Tuesday, December 10, 2019 at 7pm
On Mary Manning

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Presented with the Women Film Pioneers Project
Introduced by Fanny Howe, Helen Howe, and Susan Howe

Though a number of long-neglected female auteurs from cinema’s first decades have been recuperated in recent years—consider, for instance, the welcome revival of Lois Weber—many important women remain overlooked, particularly those who were involved in other facets of film culture. The considerable contributions of Mary Manning are a case in point. She is today best remembered as a leading figure in early-20th-century Irish theater; a playwright and performer for the Abbey Theatre and the Gate Theatre, Manning was a close friend of Samuel Beckett’s and in the 1950s she adapted James Joyce’s most challenging novel for the stage with her play Passages from Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. But the multifarious roles she played fostering cinema in Ireland are just as remarkable. Manning not only directed at least one film (Bank Holiday, 1930, now lost), but served as screenwriter, assistant director, performer, and producer for several others. She wrote regular film criticism for the Irish Statesman and the Gate’s drama journal Motley, while also co-founding the Dublin Film Society and an amateur filmmaking club, Irish Amateur Films.

Through these endeavors Manning sought to strengthen her country’s film community, and cultivate a truly indigenous Irish cinema. In her film journalism she battled censorship, applauded efforts to bring the best of Soviet cinema to Dublin, and offered no mercy for mediocre pictures that ate up screentime which could be otherwise better spent. Take, for example, her lethal review of the 1929 Vitaphone musical Smiling Irish Eyes, an American import. “If an international prize was offered for the worst film ever made, Smiling Irish Eyes would undoubtedly win it,” Manning laments. “The star is Colleen Moore. Ever since she was first ‘discovered’ by D.W. Griffith this woman has been filled with a ruthless determination to be Irish, and now that she is married to one of Hollywood’s top magnates nothing can stop her. Her real name is Kathleen Morrison, and her parents may nor may not have seen Ireland—I doubt it—but the fact remains that she herself was born and brought up in the United States. I frankly confess I could not follow the plot. I do not think anyone could. At times waves of nausea swept over me and the screen became a blur.”

This evening, Mary Manning’s daughters—Fanny Howe, Helen Howe, and Susan Howe—will introduce a rare screening of three films Manning helped realize. Two were made under the banner of Irish Amateur Films: Screening in the Rain, a brief portrait of several members of the Gate Theatre, taken at the company’s annual garden party, and a surviving fragment of By Accident, a narrative shot around Dublin that showcases IAF’s focus on advanced montage techniques and innovative cinematography. Also featured is the now-classic Guests of the Nation. Adapted by Manning from a story by Frank O’Connor, and set during the Irish War of Independence in 1921, it concerns two IRA soldiers who develop an unlikely friendship with British prisoners under their watch.

Hers, in short, was a catalytic presence—behind the camera, on the page, in the movie house—an indefatigable force that helped generate a film culture where before one had barely existed.

Screening in the Rain. Cam.: J. N. G. (Norris) Davidson, misc. crew: Mary Manning (Irish Amateur Films IE 1930) cas.: Mary O’Moore, Grace McLoughlin, Judge Johnston, Lord Longford, Hilton Edwards, Micheál MacLiamóir, si, b&w (tinted), 16mm (digital projection, 5 mins).

By Accident. Dir.: J. N. G. (Norris) Davidson, asst. dir./casting: Mary Manning, sc.: Norris Davidson (Irish Amateur Films IE 1930) cas.: C. Clarke-Clifford, Olive Purcell, Mary Manning, Paul Farrell, si, b&w, 16mm (digital projection, 8 mins).

Guests of the Nation. Dir.: Denis Johnston, adp./props: Mary Manning (Denis Johnston Productions IE 1935) cas.: Barry Fitzgerald, Frank Toolin, Cyril Jackson, Charles Maher, Georgina Roper, Fred Johnson, Shelah Richards, Cyril Cusack, Hilton Edwards, si, b&w, 35mm (digital projection, 49 mins).

All films courtesy of the IFI Irish Film Archive.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.