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Rhymes from the Gutter

The bleak and poverty-stricken areas of Ballymun and Finglas, on Dublin’s North side, only knew about the «Celtic Tiger» – the economic miracle from the Nineties – from hearsay. They are the locations for Broken Song [1], a documentary about meaning and self-worth.

«Darkness is just where the light hasn’t gone yet», Costello, one of the main characters, observes. – In that reading, darkness is a temporary phenomenon. There is hardly a more radical way to express a determination to be positive and to find the true self.

This one-hour, black-and-white documentary from the godforsaken suburbs on Dublin’s Northside follows an all-male group of youths in their quest for the meaning of life. While Roddy Doyle’s Commitments started from the implausible premise of a Soul band from the same area, this film by Claire Dix (producer: Nodlag Houlihan) chronicles the birth of Irish Rap.

One Step Away from the Abyss

However, this is where the parallel ends prematurely. Broken Song eschews any hint at humour, the female sex is limited to its motherly incarnation. The social setting lies a few rungs lower down the ladder, the Dublin twang is used in its broadest variation, the twin abyss of drugs and criminality is tangible, omnipresent and threatening.

The budding Dublin Rappers stem from a noble tradition. The cultural expression of what it means to be human and Irish has always been at its best when it choses the word. Irish painters and sculptors are as rare as hens’ teeth. Rap is a condensation of the word – poetry on speed. The protagonists bring precious little to the table, they conquer language as if it was trench warfare and eagerly seize upon words that are either angular, awkward or alien – or all three of them together.

A Sounding Coming-of-Age Novel

This process can be touching. A blunt pencil hovering over a cheap note pad, mutual encouragement and tentative attempts at constructive criticism – the viewer witnesses a gradual victory over preordained failure and the futility of suburban life. To observe this does not always induce unadulterated pleasure and occasionally gives rise to the suspicion that the medium of film might not, after all, have been the best choice. (A distinct bias on the part of this writer is hereby acknowledged.) The occasional crop of pictorial sequences seems pretentious because the essence of this «Entwicklungsroman» (coming-of-age novel) is acoustic and therefore made for radio. This, however, may not be a very helpful observation for a film festival.

Willa Lee
James Costello
Dean Scurry

Producer: Nodlag Houlihan
Director: Claire Dix
Cinematographer: Richard Kendrick
Camera: Narayan Van Maele, Dom Pontillio
Editor: Guy Montgomery
Sound: Graham Newcombe
Music: Hugh Drumm