicago. Please join us for the only Irish American film festival in the world. We’re out to discover the next John Ford, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Cagney, or john Huston.

We’ll be premiering three terrific films with Irish American themes and this is our first year so come on out to the Hooley. After each screening we’ll all be heading around the corner over to The Emerald Loop on Wabash to celebrate the “hooley”.

You can read all about the films we’ve chosen elsewhere in The Irish American News or online or at http://hiberniantransmedia.org/movie-hooley/.

Please say hello when you get to the theatre, I’ll be there Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

I won’t be naked and you’ll be glad I’m not!

But we’ll still have plenty of laughs.

So.

Don’t miss the Hooley!

Irish American News column for June 2015

james-cagney-224x300-1Hooliganism

By

Mike Houlihan

I auditioned for the Clifford Odets play “Awake and Sing” back in the late 1970s when I was a young actor in New York. After I finished reading for the part, the director, Ken Frankel, asked me to sit down. Oh boy, I felt like I had just nailed it. He looked at me strangely and said, “What the hell are you doing here?”

In retrospect of course it was a good question. I was a young Irish kid trying to play a Jewish guy named Ralph Berger. Hey, but I’m an actor, I can do anything, right?

“No,” he said. He went on to explain that it didn’t make a bit of difference how good an actor I was, there was no way I was going to be cast as a young Jewish fella, especially in New York city where there were millions of young Jewish actors. “Are you nuts?”

Of course, I’ve been hearing that question my whole life. But Frankel’s advice was to stick with who I was already, at that place and time. And for me that was a narrowback Irish kid, albeit a shockingly handsome Irish-American lad!

It wasn’t long after that I was cast as Captain Brennan in Sean O’Casey’s classic “The Plough and the Stars.” This was more like it. I did some research and discovered that my grandfather, Denis Cusack, was a member of the Irish Citizen Army back in the day.

Now I was awakened to my own Irish heritage and I went at it with a vengeance. But it was tough to “stick with your own”; there weren’t many films or plays that featured Irish-American stories in those days. It wasn’t like that golden age of Irish American cinema in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s that launched giants like Jimmy Cagney, Pat O’Brien or Spencer Tracy, or directors like John Huston, John Ford, or Preston Sturges.

Now the gangsters were all Italian and audiences relished the anti-hero genius of De Niro, Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

But the Italian-American mafiosos I would never play, and the Jewish American scruffy idealists I should never be allowed to portray, shared their origins with those Irish-American giants in film history.

Children of immigrants all, their stories were forged in the ethnic tenements of New York, Chicago, or Boston. The pinching poverty and bare-knuckled brawling was salted heavily with religion and romance. That stew produced storytellers. I say the best storytellers in this world.

Does talent like that skip generations? No. The ancient myths and romantic tales created by Irish-Americans over just the last two centuries in America are passed on in our DNA. We need to encourage it, and nurture the future of Irish-American cinema. It’s time for a new generation of Irish storytellers to “awake and sing.”

I’ve played tons of Irish-American cops, bartenders and priests in my 40 years since that “Awake and Sing” audition. And I want to keep doing it. But we need to discover the next wave of Irish-American storytellers who can bring their ethnic swagger to the screen.

That’s why we’re now calling for entries for our first annual “Irish American Movie Hooley.” We’re looking to discover the next John Ford or Grace Kelly or maybe you, Eamonn McGillicuddy.

So if you’re an Irish-American indie filmmaker, or you’re related to one, call and tell them to submit to our festival before July 31.

We’ll be screening the best three Irish-American film premieres on Sept. 25-27 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. So tell us your story, show ‘em what you got, and join us in Chicago next September.

And if you need an older fat guy to play an Irish American cop or priest in your film, get in touch!

You can learn more about the first annual Irish American Movie Hooley by visiting hiberniantransmedia.org/movie-hooley.

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