Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fionnula Flanagan

With Mrs. Hawking's not-all-that-surprising return to Lost last night, I found myself thinking about Fionnula Flanagan. I met her once--at a conference at the University of Virginia on Irish film, back in the mid 1990s (just before I went to Dublin to teach a class on Irish film for CCSA). Before Lost, she was perhaps best known for a memorable role (with Nikole Kidman) in The Others.

But my real introduction to FF was in James Joyce's Women (1985), where she played six different real and imaginary Joycian females, including Ulysses' Molly Bloom. It was FF (that's her on the video's cover) who did the famous Bloom soliloquy; FF who did perhaps the most memorable masturbation scene in cinema. Here's what the sole online review in the IMDB says about Flangian's role in the film:

She wrote and produced this film about six women in James Joyce's life: three fictional characters plus his wife, his benefactress and his publisher. Her involvement didn't stop there. Fionnula wanted to represent the Joycean universe correctly, so she played all six characters herself, and delivered close to 90% of the spoken words in this film. It is more or less one of those "one woman shows".

Fionnula did not shy away from the controversial parts of Ulysses. Quite to the contrary, she went right after the juiciest in-your-face material. The centerpiece of the film is Molly's masturbation, the filmed version of which must occupy about 20 uninterrupted minutes of screen time. The entire scene, including finger-to-genital contact, is pictured on camera. This is an extraordinary moment in cinema, because the naked woman playing with her privates in front of you is not a B-movie starlet, a stripper, a porno star, or a fading movie queen making a final grasp for attention, but a legitimate classical actress, ala Dame Edith Evans or Meryl Streep. Since she is an excellent actress and a natural looking woman, the scene creates the impression that we are actually watching a woman masturbate, and that she is unaware of our presence.

BTW, when we met in Charlottesville I told her that, in the middle of the first decade of the new century, she would be offered a role in an American television series and strongly encouraged her to take it. Time has a way of self-correcting.

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