New Yorkers can nonetheless look forward to this year’s annual reading of “Ulysses” at Symphony Space, and, for the armchair enthusiast, there’s the live broadcast on NPR of that performance. For fans of Joyce on film, Kultur Films has made available on DVD a 1999 Joyce biography that addresses the mutually ambivalent relationship between the author and the city of his birth.
“So This Is Dyoublong?” directed by Nuala Cunningham and Ciaran O’Connor, takes its title from a common French mispronunciation of Dublin that Joyce encountered during his lengthy exile in Paris. Narrated by flamboyant Joyce scholar David Norris, the documentary relies heavily on his one-man Joycean stage show, “Do You Hear What I’m Seeing.”
The film toggles between “Ulysses” anecdotes delivered from the stage by Norris in full Edwardian regalia, and interviews with figures from the Irish arts scene. Light on celebrity content though the film may be — this has to be the first Irish documentary since 1980 that doesn’t feature the wisdom of Bono — there are perceptive observations from actor Barry McGovern, writer Anthony Cronin and journalist Fintan O’Toole.
McGovern notes Joyce’s upgrade from perceived smut peddler to literary lion in Ireland — his mother angrily turned off the TV when Hugh Leonard’s Joyce adaptation ‘Stephen D’ was screened during his childhood, but sat proudly in the audience a decade later when her son played the lead role onstage. O’Toole, a bus conductor’s son himself, is perceptive on Joyce’s ear for the language of the ordinary working Dubliner. This sympathy for Dublin’s street argot is markedly absent in Joyce’s interpreter Norris, who betrays his class credentials in gleefully recounting his disdain for a cloth-cap joxer he met in Clanbrassil Street on one of his straw-boater-and-dickie-bow safaris deep into Bloom territory.
The filmmakers claim, grandly, that their documentary is “an in-depth look” at the life of Joyce, something that is scarcely possible in their lean running time of 40 minutes. While they address Joyce’s famous love of music, they are remiss, given their occupation, in leaving out his foray into cinema. Joyce started the first picture-house in Dublin, The Volta, in 1909, a doomed business venture that yielded even less income than his books. Nor are there any counterpoints to trigger a debate about a formerly controversial writer — Roddy Doyle, arguably the most talented living chronicler of Dublin dialogue, and, famously, a Joyce detractor who finds “Ulysses” tedious and overrated, is conspicuous by his absence.
An amusing trifle to add to the growing list of Joyce studies on video, “So This Is Dyoublong?” is a lightweight introduction to an author whose books are more bought than read, and is available on Amazon.com.