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Friday 22 August 2014

Gene Kerrigan: Lights go down on a critic who lived for his love of movies

Invigorating the Dublin journalism scene in the 1980s, Michael Dwyer's passion never diminished, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 03/01/2010 | 05:00

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MICHAEL Dwyer was part of a wave of journalists who came to prominence in the peripheral magazines, such as In Dublin, Magill and Hot Press, which thrived in 1980s Dublin.

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Around the same time as Colm Toibin, Mary Raftery, Fintan O'Toole, John Waters and a lot more, he helped invigorate the Dublin journalism scene. Toibin went to fiction, Raftery went to broadcasting. O'Toole moved between the arts and politics, Waters wrote plays and songs. And Michael, whomever he wrote for over the next quarter century, stuck fast to his one and only and everlasting journalistic love -- the movies.

Most of us freelancing in the early days did a bit of film reviewing. It was easy -- you just said what the movie was about, issued a verdict on whether it was any good and collected your small cheque. The reigning film critic of the day, Ciaran Carty -- steeped in knowledge and having spent years fighting the censorship that blighted Irish movie-going -- must have sighed at our casual efforts.

Michael arrived from Tralee with a solid background in organising film societies. Someone told me there was a young guy from Kerry in town who knew more about movies than any of us. I remember raising a sceptical eyebrow at that impossibility -- then I met Michael. He had seen movies we didn't know existed, made in countries we couldn't spell, and more often than not he'd interviewed the director at least once.

He was indeed a lover of obscure art movies, but he was just as familiar with the history and the product of Hollywood. In one breath he could enthuse about a movie no one else outside a certain region of Spain had seen. And in the next he'd assess the latest Hollywood trash epic, without a trace of snobbery. If the movie was good of its type, he rated it -- if it was careless, inept, silly, racist or crass he'd say so.

As the mainstream absorbed the journalism being practiced on the periphery, so it absorbed its practitioners, and Michael went first to the Sunday Tribune and then the Irish Times.

Michael made annual pilgrimages to Cannes and further afield and if you met him on his return he couldn't wait to tell you the treats in store in the months to come.

The difference between critics like Michael and the rest of us was that he saw a movie within the context of the history of films -- where it fitted in, how it advanced things or merely repeated old moves.

Yet his simple love of the act of going to a movie -- waiting for the lights to go down, for the titles to come up, for the story to unfold, never dimmed. Nor did his urge to share the exuberance he still felt for the art and craft.

He was as gossipy as any of us in private, but as a journalist he never lost sight of why he was interviewing a director or star -- not because of the fleeting scandal attached to them, but because of the stuff they put up there on the screen.

When his byline returned to the Irish Times in December, after an absence of months, we were reassured -- he was scheduled to begin a new column this month. All was well.

His death at the age of 58 is shocking. Others will shrewdly review movies, some will enthusiastically interview actors and directors. No one will replace Michael's unique mix of knowledge, judgement and -- above all -- his ability to convey his love and enthusiasm.

Sunday Independent

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