A Life’s Work: Seamus Murphy and Tom Burke on The Peculiar Sensation of Being Pat Ingoldsby


Posted 1 month ago in Arts & Culture Features

Pat Ingoldsby brought Seamus Murphy and Tom Burke together. Here the director and producer explain how he entered their orbit and impacted on their lives.

 

“I thought we were coming at Pat in a similar way, not in a hagiographic ‘isn’t he amazing’ way but in understanding the link between Pat’s poetry and the streets of Dublin.”

 

“I think the film is very keen to right the record on that by saying actually selling his books on the street and dealing directly with the people of Dublin was the high point, giving Pat a creative freedom he wanted.”

“I had known Pat already through occasionally seeing him on television but then also seeing him out when I was making this film for the New Yorker in 2013,” explains Murphy, a photography and director whose most recent work includes A Dog Called Money, a documentary he shot with PJ Harvey. “I had this odd tuition. I needed this extra voice, this extra layer as a voiceover and thought ‘maybe that guy Pat Ingoldsby’ because he was always weird and outside everything and that’s how I got to know him.”

Photographer/filmmaker Seamus Murphy

Around the same time Burke was directing Losing Alaska, a documentary on a small community battling with the disappearance of their homes owing to permafrost erosion. “I wanted to do something closer to home and I had a street relationship with Pat and proposed something lightly to him and he mentioned Seamus. And said that, ‘maybe you two lads should talk to each other’. That precipitated us getting in touch. I knew of Seamus from the PJ Harvey videosLet England Shake – which I loved so we met and had a big old chat. I thought we were coming at Pat in a similar way, not in a hagiographic ‘isn’t he amazing’ way but in understanding the link between Pat’s poetry and the streets of Dublin. And I think what Seamus achieved with the New Yorker film is this really particular way to shoot Dublin so if his point of view could be matched with Pat’s poetry, I thought we could have something special as a collaboration.”

“And then what’s funny is the way Pat engineered this cause,” interjects Murphy. “I was talking to Pat and he was, ‘oh listen by the way, there’s this young lad who came in here, he’s a very nice guy and I knew his father and he said, ‘I’d like to make a film’ and I said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, Seamus is doing that. Seamus is doing that.’ I said, ‘should I go and meet Tom then?’ and he was like, ‘that’s a great idea.’”

Unpeeling the layers of Pat proved tricky at first but ultimately rewarding once trust had been established. “The initial challenge was one of a central character who has given you their blessing but put up barriers,” says Burke. “Pat was reluctant to talk about his life or be filmed but “the central relationship between Seamus and Pat kept growing and ultimately, he’s a good judge of character. Anyone who makes documentaries knows access is an on-going process. The perception is Pat was had some sort of heyday on Pat’s Chat and then there was this fall from grace and he ends up on the street selling books. I think the film is very keen to right the record on that by saying actually selling his books on the street and dealing directly with the people of Dublin was the high point, giving Pat a creative freedom he wanted.”

“I knew he was intelligent and well educated,” says Murphy, “but I didn’t know his father was a school headmaster and that would have had an influence. And then I knew about his mental health but not all the details and the way he sees how religion screwed him up,” he adds when reflecting on what he learned about Pat in the process.

What remained essential to their creative approach was placing Pat’s poetry at the heart of everything. “We decided we were going to tell his life through his poetry and go off on all the little side roads and cul-de-sacs which that would produce,” says Murphy. “He would tell us what happened to him, we’d hear a poem, there would be some connection, a parallel but not too obvious.”

This is complemented by Murphy’s photographical observations of the city, by no means explicitly hewn to the material but rather a tangential, fleeting, free-flow allowing the imagination of the viewer to breathe and wander midst words and images.

“I was going with his imagination,” says Murphy. “He could loose you very quickly if you were trying to make a film to get to a certain point. There’s moments in it of him in full flow talking, associating things with what he has just said, you want to get them from the poems too as it is about his art and legacy and years on the street. That is what we were trying to get at, his incredible imagination… He did it his way which was very idiosyncratic sitting on a beer crate.

He once said, ‘my poems are happy when I write them, they are even happier when you read them.’ He feels that what we’ve made is an honest representation of him.”

The Peculiar Sensation of Being Pat Ingoldsby is released on November 4 by Break Out Pictures.

seamusmurphy.com

broadstonefilms.com

Pat Ingoldsby and Tom Mathews are two people intrinsically woven into the warp and weft of Dublin. Having racked up 150 years between them, we bring two of our finest, most unsung, poets and humorists together for a chat. Read our feature online here.

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