Cinema Review: Ghosts of Baggotonia

Posted December 7, 2022 in Cinema Reviews


“Shot during those strange days of the pandemic lock-down, wandering the deserted streets of my childhood with my Leica Monochrome camera – it was both a retrieval of unreliable personal memories and a meditation of the remarkable ghosts of a mostly forgotten era,” is how director Alan Gilsenan describes his gentle elegiac meditation on those ghosts of Baggatonia and his own relationship with it.

Using photographs by the artist Nevill Johnson along with extracts and readings by the pillars of that era such as Behan, Kavanagh, Beckett and Kinsella along with the resurrection of some lesser known names such as Blanaid Salkeld, Ethna MacCarthy and John Jordan, Gilsenan’s work is an elegant and captivating brushstroke through social history in the city delicately underscored by compositions by Brian Crosby.

We hear about Archbishop McQuaid but also places such as the Pike Theatre on Herbert Place and the Catacombs night club. We hear a woman recollecting about not carrying about the grotty existence but caring more about, “what you’d remember and the songs and the fights and the romances – just being young”. A slight quibble was being uncertain who delivered certain audio excepts such as this one.

Of course, alcohol played its part with some sharp observations concerning “serious drinkers with literary leanings” and when “the snug became the tomb.” There is one particularly vulgar encounter between Kavanagh and a young lady which shows the boorish misogyny of the times.

Like a visual mash-up of Bowman and Sunday Miscellany, Gilsenan delivers a psycho-geographic slice of life, one which is receding from view and memory.

A screening of ‘Ghosts of Baggotonia’, followed by a Q&A with director Alan Gilsenan and the poet Seán Hewitt, will be held at the IFI in Dublin following the 6.20pm screening of the film on Friday, December 9th.

Words: Michael McDermott

Ghosts of Baggotonia

Director: Alan Gilsenan

Release Date: December 9th


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