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Celebrating the Irish in John Ford's long list of masterpieces

The movies of John Ford are not just great entertainment: they are contributions to our culture on a par with the works of O'Casey, Yeats or Joyce. Masterpieces of the 20th Century, they will be celebrated at the inaugural John Ford Ireland Film Symposium, a four-day inquiry into the director's work.

"Admirers of Ford should recognise the influence of Irish culture on his work" says Professor Adrian Frazier of NUI Galway. "And it's appropriate that Irish people reclaim Ford as one of their own artistic ancestors." He'll be giving a talk about the effect the Abbey Players, a company of actors based at the National Theatre, had on the director.

"Ford's own nostalgia and romance for Ireland was a factor," says Frazier. "But he was fascinated by the way The Players operated."

Formed before the theatre itself existed, it was a stable company of actors who worked together in all plays, playing roles both big and small exploiting the self-conscious side of storytelling.

"He liked the fact that because they had all played a leading role at some point, every role they played was given a distinctiveness. It wasn't just a star and other people standing about."

At the height of his powers, Ford made a deal with the RKO studio to film the plays of Sean O'Casey, using only the Players. And while his plans didn't come off entirely (his adaptation of The Plough and the Stars was such a flop the project was shelved), it cemented his desire to work with Abbey actors as often as possible, culminating in the filming of The Quiet Man.

His interest had a negative effect on the players, though, with many of them unwilling to return to Ireland. "Many of the company were Protestant," says Frazier, "and Ireland had become 'very Catholic indeed', as one of them had put it." The country was dirt-poor and, with the sclerotic grasp of Ernest Blythe on the horizon, you can't really blame them for choosing the beach house in Malibu over the poor house in Marrowbone Lane.

John Ford and the Abbey, Saturday June 9, 4pm, Abbey Rehearsal Room, Tickets: €3 www.johnfordireland.org/

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