Last Saturday (Sept. 19), I drove to the Irish American Heritage Center for an outdoor screening of The Commitments.
It marked my first time heading to Chicago since March 8 and a trip to Chinatown.
Raised Catholic and following science, I’ve been a good boy, staying very local during the pandemic, but for a couple of social visits to see a cousin, who is a doctor, at his house. Yes, I made a housecall on a doctor.
Oh. There was a run to Rockford and Belvidere in August. That was to help Best Fest Buddy Tom deal with some family business of his.
Otherwise, with no fests and no real reasons to wear a kilt, a few local spots for outdoor dining and babysitting have been the extent of my 2020, covid times adventures.
That, and here in the far northwest suburbs, I occasionally visit the new Deli 4 U in Algonquin, which is a Polish grocery store. So many people at the store speak Polish it’s like taking an exotic vacation less than 6 miles from home.
I typically return home with pickles, pate and a wild card item. Ever tried the fermented bread beverage, Kvass? Me either. The can still sits in my fridge.
I wear a mask where required. Frankly, I look better in one, if not a little scary. These times almost demand seeming a bit like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, especially in your social media icon. That way you learn fast what crazies want to argue with a supervillain.
But back to the story at hand. Due to the pandemic, the IAHC remains temporarily closed. The Commitments screening was a sold-out fundraiser to help the organization through these tough times.
Organizers set up an inflatable big screen on the part of the grounds that typically hold an Irish fest in summer. It looked a bit like a mutated bouncy house.
Filed paint sprayed on the ground marked the rectangles in which groups of six or less sat. There was a 5 yard penalty for stepping out of bounds. Or not.
Patrons brought their own lawn chairs for seating. All but one did. Staff graciously provided me with a regular dining room chair. Friendly servers brought food and beverages to your designated area.
I also bought two more masks,, Irish themed ones fit for the evening and my various personalities.
The beautiful, slightly brisk early fall night called for sweatshirts of sweaters. I donned a 5XL University of Michigan hoodie I picked up for $8 on clearance at Kohl’s. It makes me look like I’ve lost a lot of weight.
As the sun set, cripes, I thought. It’s getting dark too soon for my tastes. Cripes, I thought. It’s been almost 30 years since The Commitments came out.
The Commitments is based on the Roddy Doyle novel of the same name. It’s the first book in Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy. The other two novels, The Snapper and The Van, also became movies. Neither was as commercially successful as The Commitments but each met with some critical acclaim.
Set in working class North Dublin, The Commitments centers on the formation, foibles, fleeting brush with fame and fast falling apart of The Commitments. The band covers classic American soul music.
“The Irish are the blacks of Europe. Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. North Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin,” explains band manager Jimmy Rabbitte as he convinces the chosen musicians as to what sound they should have.
The late Roger Ebert said, “the movie is filled with life and energy, and the music is honest.”
“As music and human comedy the movie works just fine,” Ebert wrote.
That’s to say The Commitments is an amiable film. They don’t seem to make many movies these days featuring people who don’t have much money, much less comedies about everyday people.
Even during these days of streaming services, what’s the last movie you can recall seeing that featured humorous, good natured working class folks? Ozark doesn’t count.
That’s not to say I’m nostalgic for 1991, the year The Commitments debuted. The good news that year included the Soviet empire beginning to crumble and apartheid ending in South Africa.
But the first Gulf War happened in 1991. Police finally arrested cannibal and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Video of Los Angeles police beating Rodney King emerged.
In 1991, the Brits finally released six Irishmen, held since 1975, who had been wrongly convicted for bombings in Birmingham that killed 21 and injured 182 others.
On the plus side, though, the film recalls an era when everybody wasn’t tethered to a phone or a social media feed. Imagine that. A world where people had to talk to each other, read newspapers and still used land lines, even.
More importantly, for these tumultuous times The Commitments delivers a pertinent message.
After the band breaks up, old trumpeter and group mentor Jimmy “The Lips” Fagen tells The Commitments’ manager Jimmy Rabbitte, he knows Rabbitte is hurting. In time, Rabbitte will realize what he has achieved, Fagen says.
“I’ve achieved nothing,” Rabbitte exclaims.
“You’re missing the point,” Fagen says. “The success of the band was irrelevant — you raised their expectations of life, you lifted their horizons. Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it’s poetry.”
Keep that in mind during these pandemic days. Enjoy your family and friends. Be safe and sensible. Even if you’re struggling to get by, leave room for some fun.
Our stories make us stronger. Like R&B music, they soothe our souls. Or so we hope.
Either way, just don’t get freaked out like I did on the way back home from the IAHC. Those hair transplant place billboards along the Kennedy near O’Hare, the ones with Cubs outfielder Ian Happ and/or former Bears player Brian Urlacher scare me. Urlacher looks like a psycho killer with his new hairline creation.
Those giant ads remind me of The Great Gatsby, where the ominous eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg stared down from a billboard, judging us all.
But back to The Commitments. I hope the Irish American Heritage Center shows the other two Barrytown movies sometime down the road. Pleasant evenings outdoors can be hard to come by in these uncertain times with Chicago’s uncertain weather.
In the meantime, if you want to see what’s virtually happening there, or to take part in a golf outing fundraiser Oct. 17 in Niles to help out the cause, visit the nonprofit’s website.