The Alienist’, Hurray for Hollywood! (it’s a living)

The Alienist.

Despite being set in New York at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry and being filmed in Budapest, The Alienist boasts a pletho­ra of Irish tal­ent. Amongst the cast we find David Wilmot, Michael McEl­hat­ton, Peter Coo­nan, Gavin O’Connor, Sean McGin­ley, Mau­rice Byrne and Paul Reid. The prin­ci­ple direc­tors of pho­tog­ra­phy are Cathal Wat­ters and PJ Dil­lon, Der­mot Diskin edits and Philip Mur­phy is on set décor. 

Much of that is thanks to the arrival of Stu­art Car­olan and David Caf­frey. Car­olan was brought in as show run­ner in 2020 for sea­son 2, and asked Caf­frey to direct many of those sea­son 2 episodes for him. 

Get­ting work in Ire­land on film and tele­vi­sion is, to put it mild­ly, a pre­car­i­ous pur­suit. One pro­duc­er once summed it up mem­o­rably to me when he said, striv­ing to get a project off the ground in Ire­land was like “try­ing to fuck smoke”. 

Love/Hate. Here’s look­ing at you kids.

And you learn very ear­ly on that what sem­blance of sta­bil­i­ty there exists is to be found in tele­vi­sion. And, very quick­ly, what you real­ly hope for are the reg­u­lar pay­ments that a series can pro­vide you with. 

You don’t just get paid for a num­ber of episodes. Thanks to the vigour of the mus­cu­lar unions, you also have to get paid out for any pos­si­ble repeat screen­ings, often in mul­ti­ple ter­ri­to­ries and on dif­fer­ent platforms.

All of which means that what you secret­ly dream of more than any­thing else is get­ting that call up for a Hol­ly­wood series. So it’s hard­ly sur­pris­ing that Car­olan should have leapt at the chance to join the Alienist as show run­ner, albeit for sea­son 2. 

After all, with around $5 mil­lion per episode, he had con­sid­er­ably more mon­ey for each indi­vid­ual episode than he did for an entire sea­son of Love/Hate, an episode of which was said to have cost around €600,000. 

Heav­en’s Gate, Lord above.

Just to put all this in per­spec­tive. Every sin­gle one of the cast and crew would have greet­ed those five sea­sons of Love/Hate, with  €600,000 an episode(!), as all of their Christ­mases com­ing at once. 

The fact that, once it got over its teething prob­lems in sea­son 1, Love/Hate then evolved into one of the most excit­ing and dra­mat­i­cal­ly taut series ever broad­cast on Irish tele­vi­sion was very much but an added bonus.

So the prospect of join­ing a bona fide $5m an episode, prime time Hol­ly­wood dra­ma series — $5m an episode! — would, lit­er­al­ly, have been a dream come true for cast and crew alike. And it’s gen­uine­ly thrilling to see so many seri­ous­ly gift­ed actors and film mak­ers involved in such an opu­lent affair. The end prod­uct is very much nei­ther here nor there.

And, in fair­ness, sea­son 2 of the Alienist is no worse than sea­son 1 was. The open­ing episode of that first sea­son looked like a very ear­ly draft of the first assign­ment of a 1st year film stu­dent after spend­ing his very first week­end watch­ing noth­ing but Michael Cimi­no films. Well, specif­i­cal­ly, a Cimi­no film — see my ear­li­er review of Heaven’s Gate here.

It’s all so busy. There’s stuff every­where, And you keep wait­ing for it to take that final step from just plain bad to so-bad-it’s‑good. But, for what­ev­er alchem­i­cal rea­son, it some­how fails to ever make that tri­umphant tran­si­tion from pants to kitsch and camp.

Nev­er mind. It’s fan­tas­tic to see so many tal­ent­ed indi­vid­u­als so gain­ful­ly employed, and I very much hope that sea­son 3 gets giv­en the green light. After which, I’d love to then see them all get their teeth into some­thing with a lit­tle bit more bite.

You can see the trail­er for sea­son 2 of The Alienist here.

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The Farthest, one more gem from BBC 4’s Storyville

The Far­thest.

When the accom­plished film edi­tor Emer Reynolds first moved up to Dublin from Tip­per­ary it was to study sci­ence at Trin­i­ty Col­lege. But she was soon dis­tract­ed by and divert­ed to the world of film. 

So she was the per­fect can­di­date to tack­le what is one of the most extra­or­di­nary sto­ries of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Com­bin­ing as she does a pas­sion for sci­ence and a wealth of knowl­edge about the craft of sto­ry­telling. The result­ing film, The Far­thest, is a joy and a won­der to behold.

Sat­urn, from Voy­ager 1.

One of the conun­drums posed by space trav­el is; the fur­ther you go, the more fuel you need to take on board. The more fuel you take, the big­ger the space craft need­ed. And the big­ger the vehi­cle, the more fuel you need. And so on.

But in the late 60s, the boffins at Nasa realised that, once you’d mas­tered the fiendish­ly com­plex maths, you could send a space craft to a plan­et on exact­ly the right tra­jec­to­ry so that it ends up going into orbit around it.

And you could then use that orbit to ‘sling-shot’ the space craft on to wher­ev­er it was that you want­ed it to then go. Once you got it into that ini­tial orbit, there would­n’t be any need for any addi­tion­al fuel.

Jupiter, from Voy­ager 1.

And that fur­ther­more, for the one and only time in around 176 years, the four main gas giants of Jupiter, Sat­urn, Uranus and Nep­tune would be in align­ment between 1975 and 77. 

So they set about design­ing and build­ing what would become Voy­ager 1 and 2, which were both launched in the late sum­mer of 1977. And what had pre­vi­ous­ly been seen as but four blur­ry dots were sud­den­ly trans­formed into glo­ri­ous, detailed technicolour.

The Far­thest has three com­po­nents. First and fore­most, it’s the nuts and bolts sto­ry of the build­ing and launch­ing of the two space craft, as recount­ed by the indi­vid­u­als involved, a remark­ably large num­ber of whom spoke to Reynolds and her crew. 

The extra­or­di­nary pho­to of the solar sys­tem that Carl Sagan got Voy­ager 1 to take before mov­ing off for the edge of the solar sys­tem. That less then 1 pix­el dot is us.

Then, it’s the sto­ry of the fabled gold­en record that Carl Sagan over­saw the cre­ation of, and which each vehi­cle car­ries a copy of. This was and is an audio-visu­al record of life here on Earth, should any intel­li­gent life come into con­tact with them at any point in the future.

And final­ly, it’s a gen­tle mus­ing on the nature of human­i­ty. Because, apart from any­thing else, when we are all dead and buried and all signs of what was once life here on this plan­et have long since dis­ap­peared, the only rem­nant of our exis­tence will be car­ried on those two gold­en discs.

The Far­thest is every­thing you’d want in a doc­u­men­tary. Thrilling, uplift­ing and utter­ly com­pelling, you can see the trail­er for The Far­thest here:

And the full doc (which 90 min­utes despite this record­ing clock­ing at 120) is avail­able here:

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Atlas Shrugged”: Who is Ayn Rand?

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

In a word, arguably the most influ­en­tial Amer­i­can writer of the last hun­dred years. In the lat­ter half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, Ayn Rand was at once the most reviled pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al by any of the actu­al intel­lec­tu­als in Amer­i­ca. And the only one of them to have had any gen­uine impact on the Amer­i­can psy­che and the pub­lic at large.

Born in Saint Peters­burg in 1905, she was a child­hood friend of Nabokov’s younger sis­ter Olga. And after becom­ing one of the first women to grad­u­ate from a Russ­ian uni­ver­si­ty, she emi­grat­ed to the States, grav­i­tat­ing to Hol­ly­wood. There she found work as an extra on a Cecil B. DeMille pic­ture, and she then spent the next decade or so work­ing as a Hol­ly­wood hack and writ­ing minor plays and unre­mark­able novels.

That all changed with the pub­li­ca­tion of her two mon­u­men­tal­ly suc­cess­ful nov­els, The Foun­tain­head and Atlas Shrugged. The for­mer was pub­lished in 1943, and although large­ly ignored by crit­ics it sold mil­lions and was quick­ly adapt­ed into a Hol­ly­wood film and a Broad­way play. 

With the finan­cial secu­ri­ty that that afford­ed her, she moved to New York where she was able to fur­ther devel­op her so say phi­los­o­phy of Objec­tivism. This she was going to more ful­ly explore in a non-fic­tion book called The Moral Basis of Indi­vid­u­al­ism. But she put that to one side to work instead on a fol­low-up nov­el to The Foun­tain­head; Atlas Shrugged.

Pub­lished in 1957, Atlas Shrugged was, she explained, “a demon­stra­tion of a new moral phi­los­o­phy: the moral­i­ty of self-inter­est”. But to her deep dis­ap­point­ment it was crit­i­cal­ly panned, not with­stand­ing the fact that it was an even big­ger com­mer­cial hit than The Foun­tain­head – between them, they’ve so far sold over 30 mil­lion copies.

But she spent the rest of her life large­ly ignored, pro­duc­ing non-fic­tion books that nobody read and expound­ing upon her phi­los­o­phy of Objec­tivism to deaf ears. So how is that she came to be so influential?

Her impact came in two waves. In the peri­od in which she was writ­ing Atlas Shrugged, in the 1950s, she attract­ed a small but fierce­ly loy­al group of acolytes. One of whom just hap­pened to be a cer­tain Alan Greenspan

Author Ayn Rand, in August 1957 on Park Avenue. 

So when, three decades lat­er, Greenspan became Chair­man of the Fed­er­al Reserve, a post he held between 1987 and 2006, Rand’s hith­er­to ignored phi­los­o­phy of Objec­tivism sud­den­ly seemed won­drous­ly pre­scient. Its rabid anti-com­mu­nism and pur­blind deifi­ca­tion of the indi­vid­ual went hand in glove with the Rega­nomics that is seemed to have so impres­sive­ly anticipated.

But it was rise of big tech in the late 90s and ear­ly oughts that real­ly saw her come into vogue. Elon Musk, Peter Thiel (Pay­Pal), Jim­my Wales (Wikipedia), Travis Kalan­ick (Uber) and, appar­ent­ly, Steve Jobs were and are all fanat­i­cal and very vocal fans. And a cur­so­ry glance at Atlas Shrugged quick­ly reveals why. 

Rand’s would-be Great Amer­i­can Nov­el is essen­tial­ly an incred­i­bly bloat­ed romance nov­el. Per­son­al­ly, I love romance nov­els, the best ones of which are all almost exact­ly 195 pages long. Atlas Shrugged is just 50 pages shy of War And Peace

Essen­tial­ly, its world is pop­u­lat­ed by a hand­ful of excep­tion­al and blind­ing­ly bril­liant indi­vid­u­als who are per­son­al­ly and sin­gle-hand­ed­ly respon­si­ble for prop­ping up and fuelling the econ­o­my. And whose vision­ary plans soci­ety, the gov­ern­ment and the great unwashed are per­pet­u­al­ly try­ing to foil. 

Wolfe’s The Bon­fire of the Van­i­ties.

Free from con­ven­tion­al moral­i­ty and unfet­tered by the shack­les of orga­nized reli­gion, these sex­u­al­ly promis­cu­ous, phys­i­cal­ly impos­ing lat­ter-day Greek gods (they’re almost all gods, inter­est­ing­ly) were like­wise chron­i­cled by Tom Wolfe in his The Bon­fire of the Van­i­ties, an actu­al, bona fide Great Amer­i­can Nov­el. But his ‘Mas­ters of the Uni­verse’ were uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly felled by the lay­ers of irony he hacked them down with. 

Irony, alas, seems to have elud­ed  Rand entire­ly. Instead, what we get are reams and reams of mono­chrome prose con­sist­ing of occa­sion­al bursts of romance, which she’s actu­al­ly pret­ty good at, amidst pages and pages of her tedious and puerile cod philosophy.

All of which is mon­u­men­tal­ly dull, not to say weari­some if what you are look­ing for is inter­est­ing, grown-up ideas and a good read. But it’s just what the doc­tor ordered if instead you’re a bor­der­line sociopath with a Napoleon com­plex. Hence her vogue in the oh so male world of big tech.

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A Small Present, Just for You

Good news! This blog is mov­ing into phase 2 of its life. Phase 1 was the slow and method­i­cal build­ing up of the blog from scratch. Phase 2 revolves around my book, which I’m going to be self-pub­lish­ing this Novem­ber.

Before I can do that though, I need to move the blog to a new email sub­scrip­tion service. 

But don’t wor­ry, you’ll still get your month­ly mis­sives, plus the occa­sion­al extra bonus mate­r­i­al and all the excit­ing news about the soon to be pub­lished book. 

All you have to do is to send me your email address so that I can add your name to the new list.

Send your email address to:

That’s all! Just one, incred­i­bly brief email, and you’re done.

And once you do, and the list is up and run­ning, I’ll send you this month’s post PLUS an Exclu­sive Bonus Chap­ter from the book. 

Your bonus chap­ter, The Death of Socrates describes how he end­ed up on tri­al in the first place, and what the likes of Pla­to and Niet­zsche made of his con­trary behav­iour over the course of that trial.

The impor­tant thing is: send me on your email address!

Oth­er­wise, this could be the last that you hear from me. And just imag­ine what an unmit­i­gat­ed dis­as­ter that would be.

So send your address to and, as ever I shall keep you post­ed every month, and more!

And thanks for your con­tin­ued support!

HBO’s triumphant Watchmen: cinema V television

Damon Lin­de­lof’s Watch­men.

First things first; Damon Lin­de­lof’s Watch­men is some­thing to behold. It’s Back to the Future direct­ed by Lars von Tri­er on a par­tic­u­lar­ly good day, and script­ed by Den­nis Pot­ter. Except it’s been fused in a par­al­lel uni­verse on the oth­er side of the look­ing glass, so that race and gen­der have been reversed.

We’ll come to that in a bit. But to begin with, how has this suc­ceed­ed where so many oth­ers have failed?

Scosese’s Rag­ing Bull.

As has been well doc­u­ment­ed, two fun­da­men­tal changes have tak­en place across the media land­scape over the last cou­ple of decades. On the one hand, we’re in the midst of a prover­bial gold­en age of tele­vi­sion. And on the oth­er, the world of cin­e­ma has become com­plete­ly polarised. 

Super­fi­cial­ly speak­ing, that polar­i­sa­tion has always been there. 20thcen­tu­ry cin­e­ma was made up of Hol­ly­wood films, and inde­pen­dent films. But those two can­vas­es pro­duced a wide vari­ety of dif­fer­ent kinds of films. Hol­ly­wood could mean Dou­ble Indem­ni­ty, The God­fa­ther or Rag­ing Bull. Inde­pen­dent could give you The Unbear­able Light­ness of Being, Amélie, Babette’s Feast or Prospero’s Books.


It’s impos­si­ble to imag­ine any of those being made today with the aim of screen­ing them pri­mar­i­ly at the cin­e­ma. Because there are only two kinds of films that you’ll find in the cin­e­ma today; fran­chise prod­ucts, and real­ly low bud­get, gen­uine­ly inde­pen­dent fare.

That’s what Scors­ese was com­plain­ing about in those series of inter­views that he gave towards the end of the year just gone, and which cul­mi­nat­ed with that op ed piece in the New York Times, here.

He can’t con­nect, he says, with any of those super­hero movies, because there’s noth­ing at stake. How could there be? They’re super­heroes. And none of the peo­ple mak­ing those movies have the room to take any kind of risks. Because there’s just too much mon­ey involved in the fran­chis­es they fuel. Which is why, if you’re an adult hun­gry to explore grown up themes and ideas, it’s to tele­vi­sion that you today turn to. And not, alas, cinema.

So what would be the biggest risk when explor­ing the com­ic book landscape?

The Wachowskis V for Vendet­ta.

Ignor­ing the super of your heroes and view­ing them instead as grown ups dressed in masks. If they don’t have their super­pow­ers, then there’s no need for all that green screen non­sense. And when you don’t have that to fall back on, you’re forced to explore instead the rela­tion­ships between your var­i­ous char­ac­ters, and how they fit in in the world in which they find them­selves. What would dri­ve an artic­u­late, intel­li­gent per­son to put on a mask and fight crime?

That was why V for Vendet­ta worked so pow­er­ful­ly, and it’s why Lindelof’s Watch­men is such a tri­umph. The DC uni­verse of masked crime fight­ers allows him, and the Wachows­ki sib­lings before him, to explore indi­vid­u­als whose time is out of joint and who feel cursed to set it right. Not because they’ve been arbi­trar­i­ly gift­ed with some neb­u­lous super pow­er. But because they can do no other.

And what, if you are a 21stcen­tu­ry Amer­i­can, are the two most press­ing per­son­al and soci­etal issues? Race and gen­der. So here we are in Watch­men, pre­sent­ed with a cast (and crew) who are pre­dom­i­nant­ly black, and female. And older.

Lin­de­lof’s The Left­overs.

Inter­est­ing­ly, both V and Watch­men orig­i­nat­ed with the peren­ni­al­ly grumpy Alan Moore, who, pre­dictably, has dis­owned them both. I tried read­ing (is that what one does with a graph­ic nov­el?) his Watch­men, and I have to con­fess it sailed serene­ly over my head. I just found it flat, and sta­t­ic, and all too black and white.

Lindelof’s Watch­men is so much more dynam­ic. And relevant. 

You can see the trail­er for Watch­men here.

And if you haven’t already, you should watch Lindelof’s The Left­overs, which I reviewed ear­li­er, here.

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