Irish Film Season: Barbaric Genius

Barbaric Genius

Barbaric Genius
by Dave O’Flanagan

In partnership with the Irish Film Board, Curzon Home Cinema kicks off a season celebrating the best in Irish cinema. The line-up includes the critically acclaimed and award-winning Parked and Waveriders, as well as What Richard Did, Frank, Mister John, Eden, Hill Street, Snap and Barbaric Genius. To mark the occasion here at Dog and Wolf, we’re bringing you our favourite picks from the season which began with Colm Meaney starring Parked and continues with documentary Barbaric Genius, about former vagrant, chess master and author John Healy.

Born in Kentish Town to Irish immigrant parents in 1942, John Healy left school at the age of 14 and joined the army where he had a successful boxing career. Soon after, Healy was dishonourably discharged for drunkenness and began a steady descent into alcoholism and petty crime which ultimately lead to sleeping rough on the streets of Camden. Following one of his stints in prison, a fellow inmate taught Healy to play chess and urged him to continue playing following his release. After 10 years of professional chess, Healy gave up on his ambition of becoming a Grandmaster and wrote ‘The Grass Arena’, a critically acclaimed and award-winning autobiography about his life.

There’s an interesting dichotomy at the heart of Barbaric Genius that’s symptomatic of many a tortured genius. On one hand you have John Healy’s inherently deep-seated introversion and on the other his unwavering ambition to have his works recognised. Threatening to axe-murder the chairman of publisher Faber and Faber in 1991, the film highlights the obvious difficulties with Healy’s combative nature where self promotion is concerned. It’s clear from interviews with ex-Faber employees however, that in spite of Healy’s embittered nature, he simply didn’t fit in with the gentrified world of publishing. While Paul Duane’s film highlights Healy’s aggressive streak, we also see the enduring friendships he holds as a result of his warmth, intelligence and humour. There’s a touching (and fleeting) moment in Healy’s final interview where we see a rare vulnerability reveal itself from the armour of his embattled existence – it hints at the complicated psyche of this ferociously intelligent man, and rounds out Duane’s fascinating documentary.

The Irish Film Season begins on 14th November. For further details go to the Curzon Home Cinema website.

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