Nationality: Irish. Born: Sligo County, Ireland, 25 February 1950. Education: Read History and literature at University College, Dublin. Career: Formed Irish Writers' Co-op, 1974; had his first collection of short stories, Night in Tunisia , published, 1976; worked as a "creative associate" on John Boorman's Excalibur , in fringe theatre, and as a writer, before making his directorial debut with Angel , 1982; made his first American film, High Spirits , 1988; directed music videos for The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Awards: Guardian Prize for fiction, for A Night in Tunisia , 1979; London Critics Circle Best Film and Best Director, Fantasporto Critics Award and Audience Jury Award and International Fantasy Film Award, for The Company of Wolves , 1984; Palme d'Or, Cannes Festival, and De Sica Award, Sorrento Festival, for Mona Lisa , 1986; Best Screenplay Academy Award, Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film British Academy Award, Writers Guild of America Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Foreign Film Independent Spirit Award, New York Film Critics Circle Best Screenplay, for The Crying Game , 1992; Venice Film Festival Golden Lion, for Michael Collins , 1996; Berlin Film Festival Silver Berlin Bear, for The Butcher Boy , 1997; Brussels Internationa Film Festival Crystal Iris, 1998; Brussels International Film Festival Silver Raven for In Dreams , 1999; Best Adapted Screenplay British Academy Award, for The End of the Affair , 1999. Address: 6 Sorrento Terrace, Dalkey County, Dublin, Ireland
Films as Director:
Angel ( Danny Boy ) (+ sc)
The Company of Wolves (+ sc)
Mona Lisa (+ co-sc)
High Spirits (+ sc)
We're No Angels
The Miracle (+ sc)
The Crying Game (+ sc)
Interview with the Vampire
Michael Collins (+ sc)
The Butcher Boy (+ co-sc, exec pr)
In Dreams (+ co-sc); The End of the Affair (+ sc, pr)
Excalibur (Boorman)(creative associate); Traveller (Comerford) (sc)
The Last September (Warner) (co-exec pr)
By JORDAN: books—
A Night in Tunisia , London, 1976.
The Past , London, 1980.
Dream of the Beast , London, 1983.
Mona Lisa , with David Leland, London, 1986.
High Spirits , London, 1989.
The Crying Game , London, 1993.
A Neil Jordan Reader , New York, 1993.
Sunrise with Sea Monster , London, 1994.
Nightlines , New York, 1995.
Michael Collins: Screenplay and Film Diary , New York, 1996.
Collected Fiction , London, 1997.
By JORDAN: articles—
Interview with M. Open, in Film Directions (Belfast), vol. 5, no. 17, 1982.
Interviews in Time Out (London), 13 October 1983 and 13 September 1984.
Interview with Paul Taylor and Steve Jenkins, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), September 1984.
Interview with J. Powers, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), July/August 1986.
"Lines Written in Dejection," in Producer (London), May 1987.
Interview in City Limits (London), 8 December 1988.
"Here Comes Mr. Jordan," interview with R. Sawhill in Interview (New York), December 1989.
"Neil Jordan's Guilty Pleasures," in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1992.
"Irish Eyes," interview with M. Glicksman in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1990.
Interview with Lois Gould in New York Times Magazine , 9 January 1994.
Interview with S. O'Shea in Harper's Bazaar (New York), November 1994.
"Neil Jordan Gets His Irish Up," interview with Dave Karger, in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 24 April 1998.
On JORDAN: articles—
Barra, Alan, "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," in American Film (Los Angeles), January 1990.
O'Toole, F., "Neil Jordan Gets Back to Making Home Movies," in New York Times , 14 October 1990.
Barra, Alan, "Jordan Airs," in Village Voice (New York), 6 August 1991.
Hooper, J., "Pop Terrorist," in Esquire (New York), December 1992.
"Rules of the Game," in New Yorker , 7 December 1992.
McDonagh, M., "Sex, Politics, and Identity Clash in Neil Jordan's Crying Game ," in Film Journal , December 1992.
Harris, M., "The Little Movie That Could: The Crying Game ," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 12 February 1993.
Conant, J. "Lestat, c'est moi," in Esquire (New York), March 1994.
Kenny, Glenn, "Eire Jordan," in Premiere (New York), May 1998.
* * *
The film career of Neil Jordan could be said to parallel the fortunes of the British film industry during the 1980s. He made a stunning impact with his first two films. Angel was arguably the most accomplished film-making debut sponsored by Channel 4, while The Company of Wolves was the first feature to be produced by Palace, one of the more exciting film companies to emerge in the decade. Mona Lisa consolidated his reputation as a distinctive and visionary filmmaker. However, by the end of the decade both Jordan and the British film industry seemed to have run out of steam. In comparison with his earlier work, the more overtly commercial High Spirits and We're No Angels can only be described as mediocre and sadly lacking in ideas. While the director recovered in the early 1990s with The Crying Game , a film that rode a wave of publicity to an unlikely level of financial success, his subsequent features have been astoundingly uneven. While always expertly crafted, his more mainstream projects generally have been disappointing; meanwhile, his more personal ones have been consistently outstanding.
At its most successful, Jordan's cinema demonstrates his ability to make the familiar seem strange and in doing so to question our assumptions about the nature of the world. All his films revolve to some extent around the idea that reality is complex and multi-faceted. Jordan's characters often encounter nightmare worlds that they must negotiate rather than push aside precisely because they are unacknowledged dimensions of reality. Angel and Mona Lisa , for instance, are similar in structure; each deals with individuals who become inadvertently caught up in personal nightmares which threaten to destroy them: Danny with sectarian violence and bloody revenge and George with the hellish underworld of teenage prostitution and drug addiction.
The idea of the nightmare world is given a more literal rendition in The Company of Wolves. Based on a short story by Angela Carter, the film is a reworking of the Little Red Riding Hood story, a bizarre and sumptuous mixture of fairy tale, gothic horror, and Freudian psychoanalysis which betrays a rich variety of cinematic influences, from Cocteau through Michael Powell and Hammer horror to Laughton's Night of the Hunter. The film explicitly challenges the spurious division between reality and fantasy by setting up two distinct worlds: the "real" world of the girl asleep in bed, suffering from the onset of her first menstrual period, and the "dream world" of Rosalean and her granny, set in a magical forest which was entirely constructed in a studio. At the film's conclusion, the barrier between these two worlds is broken down; the wolves from the dream invade the sleeping girl's bedroom by smashing through a picture and the window.
It follows that symbolism is extremely important in Jordan's work. The Company of Wolves is rife with symbolic images relating to sexuality and procreation. Mona Lisa employs such devices to explore the film's central thematic concern with innocence and corruption. Images relating to childhood, and by extension innocence—the white rabbit, the silly glasses, the old woman's shoe, the dwarves—are juxtaposed with scenes of degradation, depravity, and violence. In Angel lost innocence is again explored. Danny's decision to swap his saxophone for a gun effectively symbolizes the idea of the heavenly musician turned avenging angel. It is precisely the ambiguity of Danny—a figure who straddles the divine/demonic divide—which gives the film its power. Initially repulsed by the violence that claims an angelic deaf-mute girl, Danny becomes a cold-blooded killer himself in his pursuit of the perpetrators. In comparison, the religious symbolism in We're No Angels seems rather clumsy and sentimental.
Despite being a powerful piece of cinema, there were indications in Mona Lisa that Jordan had begun to lose his sense of direction. The film lacks the moral ambiguity that made Angel so challenging. George remains a rather naive and socially inept character, his uncomplicated and thoroughly "decent" moral code at odds with the world in which he becomes involved, a world he cannot begin to understand. But his naivete is too overwhelming to be credible, and his social ineptitude borders on cliché. Unlike Angel and The Company of Wolves , the resolution of Mona Lisa is rather cozy and contrived; George returns to "normality," apparently none the worse for his traumatic experience.
Significantly, Jordan also attempted to lighten Mona Lisa by introducing comic elements, courtesy of the eccentric character Thomas, played by Robbie Coltrane. This familiar strategy in British cinema more often than not serves to blunt a film's cutting edge. High Spirits and We're No Angels demonstrate rather painfully that Jordan does not have a feel for comedy. The former relies on unimaginative stereotyping and comic cliché, while the latter descends at times into messy slapstick reminiscent of Abbott and Costello or the Three Stooges. Indeed, apart from the odd visual touch it is virtually impossible to recognize the latter film as the work of the person who made Angel or The Company of Wolves. After the debacle of We're No Angels , Jordan sensibly returned to Ireland. There he directed The Miracle , an atmospheric, subtly sensuous coming-of-age drama. The scenario's focus is on James and Rose, alienated adolescents who perceive the world with the type of poetic cynicism that is the license of bright, bored teens. James's father is introduced as a widower who drinks too much and plays bad music in a ten-cent dance hall. One day a pretty mystery woman (Beverly D'Angelo) comes to town. James and Rose are fascinated by her, and he soon begins wooing her. But he is unaware of her true identity, and Jordan proceeds to throw a curve ball at his audience that rivals the one thrown in Jordan's next film, The Crying Game. It turns out that the woman is none other than James's mother.
The Crying Game was a sensation, a feature which the film media extolled as a "must-see." The praise was warranted, for The Crying Game is inventive and entertaining, and it spotlights what was to become one of the most talked-about celluloid plot twists in screen history. It begins as a bleak political drama in which a kidnapped black British soldier (Forest Whitaker) is held hostage by an Irish Republican Army militant (Stephen Rea). Eventually, the latter sets out to locate the former's sweetheart (Jaye Davidson), who proves to have some interesting secrets. The Crying Game is at once a political drama, a thriller, and a love story. It became one of the rare "art house" films to make its way into mall theaters.
Jordan's follow-up to The Crying Game was the much anticipated but overproduced and ultimately tedious adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. Despite the presence of some of Hollywood's hottest actors, including Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, and Christian Slater, the best thing about the film was the provocative performance of young Kirsten Dunst in the role of Claudia, the child vampire. Equally unsatisfactory was In Dreams , a disagreeable thriller about a woman whose dreams are taken over by the thoughts of a psychic child killer. Despite winning acclaim in some quarters, Jordan's adaptation of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair was, in its pace and performances, an unsuccessful throwback to an earlier era of staid British filmmaking.
Happily, not all of the filmmaker's post- Crying Game projects have been disappointments. Michael Collins was a project close to Jordan's heart. It is a stirring biography of one of the central figures of 20th-century Irish history: a leader of the failed 1916 rebellion who went on to mastermind the guerilla war against the British, and who was just 31-years-old when he was assassinated. To be sure, Michael Collins is stunning filmmaking, but what makes it most provocative is its take on history. Its central character (Liam Neeson) is portrayed as a combination rabble rouser/rebel leader/reluctant terrorist who declares that he despises himself for the mayhem he spreads. He simply has no choice in the matter, and this assertion is meant to humanize him. Meanwhile, the British are portrayed as barbarous imperialists, and so Collins and his compatriots have no recourse but to battle them with equal doses of venom. The difference is that the British indiscriminately brutalize, while the Irish kill out of patriotism. Collins is depicted as a single-minded rebel who puts his country over his ego; his opposite from within the dissident ranks, Eamon de Valera (Alan Rickman), with whom he has political and strategic differences, is portrayed as a back-stabbing schemer. Michael Collins presents itself as a slice of Irish history, yet it should be left for the historians to determine the accuracy of its characterizations, along with the facts as presented—beginning with the assertion that de Valera was responsible for luring Collins to his death.
Finally, The Butcher Boy is one of the sleeper films of the late 1990s: an uncompromising and boldly filmed portrait of a hellish childhood. The title character, Francie Brady (Eammon Owens), is a pre-teen who is coming of age in a small Irish village in the early 1960s. This luckless lad is saddled with an ineffectual, alcoholic father and a loony mother. Adding to his plight is his rough treatment by a stern, humorless adult who lives in his town, and his betrayal by his best friend and "bloodbrother." On the outside Francie is eversmiling, and blessed with personality to spare. Yet his bravado only hides his heartbreak, and his increasingly disturbing fantasies are running wild in his subconscious. At such a tender age, he is faced with more than his share of rejection and, as a result, he descends into madness. Jordan does a superb job of visualizing the goings-on in Francie's mind, and the manner in which his youthful fantasies, coupled with the anti-communist paranoia of the times, mix with his reality in the most incendiary manner.
Perhaps because it is such a completely unidealized portrait of childhood, The Butcher Boy failed to earn the publicity won by The Crying Game. Yet it is just as fine a film—and it may be linked to Jordan's most successful earlier work as an exploration of the complex link between brutal reality and nightmarish fantasy.
—Duncan J. Petrie, updated by Rob Edelman