MUBI is exclusively showing Donal Foreman's The Image You Missed (2018) as part of a collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center for their Art of the Real showcase of innovative voices in nonfiction and hybrid filmmaking. The film is playing May 9 - June 8, 2018 in the United States. Patrick Harrison was the script editor of The Image You Missed.
The Image You Missed is, as its credits say, “a film between” Donal Foreman and his late, estranged father, the radical filmmaker Arthur McCaig. “A film between” as in “shared between”: the film’s captivating menagerie of sights and sounds is drawn both from Foreman’s own filmmaking practice in modern-day Ireland and the archive left behind from McCaig’s remarkable career documenting the nationalist movement in Northern Ireland, from his infamous 1979 debut The Patriot Game through his final full-length film, War and Peace in Ireland, made on the cusp of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought the Troubles to a close.
But it is also “a film between” Foreman and McCaig in the sense of it standing between them, both as a bridge and a barricade. Although Foreman and McCaig met each other only a handful of times, they seemed to spend their lives in eccentric orbit around one another. Foreman is a Dublin-born, New York-based, Irish filmmaker, and McCaig was a New Jersey-born, American documentarian of Irish descent who lived, loved, and died in Belfast. McCaig romanticized Ireland out of a desire to connect with his roots, while the very son he abandoned was a direct descendent (on his mother’s side) of Irish revolutionaries. And yet despite that revolutionary heritage, Foreman could never identify with the real Ireland the way McCaig did with his idealized one. Repulsed by the conservative tendencies of Irish nationalism, Foreman yet envies the clarity and commitment that came so naturally to his father in the latter’s Quixotism.
The Image You Missed, the “film between” Foreman and McCaig, is the in-between space where they circle and miss one another, where the one needs what the other cannot give—a space of unfulfilled dreams, familial longings, and archival gaps, bridging and dividing generations, continents, and moments in history. It is above all a space in which—and into and out of which—images circulate, connecting the familial drama to the wider world. More than a poignant personal essay, The Image You Missed is a documentary of the political imagination. Drawing on a variety of visual and sonic materials—propaganda films, home movies, television news, political murals, field recordings, rebel songs, and more—the film critiques the mythologies of Irish nationalism and the role of culture in conflict on their own terms, thinking though and between images and sounds rather than commenting upon them from without or subordinating them to a predetermined argument.
Resembling the montage style of Godard’s late period while being more inviting to the average viewer in its mesmerizing beauty, the film’s contrapuntal editing puts voices, images, and ideologies from across Irish history in dialogue and conflict with one another: the strident propaganda of the 1970’s versus the anodyne peace wall murals of the post-Good Friday era, the socialist rhetoric of Irish nationalisms past versus the neoliberal consensus of modern tax-haven Ireland, McCaig’s political didacticism versus Foreman’s aestheticized ambivalence. The film is less a portrait of a conflict than an immersion in the modes of visuality that sustain war and resistance as ways of life. Eschewing easy conclusions in favor of infinite critique, the politics of the film are found, even more so than in Foreman’s conflicted admiration for McCaig and the nationalist movement, in its very approach to image-making and historical memory—a devastating performance of the inseparability of the personal, the political, and the aesthetic.