Breakfast on Pluto (2005): Interview with Director Neil Jordan, About Adapting Patrick McCabe’s Book, Starring Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy stars in Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto as Patrick “Kitten” Brady, an endearing but deceptively tough youth in 1960s and 1970s London.
Abandoned as baby in his small Irish hometown and aware from a very early age that he is different, Patrick survives this harsh environment with the aid of wit and charm, and sweet refusal to let anyone and anything change who he is.
Based upon the novel by Patrick McCabe, who also wrote “The Butcher Boy,” Jordan’s 1997 masterpiece, “Breakfast on Pluto” also stars Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, and Brendan Gleeson.

Film’s Central Question

How does somebody survive a deeply aggressive world just by being himself This was my central question when adapting to the screen Patrick McCabe’s 1992 novel “Breakfast on Pluto.”

Approach

In making the film, I wanted to turn it into a fairy tale, the fairy tale that the central character, Patrick, manages to create out of his own harsh life. As Pat McCabe and I worked on refining the script, in the back of my mind all the time was Candide” (Voltaire’s fable of an eternal optimist who maintains that he lives in the “best of all possible worlds” even as ruin and mayhem envelop him). Through this insane insistence on seeing the world as a beautiful place, Patrick never really loses even when he loses everything.

Life in a Precarious World

I find unsettling parallels between the film’s period and the precarious world of today. I looked back on my memories of the 1960s and 1970s in Dublin and London and found an eerie resemblance to that timethink of the London bombings that just happenedand it made me a little reluctant to do this film. I had the script for three or four years and I didn’t push it, but then I finally decided that the experience that the film represents is really quite instructive for anybody living in these times. With all these nasty ideologies trying to tell you what you should be, in a world where you can go into a bar and the bar may explode, how do you make your way in the world Patrick does a pretty good job.

Tragicomedy and Irish Storytelling

For all the tumult of Patrick’s life, “Breakfast on Pluto” is darkly funny. The events of the film are like tragedy, but the central character turns it into a comic reality. It’s a thing that comes out of the Irish storytelling tradition; when Sean OCasey first wrote his plays they hadn’t got a word for them, they were neither comic nor tragic but both. I was after that kind of balance between the grotesque and horrific and Patrick’s core of comedyI just loved those transitions, like where the policeman who hammers the living daylights out of him later comes back and rescues him.

Companion Pieces

Despite the presence of political themes in many of my films, I don’t necessarily see politics as central. I spent my twenties in Dublin and London. The fact that there was political violence in Ireland was like blight on everybody’s life. What interests me is how individuals work with what theyve been given. But even though there are some obvious parallels between “Breakfast on Pluto” and “The Crying Game”” (both deal with transvestitism and terrorism) “it’s almost incidental. “Pluto” is really much more of a companion piece to “The Butcher Boy,” (Jordan’s 1997 film adaptation of another Pat McCabe novel). They both feature childhoods warped by that strange Irish mixture of social pressures and madness. But “Pluto” is really more about a beautiful soul than about politics or violence.

Patrick’s Character

Patrick wins in the end because he has more grace, more humor, and in the end, more charity than all the grotesques that confront him. And he has much better clothes.

Film’s Title

The title phrase, “Breakfast on Pluto,” comes from a 1970s song by Don Partridge, a one-man-band folkie who still goes by the name of “King of the London Buskers.”

Soundtrack

From the treacly melodrama of Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” (Kitten’s theme
song about a bereft young widower mourning his lost bride), to a stirring Handel chorale, to disco and punk, music is a powerful force in “Breakfast on Pluto.” In a way, Patrick saw the whole world through songs. He kind of believed in the nave sugary hopefulness of the lyrics of pop songs. So I decided that songs from the era would carry the whole burden of the soundtrack. Apart from a few moments of piano music composed by my daughter, Anna, the film avoids a conventional score. Sometimes it seems that scores drown out the emotion in films these days.

The flamboyant music scene of the day is reflected in song selections. For example, smooth rock crooner Bryan Ferry is cast as a sinister Mercedes-driving assailant; the bar band “Billy Rock and the Mohawks” synthesizes various strains of entertainingly wretched pop, and Billy Rock is played by onetime punk hero Gavin Friday. Even the mascara and elephant-bell flares that Patrick sports as a young teen conjure up Marc Bolan and early Bowie.

Soundtrack Selections

Sugar Baby Love The Rubettes
Ghost Riders in the Sky (instrm’l; production)
Les Girls film score Cole Porter
The Quiet Man film score Victor Young
You’re Such a Good Looking Woman Joe Dolan
Breakfast on Pluto Don Partridge
Me & My Arrow Harry Nilsson
You’re Breaking My Heart Harry Nilsson
Running Bear Gavin Friday (production)
Wig Wam Bam Gavin Friday (production)
Honey Bobby Goldsboro
Sand Gavin Friday (production)
Me & Mrs Jones Billy Paul
Fuck the British Army Paddy’s Irish Clan
Everyday Slade
The Moonbeam Song Harry Nilsson
Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep Middle of the Road
The Wombling Song The Wombles
Freelance Fiend Leafhound
Tell Me What you Want Jimmy Ruffin
Feelings Morris Albert
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes Billy Livesey
Windmills of your Mind Dusty Springfield
Caravan Santo and Johnny
Children of the Revolution T-Rex
No More White Horses T2
For The Good Times Kris Kristofferson
Dream World Don Downing
For What It’s Worth Buffalo Springfield
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing Jerry Vale
Suede Flares library music
Makes You Blind The Glitter Band
Rock Your Baby George McCrae
In the Rain The Dramatics
Madame George Van Morrison
Cypress Avenue Van Morrison
Various Cues Anna Jordan (production)
Fly Robin Fly Silver Convention
How Much is That Doggy Patti Page
Handel’s Zadok the Priest Huddersfield Choral Society

 

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