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Greenbrier Valley Theatre

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By Martin McDonagh

Directed by Mark Robinson

Photos by Gary Cooper


     In 1922, Metro Goldwyn Mayer launched the career of auteur film director Robert Flaherty when it released Nanook of the North.  Widely considered to be the first feature documentary (years before the word documentary had been invented), Nanook was a harrowing depiction of seal-hunting Eskimos on the northeastern shore of Hudson Bay. It began a series of films that Flaherty was to make on the same theme: humanity against the elements.


     In 1932, Flaherty and his film crew ventured to the Aran Island of Inishmor off the west coast of Ireland to create what would come to be one of the greatest nonfiction films ever made: Man of Aran.  Chronicling the rugged lives of the Araners on a landscape so rocky that seaweed was used as improvised soil,  Flaherty cast the film with assorted locals and engaged the same allegorical storytelling method used for Nanook: portray the dangers of nature and the struggle of isolated communities to eke out an existence. S een principally through the eyes of workingmen in haphazard conditions, Man of Aran was a convincing fusion of folk culture, spectacular photography and pure showmanship.  Flaherty knew how to lure a large audience to his films, even if it meant the unethical incorporation of both staged scenes and historical inaccuracies.  An example can be found in Aran, which is substantially devoted to the hunt of a basking shark, negating the fact that when the footage was shot in 1932, the sharking industry had all but vanished from the Aran Islands 4 decades earlier.


     The Cripple of Inishmaan is set on Inishmor's neighboring island.  Inishmaan is an isolated, bare and stony landscape where its few inhabitants survive a simple and straitened life, which until recently was virtually devoid of western culture, a suitable harbor or even electricity.  As it has been for a hundred years, the island's main industry is fishing (many of the fishermen still use the traditional Aran boat called the Currach) and sheep raising (to provide the wool for the world renowned Aaron jumpers).  Even today, the farming is carried out, as it was done at the turn of the century, on small patches surrounded by innumerable mounds of stones; and cultivated by hand.


     Flaherty's arduous work creating Man of Aran puts in motion Martin McDonagh's mythical comic tale, written in the great tradition of Irish storytelling.  It is a fantastical story in which secrets, lies and rumors provide an often-necessary escape from the bitter tedium of isolated Aran life.

- Mark Robinson

Program Notes
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