Happy Birthday Oscar Wilde

Saturday October 16th 2004 marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest Irish writers, Oscar Wilde. For his 150 years, 150 of his finest lines, epigrams or verses and spoken on camera by 150 actors, writers, performers, musicians and public figures. It is a Mind the Gap Films production, directed by Bill Hughes and produced by Bernadine Carraher.

Among Wilde's best-known work: Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), a play about a divorced woman driven to self-sacrifice by maternal love; The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), a play about the courtships of two young English men; and his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), about a handsome young man who sells his soul to the devil.
Although married with two children, Wilde came under scrutiny because of his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. He was put on trial for homosexuality, which was illegal in England then, and was sent to prison. After his release in 1897, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He died in November 1900, at age 46, of cerebral meningitis.


Plot summary

For the film, Wilde scholars Frank McGuinness and Noreen Doody pored through the author's original text and lifted 150 lines for the celebrities to speak. The project was shot in four locations, Dublin, London, New York and Los Angeles, between July and November 2004. Performances by Bono, Liam Neeson, Martin Sheen, Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, Larry Mullen, Bryan McFadden, Tyne Daly, Brian Cox, James Cromwell, Julianna Margulies, Jim Sheridan, Allison Janney, Ed Asner, Stewart Copeland, Roma Downey, Harvey Fierstein, Rosie Perez, Eric Stoltz, Mel B, Swoosie Kurtz, Lee Grant, Fionnula Flanagan, Hector Elizondo and Estelle Parsons. The musical score, composed by Golden Globe and Ivor Novello nominees Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer, and the background visuals were designed and adapted by U2's visual artist Catherine Owens.


General review

This documentary is fun: artists, musicians, actors, comedians, directors, dancers and writers quote Oscar Wilde's best citations and deepest insights into human life. The performers must have had a hard time doing this, because they had to stand in front of a blue-screen staring at the camera and just say the few lines they had to. Of course I can hardly think of "better" lines to deliver, but naturally it is hard getting them across in a few seconds without having much time to get into the mood. The more surprising is the fact that this idea works. Film-wise there's not much to say about this piece, but it is pure pleasure to listen to the words of wisdom and to watch all the celebrities who obviously had so much fun participating in this birthday party of a different kind. The film has several sections, each one dealing with a certain topic: childhood, youth, marriage, art and aesthetics, society, moi, chaos, trial, suffering, death and reputation.

Nat Review

Nat cites from Oscar Wilde's The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891) and he does this in a very calm voice - beautifully and touchingly:

"For a town or country labourer to practise thrift would be absolutely immoral. Man should not be ready to show that he can live like a badly-fed animal. He should decline to live like that, and should either steal or go on the rates, which is considered by many to be a form of stealing. As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and rebellious, is probably a real personality, and has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest."



This celebration of Oscar Wilde's work was broadcast on PBS in the USA and RTE in Ireland. The programme is now available as a region-free DVD for worldwide usage, with the proceeds going to Amnesty International. The DVD contains a documentary (making-of).


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