I was out visiting my daughter recently when she said to me “Here Daddy, watch this. It’s called “I Love Larne”, everyone’s talking about it on Face Book, because it’s so bad. “ Then she smiled. I know that smile well. It’s always an indicator of something to follow . . .
So I sat down and she put on the programme which she had recorded earlier.
I watched it all and supped my tea, every last drop, as my jaw dropped incrementally over the next half hour or so, like an ancient metal swing bridge. And the furnace in my wee stomach started to heat up as the odd hint of steam appeared out of my ears.
The spirit of the Gobansaor, the maker of things, was being awoken in me.
“Who made this?” I thought to myself. And could this strange being tell the difference between a TV Camera, a tray bake, a hammer or an auld mop? You probably could have made a better fist of it, in this case, with a mop and bucket.
I didn’t grow up in Larne. I have no family in Larne. When I was growing up in North Belfast, during the Troubles, Larne was where you left from, to go to B.B. Camp in some field in Scotland, or if you were lucky, the Isle of Wight, travelling the length of Britain just to get there, at the age of eleven.
But luckily I moved to East Antrim in 1989. Now, initially, on the surface, Larne, like much of the area seemed to be populated by hard faced dour ogres, with slow twangy voices. But after a period of adjustment I began to really like the place. Those faces in Larne main street softened and became more familiar to me, as did the twangy voices and I began to understand the place better. I have developed a regard for Larne.
It has character, kindness and a certain charm. All places have their dark corners, even Helens Bay . . .
No place is perfect. Larne certainly isn’t, but no less perfect, sectarian or economically challenged than parts of Holywood, Cultra or Bangor, (that well known middle-class hell hole, with money, materialism and recreational drugs, blowing about it like the leaves off the trees.) Larne is no less troubled than large sections of Co. Down. (no menton of St. Comgall either or the Vikings.)
But, I digress . . . “I Love Larne” is a fantastic example of how not to make a documentary, how not to research your subject, how not to edit and how not to create a piece of film that informs and explains even a slice of an area and its people. (The great Richard Hayward would have been spinning in his grave at the lack of insight, skill or craft involved in this piece). The very opposite of Joe Mahon’s warm bowl of slow motion culture soup, on UTV.
“I Love Larne”, is a great example of how to accidentally patronize people, capture them like specimens, and (whether intentional or not), make them look . . . a bit stupid. With a paper thin difference lying between this documentary and a Peter Kay comedic skit, shot as if behind the scenes at a motorway Service Station, hotel or working man’s club. His gritty slice of northern life, “Eee-bye-gum mother!” Kay’s work sits only a short distance from this episode of ‘TRUE NORTH”. A contradiction in terms? True North?
I’m a man who likes a story well told. However, the clunky simplistic narrative in “I Love Larne” made too many assumptions that we would a) know where Larne was, b) understand its history up to the present day, c) have no need to see any of the beautiful countryside within which Larne is set, d) have no need to see a single image of the Port of Larne, e) or wish to see any of the character of the town, the stunning town hall, the Carnegie Library, Protestant or Catholic schools, Drumalis House, or any parks and gardens. No shots of the wide range of housing with character throughout the borough, f) and all those extra subtle gathering in of imagery in a documentary, that separates the men from the boys. (And there’s me, not even a film maker . . .)
A bit like filming a beautiful woman and only focusing on her nose and her nose only.
I have travelled to Larne by train and eaten in manys a wee tea and coffee shop. There are many and within them you will encounter and observe character and all manner of life walking past, right in front of you.
The esteemed “Rough Guide” tried to give Larne a good kicking a few years ago as a place, “they couldn’t wait to leave” but this recent attempt to give wee Larne a right drubbing (unintentionally), leaves me bemused, attempting, in my own mind, to understand how such an inaccurate and shoddy piece of goods could have come out of the factory doors of BBC Northern Ireland. “True North?” . . . not exactly.
If you could compare Larne to a hot, well made pie, sitting on a plate, waiting to be eaten, the thinnest, most meagre of slices was taken out of it and set before us on a cracked and chipped plate. Leaving us to wonder “ . . . so you love Larne? You actually love Larne?
White middle aged choirs singing slave songs. Shots of semi derelict buildings, Tiny religious prayer meetings. A big extensive advertisment for one tourist hostel. Two auld boys puffin’ away outside a café. The unfortunate filming and editing of a council meeting. One young Christian making window frames (some carpenter hey!). The briefest explanations of “The Gobbins”. Councillors on a boat, pointing at a crack, a wee distant hole, in a cliff face, attempting to convince us that THIS was potentially one of the seven wonders of the world! (What are you on Boy?)
Of course the Gobbins is a wonderful place, Larne is a great wee town. All the councillors are helping to promote the area and places like the Gobbins, but the interpretation of all this was not so much a “fly on the wall documentary” as a “hedgehog on your shoulder and every other possible vantage point”. (I was almost expecting fibre optic footage from the inner gut of the town itself.)
If Peter Kay ever saw this documentary (he does have relations in Northern Ireland), he would kneel at the feet of this film maker and marvel at his sheer comedic sensibilities. An inherent gift or just funny by accident?
Larne Council reel from the fall out to the documentary and the press respond. Their pages singing words like “Re-Brand, Moving On and Public Apology from the BBC!”. The silver lining though, is the genuine public response in defence of Larne and the people, all individuals, who appeared in “I Love Larne”.
If 100 monkeys were given video cameras and let loose in Larne High Street and its surroundings, could a better/more interesting film be made from their accidental observations. It’s a question I can only leave with you to ponder . . .
So where was the love in “I Love Larne” ? Sadly it lies on the cutting room floor or maybe it was never filmed..
. . . But, here’s a thought, well worth considering about “I Love Larne”. If you are observing people as a film maker are you telling their story or imposing your own pre-planned story to which you merely fit images? How are you representing each individual? Do you relate to their lives or do you feel, (as a film maker), removed, and absolved from your responsibility as a communicator?
If the BBC N.I. as an organization, employs, within its staff of producers, film makers, editors and planners, mainly people drawn only from the smallest section of society, the middle classes and above, then there is always the danger of creating films like “I Love Larne” just due to a lack of what seems to me to be “empathy” across the class divide.
I’m only guessing. A shot in the dark, but it’s well worth considering. Either way, I still love Larne. It won’t put me off going there, shopping there, having a “mooch” there, taking time out for a coffee there, on the way to somewhere else.
I love somewhere else too, but that’s a different story.
(All photos taken around Larne Borough Council)