Gerry Ryan would have hooted at this tribute
The great and the good congregated at the outset of last night's 'Gerry' (RTE1) to remind fans and assure sceptics that there's never been anyone like the late broadcaster Gerry Ryan.
"One of the quintessential voices of Dublin," David Norris proposed. "The nation's shrink," Bono testified. And John Banville, down on earth for the occasion from his literary tower, had his own inimitable take on the man: "He always struck me as being something of an 18th-century wit."
Indeed, the only dissenter appeared to be George Hook, who offered "brash, crass and shallow" as a soundbite, but that turned out to be a trick perpetrated by the film's producer, David Blake Knox, because later on in the documentary we discovered that George had prefaced this with the phrase "Before I met Gerry" and had ended the sentence with unalloyed praise for the 2fm broadcaster.
In fact, there were no dissenting voices to be heard in this 70-minute tribute, which was somewhat odd, given that much was made throughout of how controversial Ryan had been during his career and of how he had received a lot of critical flak -- though, needless to say, no television or radio critics were invited on to the programme to contribute their tuppence worth.
This was a pity because some critical distancing might have provided a corrective to all the gushing encomiums that were included. "A phenomenal communicator," Fr Brian D'Arcy raved.
"I loved talking to Gerry," Colin Farrell declared.
"I was spellbound," Chris Evans revealed -- this last tribute confirmed by Bono, who declared that "Chris Evans told me personally that he [Ryan] was the best in the world".
As Eric Morecambe liked to say, there's no answer to that. Indeed, such was the relentless hyperbole that after 35 minutes I felt the film had said whatever it had to say. By then I'd learned of the broadcaster's background and upbringing, his time studying law in Trinity, his stint with pirate radio and subsequent employment with RTE radio, his attempts at being a television host (mostly calamitous, though you'd never guess it from this film), and I'd also been brought up to date with the findings of the recent inquest about cocaine and alcohol being a contributory factor in his untimely death. There was even a cautionary comment about drugs from a psychiatric expert.
So that was basically it, but unfortunately there were 35 more minutes remaining and so we were told all over again about what an extraordinary and unique talent had perished.
"He loved language, he loved to play with it, he loved to mould it and shape it into a vast phantasmagorical fantasy," John Banville rhapsodised, as if he were speaking of Nabokov.
And Willie O'Reilly, one of Ryan's former producers, was even more extravagant in his claim that "every person in Ireland, whether they liked him or not, had a small part of their brain which was called Gerry Ryan".
If the man himself was listening, he was probably hooting at these outpourings. Or at least that was the sense I got from his wife and children, who spoke of him with simple love and considerable feeling and who provided the film with its most affecting and true moments, though there were also some good contributions toward the end on the broadcaster's self-destructive lifestyle.
Chris Evans spoke from personal experience of the dangers of hosting a morning show -- the inclination, when it's finished for the day, being to ask "Where's the party? -- and there isn't one."
Harry Crosbie thought that the 2008 break-up of Ryan's marriage "completely unsettled him," that he was very lonely and that he "drank way too much".
A more forensic film -- or just a more balanced one -- would have pursued such matters and perhaps pondered the pressures of success and the essential emptiness of fame, but this particular film had spent too much of its time slavishly puffing its subject to leave itself any room for inquiry or reflection.
And at the very end, a solemn sermon by Brian D'Arcy about the dangers of drug use, though sincerely meant, seemed spuriously hollow and gratuitously tacked on.