Thomas James Scott

The Irish in American Cinema 1910-1930: Recurring Narratives and Archetypal Characters

Year: 2015

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Springvale Learning, Belfast
(at time of presentation)

Personal profile:

Thomas James Scott is a graduate of the University of Ulster Coleraine, and Queen’s University Belfast. He holds a Ba Hons in Film and Visual Studies (QUB), an MRes in the Arts (UUC), and PhD in Film (UUC). Both his MRes and Doctoral dissertations considered American cinematic depictions of the Irish between 1896 and 1930. He has lectured in Irish, British and American cinema, and is currently a Vocational Tutor in Digital Media at Springvale Learning, Belfast. He will be moving to Belfast Metropolitan College in June, to take up the position of Lecturer in Media production. His research interests include Representations of the Irish in Early Cinema, Charlie Chaplin’s conversion to the talkies, and the relationship between Sports, Culture, and the Media. Additionally, Thomas produces short films on the side. He has produced video work for Cancer Focus NI, Thyroid Cancer Awareness, Belfast Fashion Week and Springvale CodorDojo. He is currently working on a short documentary that highlights the film career of Irish born actress Kate Price.




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Between the post-famine years and the 1920s over 3.5 million Irish left Ireland and settled in the United States. These migrants and their American born descendants were frequently depicted in American fiction films. This paper will consider Irish, and Irish-American, onscreen representation between 1910 and 1930. American cinema during these years, like those that preceded them, contained a range of stereotypical ethnic characters. However, as American cinema began to move away from short sketches and produce longer stories, more complex plots began to appear. Stock Irish characters became a part of recurring themes, the vast majority of which had heartening and uplifting narratives. This paper will discuss repetitive characters, such as the cop or domestic servant, and popular themes such as the migration narrative, the social reform narrative and inter-ethnic comedies.

While the emphasis will be on films viewed at film archives, including the UCLA Film and Television Archive, or acquired through private and commercial sellers, the paper will also reflect on films currently considered lost. This has been achieved through the study of primary sources including reviews and articles found in archived papers and trade magazines.