Well, it’s Bloomsday — the day when James Joyce-eans all over the world take a minute to recall Leopold Bloom’s 24-hour Odyssey around Dublin over a century ago.
As it happens, my husband and I were actually sitting at Davy Byrnes Pub on Bloomsday several years ago. Not a conscious choice, but guided there, we think, by the spirits of our friends the Grahams who would’ve loved to have been there in our place.
So I began thinking about Joyce, whose books were always too dense for me. They were, in general, too dense for film, too. A man named Joseph Strick made movies out of “Ulysses” in 1967 and “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” about a decade later. “Ulysses,” which starred Milo O’Shea as the wandering Leopold Bloom, fared better. It suited the times more and even earned an Oscar nomination for best-adapted screenplay.
What people mostly remember is Barbara Jefford’s long monologue as Molly Bloom. It was considered quite risqué, introducing the “f” word to the United Kingdon. (I think “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” may have already broken down barriers in the U.S. the year before.)
However, there is one magnificent adaptation of a Joyce work. For his last film, legendary director John Huston chose to make a movie out of one of the stories in “The Dubliners.” Called “ The Dead,” it’s as exquisite a film as you’ll ever see.
Set in 1904 Dublin, the movie centers on an annual holiday party given by a pair of elderly music teachers — and its aftermath, in which a character learns a melancholy truth about his wife’s past. Not only a fitting epitaph for a globe-trotting filmmaker who somehow always returned to the Auld Sod, “The Dead” is also a stunning convergence of two singularly dissimilar masters, with the 81-year-old Huston’s hard-earned wisdom mellowing the 25-year-old Joyce’s severity and judgment
Joyce loved these people more than he knew; but Huston knows and it enriches his film. By the end, there’s a kind of blessed peace achieved, as hushed and reverent as the snow falling outside the window.
Davy Byrnes Pub: http://www.davybyrnes.com/
Bloomsday in Dublin:
Bloomsday on Twitter (with a Georgia Tech angle):