“The Informer” portrays Dublin as a place of poverty and betrayal. The opening scene shows a dusty city with women haggard and covered scurrying about. It is a desolate and saddening picture, but it sets the scene for motives. When people are poor, they will do what they must in order to survive. The wanted poster of a man floats around the city, offering 20 pounds for him. It sticks to the feet of various people and eventually to the man who turns him over to the police. News and deeds of the citizens of Dublin follow them wherever they go. They can choose to act on it for their own benefit or not. In this case, the Informer did. He betrayed his friend by releasing the information about the wanted man to the police. This then leads to a gruesome murder by the police in front of that man’s family. For a body, he receives 20 pounds. In comparison, it only costs 10 pounds to get to America. Life is worth double the American Dream, yet the Informer squanders it by getting drunk off his guilt. 

The violent reaction of the community shows how deplorable it is to betray even criminals to the police. The Irish have positioned themselves against the police. They are suspicious of those watching them and edgy against the military. Each person hates the Informer, yet none of them are aware it is the same person they are benefiting from. Gippo gives the rest of the money to Katie in front of the investigators, thereby exposing himself. In exchange, they are ready to kill Gippo but even Frankie’s sister does not want that to happen. It is before the mother, “Mary”, that this Judas repents and then dies. At the very least, he is saved, not from the community, but by the Lord. 

New Irish Literature and Literary Studies

New Irish Literature and Literary Studies

Our ND Irish Studies Librarian and the Curator of Irish Studies Collections, Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, has a blog that keeps track of new and relevant books. You should check it out!

There’s a book listed that I had not heard of before and I have just added it to my list! Hollywood Cemetery, by Liam O’Flaherty. If you are writing about The Informer / Uptight, you might want to check it out. O’Flaherty spent time in Hollywood while Ford was making the film. The novel recreates his time there from a satirical pov and supports my reading of the film as noir (I think). Very interesting development. It seems the novel was banned in Ireland and only survived one printing.

Aedín also included this note: Please don’t hesitate to ask if there are books or articles you need. There is so much information about online resources and services that I’d rather pass it along selectively as needed, but you can find it all in the ‘COVID 19 Service Continuity’ link on the library home page.

So again, if you have trouble finding materials while you write your research papers, please let me know. I will do my best to help you locate the texts you need to finish your papers.

Happy reading and writing!

New Irish Literature and Literary Studies

A Response to the Critics Who Hated UpTight!

Who has the authority to determine what one is allowed to use to describe their experiences? In class this week, we looked at how film critics slammed UpTight! for its choice to adapt an Irish story to the African American context. I’d like to respond to these critics with the argument that The Informer is not an exclusively Irish story, as it lacks the foundation in Irish history. Since the movie is not specifically Irish, anyone is free to adapt it. UpTight!, on the other hand, takes The Informer’s frame and develops it into a specifically Black story.

While the book that it is based on is clearly founded in its Irish roots, The Informer does not carry an effective amount of Irish identity and could be about any culture. The director himself was actually Irish American, not Irish. There is a vagueness in identity present from the very beginning of the movie, as the Judas reference fails to place the reader within a specifically Irish context. Judas has a clear connection to Christianity and works as a parallel to Gypo, but the movie’s main focus is not on that of religion. While it depicted some of the culture and suffering of the Irish people, it sacrificed the opportunity to make a larger political statement and tie itself more firmly in the Irish identity in the hopes of appealing to a wider audience. In failing to tackle the specific Irish history, The Informer allows a passive audience. Americans are not involved in Irish life so they may not know what is going on or make the connections. Being an Irish American, the director would also have been lacking in experience and understanding of the Irish people. The Informer truly could have been about any time period or any people; it did not seem specific to the Irish or educate the audience about them on more than a superficial and basic level. The movie and its structure actually reminded me much of old gangster movies, which I associate with a more Italian identity.   

If The Informer is not a specifically Irish film, then why isn’t it fair to adapt it to the African American experience? Through the African American’s use of this frame, they altered it in order to showcase their own specific identity. Unlike The Informer, it could not have been based anywhere. The audience’s first introduction to UpTight! is with real footage from MLK’s funeral and the African American response to it. MLK has a clear connection to the black political moment that is what the movie is focused on. By starting with MLK, the movie is committing to telling the story of a specifically and unmistakably African American experience founded in reality. As the movie continues, layers are added to more fully depict what life looks like for African Americans and their broader struggles. Those involved hoped to use this film as a way to educate and gain support for their cause.  It was produced by many people involved in the movements and you can really see their dedication to the project and drawing attention to the injustices and struggles. The film showcases a recognizable setting for Americans, as it takes place in the very real time and place that they are living. As a result of the layers and strong foundation in the history of African Americans, the viewers become more active and should have a response to what they see on screen and its relation to the world they are living in. Unfortunately, this film was never able to achieve the full glory and recognition that it deserved. 

The critics’ excuses for why the film should not have been made are cop-out responses. There are many examples of problematic comparisons that the Irish have made with the blacks that have been widely used and accepted, such as the phrase “wage slavery,” so adapting a film that’s arguably not even Irish should not be the thing that crosses the line. It’s not as if the makers of UpTight! were trying to ignore the fact that it was a remake, it was something they were upfront about. Even if one considers The Informer to be a strongly Irish film, the comparisons being made are not degrading to the Irish or their struggles. Therefore, the critics’ reasoning is faulty and seems to be more of an excuse to degrade the impact of UpTight!— a film that undeniably contributes to the African American story and it is a true shame that it has been mostly forgotten.

“I Forgot Something”: Community and Survival in “Uptight”

In The Informer and Uptight, both main characters display great guilt at their respective betrayals of friends and subsequent destruction of community.  Yet, The Informer’s ending of religious absolution and penitence is changed significantly in the ending of Uptight in which Tank receives no absolution and symbolically dies where he stood up to white oppression.  This major change is an important adaptation in the meta-narratives of both films; whereas The Informer ends with Gypo dying, but achieving forgiveness and exclaiming Frankie’s name in joy, suggesting a kind of mend between the two and the community, Uptight ends with Tank being shot, falling, and symbolically being downtrodden by the rubble he used to work with, suggesting an unresolved break in the community, as well as the continued debates of violence or peaceful means of protest.  With its nihilistic, more dour ending, Uptight shows that while there are similarities between the two films and they reference towards movements and events across the Atlantic, each group cannot compare itself to the other, also seen in Transatlantic.

Even thought Gypo mentions several times that he has fallen on hard times and doesn’t have much money, “Uptight” makes a point to show the desperation of Tank as well as other members of his community, most notably Laurie played  by Ruby Dee.  By piling up these external pressures upon Tank, Dassin and the writers suggest that Tank’s betrayal is the only way for him to attempt to get by, although it means separating himself from his community by killing Johnny.  The character of Daisy also represents this breaking of community, whose work as a police informant splits himself between membership with Johnny, Tank, and their community and the police force, as well as first introducing the idea of ratting out Johnny to the police.  This dilemma haunts Tank throughout the film, as he is already fighting to survive before he must hide from his own community because of his betrayal.  Once he turns Johnny in and he is murdered by the police, Tank goes on a quick downward spiral, tortured by his treason against his people and his quest for survival.  His own search for refuge and forgiveness echoes broader black concerns at the time, such as social belonging and upward progress.  The scene of the black Vietnam veterans echoes the growing tension of the black community, both against the oppressive white majority and also among themselves in their desire for successful protest.  Tank’s later scene with BG also refers back to this impossibility for the black man to survive in this increasingly hostile world.  When Tank begs “I got no place to go,” and BG only responds, “Then die!” this both foreshadows Tank’s own death after his betrayal excises him from the black community and also shows that it is perhaps preferable to die than to live within the place under the oppression of the white majority forces.  Once Tank is finally confronted in the steel mill, he is shot and killed in the same place where he worked for years, trapped toiling away and unable to resist prejudice and mistreatment.  Even when he did originally lash out, it caused him to get in trouble with the police, leading him to alcoholism, preventing him from helping Johnny.  This endless circle of oppression shows the bleak determinism of the black experience in the 1960’s: one can live in a system of oppression or die trying to escape.

Despite its basic description as a remake of reimagining of “The Informer,” “Uptight” and its world show a much more complex social setting, with the inner community of African Americans in the film already split early within the film on issues such as the most effective way to protest.  The more depressing ending of Dassin’s film captures the difficulty of black life immediately after the assassination of MLK and the idea of peaceful protest: either suffering or dying trying to function outside the system, Uptight‘s complex and difficult ending shows the fragile ideas of community and the elusive survival of everyday life under oppression.

When the Center Doesn’t Hold

One thing that stuck with me from this week was when Heaney quoted Yeats in his piece for The Listener. That’s not the first time I’ve seen that particular Yeats poem, The Second Coming, used to describe periods of extreme change. Joan Didion’s book Slouching Towards Bethlehem uses it to frame the disenchanted, lost youth of ‘the 67 Summer of Love and I believe it also informed the title of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I think the resonances of a second coming – the feelings of imminent, uncontrollable, violent change – frame our discussions of political protest both during the Troubles and the American Civil Rights movement very well.  There is a sense of confusion and loss and sadness that came with the change and seems to haunt that era and Uptight as well.  As we noted in class, 1968 felt like a fracturing of every effort towards change that activists had made up till then. The center was not holding and people were left with unredeemable circumstances and violence. I think that’s why Tank dies without redemption, unlike Gypo.  That isn’t to say that the circumstances Gypo encounters within The Informer aren’t violent too, but that attitudes had changed about activism and violent protest when Uptight was made.  Redemption was important for the audiences of the earlier film and is restorative, but backgrounded by the chaos of ‘68 and the world it seems to create, redemption is not possible and is potentially irreconcilable to the creators of Uptight – it’s the more accurate reflection of the state of their world.

We discussed in class how these two films have very different tenors and I think part of that is a result of who was making the films.  The Informer was made by an Irish American about the Irish whereas Uptight was made by Black activists about Black activism. It makes Tank’s character really interesting. Gypo can easily be read as a caricature, like the stage Irishman from the days of Synge.  I wonder how we are to read Tank then.  His desperation and subsequent turn to alcohol compounds throughout the movie as each new tragedy or misfortune befalls him, beginning with Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. Does his descent, like his death, say something about the desperation and frustration of the time itself? Or does it seek to present a critique of the caricature Gypo posed in the original film?

As an aside, over the weekend I started watching Self Made, the Netflix show based on the life of  Madam C.J. Walker. The first episode details the beginnings of her company and a dramatization of some of the driving forces behind her ventures.  It really seemed to highlight some of the themes we were talking about with Color Struck about community, image, and belonging and made me think hard about how I phrased my question on colorism for class last Wednesday.  I think the show focuses a lot on the pain associated with colorism and its violent history, but with a main character that is less self-defeating than Hurston’s Emma.  If anyone gets the chance to watch (I haven’t watched much more, but it seems interesting), I’d be curious to know your thoughts on the way these themes are represented in the show, particularly after our discussion about drama and preservation.  

“Sufficient Ground for Understanding and Absolution:” Thinking about Violence in Light of Our Reading This Week

This week, we’ve talked about a lot of violence. We read Heaney’s poetic descriptions of the bog bodies and witnessed death at the hands of the state and at the hands of the revolutionaries in The Informer and Uptight. We’ve also learned about The Troubles and three Bloody Sundays, two in Ireland and one in America. For anyone interested, Wikipedia acknowledges twenty “Bloody Sundays” around the world in the last century and a half.

This week, we also encountered Ciaran Carson’s reading of Heaney’s bog body poems, where he says, “It is as if he is saying suffering like this is natural; these things have always happened; they happened then, they happen now, and that is sufficient ground for understanding and absolution. It is as if there never were and never will be any political consequences of such acts.” At the very least, the assertion that “these things have always happened” seems to make sense in light of what we’ve seen.

Additionally, in her post on Uptight this week, Professor Kinyon highlighted two cases in 1963 where African-Americans were murdered and justice was not handed out until decades later. The INCORE article similarly noted that, in an attempt to heal the wounds still open from the Troubles, the police force in Ulster created a team in 2005 to investigate many unsolved murders from the time period. While justice was eventually served out in both the African-American and Irish contexts, the tremendous delay justifies Heaney’s perspective that there never would be any political consequences of violence and suffering.

Thus, the only question remaining to determine whether Heaney’s perspective, specifically in Punishment, is correct is whether the continuity of suffering and violence and the low consequences for it are sufficient grounds for understanding the side of the perpetrator and absolving them. Is the idea that violence just happens enough for us to understand and then absolve people from it?

I would disagree with this idea: the continuity of violence does not justify it. At some point, Heaney did not agree with this assertion either. In his article in the Listener, he castigates the Black Panthers for their openly violent rhetoric. To Heaney, it is grotesque and uncivil; the Black Panthers’ violence is not understood or absolved. Plainly, he sees it as wrong.

While the difference between his characterization of violence in The Troubles and violence in the later stages of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States could be explained by an outsider’s view of the Black Panthers, I would argue that the difference, instead, shows a lack of understanding of revolution. Revolution is based on the idea that the suffering and violence afflicted on the oppressed are not natural or justifiable. While the IRA and Black Panthers may have believed that the path to ending this suffering was inflicting suffering on the opposition, the core of any civil rights movement is an understanding that violence is not natural and understanding violence is not a reason to absolve the enemy, but rather to seek to end that suffering. While “these things have always happened,” the continuity of violence does not excuse the crime.

Uptight: Details

Please take a moment to read Roger Ebert’s entire review.

Here’s an early contract for the film

Some points to consider:
-What are King’s words that are being played? The I’ve been to the Mountaintop speech. Free at Last. Free at Last. Thank God almighty I’m Free at Last.

-King’s legacy is discussed immediately. What does Tank say? How do Johnny, his sister, and BG portray MLK (Booker!)? What does Johnny say in regards to King’s death: He was a big man…but he was holding us back. Memphis proves the answer is guns and more guns

-What else is happening? The streets are filled with people. Can you explain the various positions of the people who have taken to the streets?
– Complete social unrest; out of work, angry, frustrated=disenfranchised.
– Bible thumpers
– Black men who have gone into armed forces. Most likely experienced racism in the army are also excluded from black social groups at home.
– Representatives of non-violent direct action (MLKs primary form of action)
– Continual references to being on one’s knees. This was a complaint in Ireland as well. Explain the tension between someone who prays for salvation and someone who takes up arms.

-The militants steal arms as a way to prepare for what they are characterizing as a revolution?
– Revolt: rise in rebellion: the insurgents revolted and had to be suppressed; refuse to acknowledge someone or something as having authority: voters may revolt when they realize the cost of the measures.
– Rebellion: an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler; the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention: an act of teenage rebellion.
– Insurrection: a violent uprising against an authority or government: the insurrection was savagely put down | opposition to the new regime led to armed insurrection.
– Riot: a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd; an uproar; an outburst of uncontrolled feelings: a riot of emotions raged through Frances.
– Uprising: an act of resistance or rebellion; a revolt: an armed uprising.

When the stumping starts talking about machines and being obsolete, he looks directly at Tank. How has Tank become obsolete? What is significant about Tank being killed/assassinated at the mill he worked at for over twenty years by a black man? The mill is empty and he lost his job there for standing up for other black workers.

(Tank is a middle-aged, unemployed alcoholic who supported King’s non-violent approach, which the others have rejected in favor of violent revolution. It is later revealed that Tank lost his longtime job at the steel mill when he attacked a white co-worker who harassed the black mill workers. As a result, Tank was sent to prison and since being released, has been unable to find work.)

-How is the welfare system portrayed? The good, the bad, and the undermining of a community due to how social welfare is administered in the US.

– Teddy says: You can’t do it alone. Without me you cannot win. And he is proven to be right. When he tries calling to warn the group about the police coming to get Johnny they hang up on him. What do you make of that interaction? King’s mourners are primarily black, but it is very much an integrated audience. Dassin is white, a blacklisted American director who was forced to live in Europe, is making this film with a primarily black cast and co-written by Ruby Dee.

-Yet Corbin says, we have to do it ourselves. We have to develop our own knowhow.
-What do you make of this interaction? Both sides seem to make convincing arguments and treat each other as they do not like or want to be treated.

-Mentioned at the meeting: Medgar Evers (1963, applied to law school and rejected b/c he was black). Shot down in his drive way. In 1994, Byron De La Beckwith, was convicted for Evers’ murder. Also in 63, four girls were killed in a church by a bomb. Again, it wasn’t until years later, 1977, 2000, and 2001, that people were convicted for this crime.

-Mentioned at the meeting: Fascism and Camps. The reality of what happened in Germany is present and there is real belief that black citizens think they are going to be picked up and thrown into camps. BG says this is already happening. Can the prison industrial complex system be seen as a form of camps?

-Talk about the fun house scene. 1:01:58 /44:17 left. This idea that all of black America is in agreement with each other when the film shows, in this small section of Cleveland has depicted many many different points of view. Tank in many ways describes his experience as a black man in America. No water, no money, and exclusion from mainstream society.

-Money. What is the significance of money in this film? In Ford’s Informer he contrasts the reward with a opportunity to go back to America, start over. New life. What is happening here?

-Homosexuality. Clarence/ Daisy is immediately used as a scapegoat by Tank. What do you make of the depiction of homosexuality by Roscoe Lee Browne and his date, Claude.

-Options for tank getting money: hitting a number OR selling blood. Can you imagine the desperation to sell your blood for money so you can eat?

The Informer: Details

Some points to consider:

There are a number of brilliant scenes in the film that help capture not only the battle between ideals and weakness, but also the immorality Gypo feels for being an Informer.

One) The blind man. If justice is blind then the Gypo is sentenced to death from the moment he walks out of the police station. Upon seeing the blind man, Gypo intends to make yet another sacrifice of his morality to save his own skin, but when he realizes the man is blind gypo gives the man a quid and goes on way.

Two) The camera consistently shifts to clocks after Gypo has taken the reward money. Literally he’s running out of time. While Gypo might race from one section of Dublin to the next, his movements are followed and soon everyone will see his shame.

Three) The court scene. The nature of the party’s court is underground and secret. Not only does this court convene at 1:00 am, the justice being doled out is not in a proper courtroom of elected officials, but in the courtroom of the ordinary people.

Finally, the constant focus on the money. Whether it is the from the beginning of the film and the reference to Judas or the way the camera follows the bills and change Gypo carries, Ford wants the viewer to realize that principles aren’t free. Money is precious in this Ireland, even coins, the viewer can understand why Gypo goes after the reward money. He wants out of this dark world, he wants his girl to be respectable, he wants to start a new life. And perhaps, it is through the focus on money that Ford highlights one of the key aspects of film: The corruption of the American Dream.

While The Informer is not set in America, the American dream is very much present in this film. The reason behind Gypo’s deceit is the desire to go to America. For Gypo and Katie, America promises freedom from oppression, freedom from strife, and most importantly, freedom from their past. But similar to black Americans who arrived on America’s shores via slave ship’s and then upon winning their freedom from slavery are weighted down by Jim Crow in the South and ghettoizing in the North, America’s promise of freedom is not available to all who desire it.

In fact, without even stepping onto American soil, Gypo and Katie learn an essential fact of American life, that money is the root of all evil.