The Commitments

DVD Rating: ***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Angus Wolfe Murray's film review of The Commitments
The Commitments

What is the craft of the Making Of mini-doc? Talking heads on anecdotal overdrive? Handheld shots of actors hanging about, looking bored?

It can be all of these, or none of these. What you are hoping for is surprise. It doesn't happen often and it doesn't happen here. Alan Parker says exactly what you expect him to say. The actors who were not actors - they are musicians - talk about the thrill of it all. Johnny Murphy and Bronagh Gallagher are the exception, because they are pros. Murphy, who plays Joey "The Lips", admits that he liked working with kids who hadn't acted before. "You don't have to worry about them when they are behind you, they won't upstage you." Gallagher, who comes from Northern Ireland, had to work hard on the Dublin accent, especially with the four letter words.

Copy picture

It is important to pace a Making Of and not pad it with too many scenes from the film. This one is guilty of that. Between the puff and the pints, a story emerges of a famous director discovering a slim volume, written by a Dublin schoolteacher almost entirely in dialogue, which had him falling about with laughter. He decided to set it in a working-class area of Dublin with a cast of unknowns and, coming from a similar deprived district of North London, felt instantly at home.

"There are 1200 bands playing in Dublin every night," Parker says - that cannot be right, surely? He checked them out, or so he says, looking for his "actors". He chose Robert Arkins, probably the most talented of all the musicians, to play Jimmy Rabbitte, the hapless manager of The Commitments, and 16-year-old Andrew Strong, whose singing is one of the most astonishing things about the film, turned up one day with his dad, whom Parker had brought along for a backup crooning session.

You wonder, considering the exhaustive search for his band members, why Parker chose these particular guys. With the exception of Strong and Murphy, who wasn't a musician, they lack star quality. Maria Doyle, Gallagher and Angeline Ball, on the other hand, have it in spades. "The girls were much gutsier than the boys," Parker remembers. "The heat they generate together is quite incredible." Sadly, Doyle and Ball don't appear on this DVD.

The writer Roddy Doyle, later to become a Booker prize winner and, in literary circles, as famous as Parker, is seen sitting at a bar, nursing a pint. He is quietly understated and modest and contributes soundbites that neither hurt, nor intrigue.

The Commitments Looking Back repeats the style of the Making Of over a decade later. Everyone looks older. Parker repeats what he said before. Doyle is balder, but still as nice. Producer Lynda Myles has a word or two - more from her would have been a bonus - and the hugely popular masters of British TV sitcom, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who now live in L.A and were brought in to doctor Doyle's original script, are delightfully relaxed.

Murphy, Guinness in hand, is, as before, the most entertaining and indiscreet. He tells us that Parker even auditioned Van Morrison, who was "incredibly rude about the script." He says the hardest thing for him was playing the trumpet and riding the moped. Since that's what he does most of the time on film, it can't have been much fun.

"Murphy was like one of the kids," Parker says, "He's never grown up." Bearded, raggedy, with a wicked sense of humour, he's like an elf that never went home when the pubs opened. He remembers how Parker rehearsed the entire movie as a stage play a week before they started shooting. "The three girls were infinitely better actors than the boys," he says. Since Joey "The Lips" has a fling with each one in turn, he might be considered biased. He's funny about the four letter words, which he considers an integral part of Irish culture. "We'd be lost without bad language," he says. "We wouldn't communicate at all."

The other decent sized featurette is Dublin Soul - The Working Class & Changing Face Of Dublin. Doyle is in the pub again, reminiscing and giving a history lesson. A local politician talks of social changes post EU and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Using archive footage and old photographs, it is possible to see the fetid slums of the old city and compare them with the mania for modern construction. "We have become one of the most expensive countries to live in," bemoans the politician.

This may have little to do with Jimmy Rabbitte's soul band that became, for one night only, truly great, but is certainly not without value. As a DVD extras package, the producers have made a genuine effort, for which we should be thankful.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2005
Share this with others on...
The Commitments packshot
The trials and tribulations of a budding working-class Dublin soul band.
Amazon link

Product Code: 0190601001

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.85 Wide Screen

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Extras: Making Of The Commitments; Dublin Soul - The Working Class & Changing Face Of Dublin; The Commitments Looking Back; trailer

Search database: