My Dissertation Epiphany

Feature image courtesy of Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos. Photo originally published in Vanity Fair.

One afternoon last week, I was sitting in my bedroom reading “The Dead,” the final short story from James Joyce’s The Dubliners for my Gothic to Modernism class. In a sudden moment of inspiration, I experienced the dissertation epiphany that I had been desperately waiting for. I began thinking about the film adaptation of The Dead [Huston, 1987], which significantly is prolific director John Huston’s final film. It stars his daughter Anjelica in an Academy-Award winning screenplay by his son, Tony and was thus a very personal passion project. I began to think about Huston’s complex and fascinating relationship with Ireland, which I had seen a little of during his interview in The Rocky Road to Dublin [Lennon, 1967]. I realized that John and Anjelica Huston would be the perfect topic to explore for my dissertation because they merged all of my areas of interest.

I had been looking for a topic that bridged my knowledge of Irish-American cinema, Classic Hollywood cinema, Irish cinema, and Irish literature. The Huston’s hit the sweet-spot of all of the topics that I am passionate about, especially because I’ve always been interested in how Irish-Americans express their “Irishness” cinematically.

To confess, these past couple of weeks I have been feeling frustrated and lost without a topic. I’ve watched a lot of Irish cinema, in hopes of sparking an idea, but to no avail. When I thought about the Huston’s, I was almost giddy with excitement. My joy stemmed equally from the relief over the fact that I finally felt like I had a focus and the pure elation over finding a topic that I was going to enjoy researching. I share this anecdote as a way of reassuring any peers who currently feel stagnated.

Now of course, I have to narrow my focus to a very specific argument. As I mentioned, Huston was prolific so there is already a wealth of academic (and fictional) material written on him, which I why I need to come up with something really different. My strategy moving forward is to thoroughly research both John and Anjelica by watching their films, reading their autobiographies, watching documentaries on their life, and reading critical articles about their work. I already have a few ideas of the direction that I want to take.

To begin, I know that I definitely want to work Anjelica into my argument because it’s very important to me that I write about a female director. At the moment I’m thinking about how The Dead and Agnes Browne [Anjelica Huston, 1999], both films that are based on Irish literature, are used respectively by the Huston’s to explore and define their Irish identity.

John Huston renounced his American citizenship to become an Irish citizen (Reddin). Yet despite the fact that he filmed many of his movies in Ireland, he never truly told an Irish story until The Dead, which was completed mere months before his death. Based on what I’ve read and watched so far, I believe this is because John was adamant that the Irish people create their own national cinema (Reddin). This is shown in his interview in Rocky Road and through his attempt to start a film committee to jumpstart the Irish industry with the blessing of Taoiseach Jack Lynch (Reddin). Yet, his efforts did not come to fruition for multitude of factors which I would explore. Furthermore, his failing health forced him to leave Ireland for good by the end of the 1970s (Reddin). Therefore, The Dead was his opportunity to leave a legacy as an Irish filmmaker and work with his children, who he had raised in County Galway (Reddin).

However, at the moment I want to keep an open mind about my central thesis. As I continue to research and flesh out my ideas, through the help of this blog, my argument will naturally begin to take a clear shape. I don’t want to force this initial idea if I find that my research does not support my hypothesis. Another avenue that I might want to explore is their style of film adaptation, especially when it comes to Irish authors.

Since this idea popped into my head, I’ve seen some signs that make me feel like this is the right topic for me. I realize that this sounds trite, but I can’t help but feel that way! When I searched online to see if any Irish academics have written on Huston, I discovered that a lecturer that I took a class with at the National University of Ireland, Galway in summer 2014 has edited a book of academic essays on Huston. I had no idea because he never mentioned Huston during the class. Furthermore, NUIG’s film school is named after Huston; another fact that had escaped my knowledge during my time there. It is an exciting potential connection. As fate would have it, I am headed to NUIG next weekend with my classmate Ellen for the Sibeal Feminist and Gender Studies Annual Conference, so I am going to try to meet with him while I’m there.

I also had no idea that Huston directed Annie [Huston, 1982]. As a child, I loved this film, partly because of the connection to my name. The discovery that Huston directed the movie felt like another sign that this is the topic that I should explore.

My next blog post will be my analysis of the Irish-language documentary John Huston: An t-Éireannach [Reddin, 1996], which describes the Huston’s relationship with Ireland. For now, I’m headed to the UCC Film Society’s screening of Chinatown [Polanski, 1974], which stars John Huston. It is another wonderful coincidence that I am going to take advantage of.

Works Cited

Arnold, Eve and Magnum Photos. “TOGETHER John Huston with his teenage daughter, Anjelica, at St. Clerans, the Huston estate in the West of Ireland, 1968.” Vanity Fair, Nov. 2013,

Huston, Angelica. Anges Browne. USA Films, 3 Dec. 1999.

Huston, John. Annie. Columbia Pictures, 18 June 1982.

Huston, John. The Dead. Vestron Pictures, 18 Dec. 1987.

Lennon, Peter. Rocky Road to Dublin. Cinematography by Raoul Coutard, 17 May, 1968.

Reddin, Brian. “John Huston: The Irishman: An t-Éireannach.” Youtube, TG Faisneis, 2 Nov, 2012,


One thought on “My Dissertation Epiphany

  1. My Annie, I have started reading your blog, and I have to tell you how amazing, really amazing I think you are. You are exactly where you should be honey. Your knowledge of film and especially the Irish and how they see themselves and how they are portrayed is spot on. Your critique/review of Cardboard Gangsters, was like no reviews I’ve ever read. You could come home and take over where Siskel(sp) and Elbert left off. Your piece on Textual…….told me all I would ever need to know about you my darling girl. Your desire to do well, learn more and your humility shines through in everything you do. I love you my darling girl, and I congratulate your parents and doing such a terrific job of raising such an extraordinary young woman. Aunt Jenna


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