A lifelong W. B. Yeats fanatic, Sir Bob Geldof still hears Ireland’s Nobel Prize-winning poet-playwright’s verses and sentiments everywhere — from the lyrics of rock ’n’ roll legends John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed to everyday conversations — even 79 years after Yeats’ death.
“Yeats left so many works of genius behind, to the point where phrases like ‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold’ and ‘The foul rag and bone shop of the heart’ are now commonplace in the vernacular,” says the Irish-born singer-songwriter and The Boomtown Rats frontman known for co-producing Band Aid’s philanthropic single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and Live Aid and Live 8 charity concerts.
As an artist after social change and a Nobel Man of Peace Award winner, Geldof — who visits The City this week with a new Yeats’ project — also appreciates the sociopolitical impact Yeats’ words had on early 20th century Ireland.
Few would argue with Geldof’s assertion that the poet’s revival of Celtic literature (with epic poems filled with Homeric heroes) imbued Irish people with hope in the decades following the devastating Great Famine — or that he put the country on the cultural map after founding the Abbey Theatre, home of the finest playwrights and actors of the day.
Geldof is so convinced of his controversial argument that Yeats’ cultural revolution advanced the movement toward a more modern and independent Ireland — far more than the ill-fated yet still-celebrated armed 1916 Easter Rising — he made a movie to prove it.
“A Fanatic Heart,” his feature-length Yeats bio, screens stateside at the Mostly British Film Festival’s “Irish Spotlight” on Feb. 18, with Geldof appearing in a Q&A with rock journalist Ben Fong-Torres.
The 10th annual festival, which features 25 new and classic features and documentaries from the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India and Canada, runs Thursday through Feb. 22 at the Vogue Theatre.
“The whole thing is a polemic against that whole false and mawkish creation myth and celebration of what purportedly happened in 1916 and the people who generated that,” he says. “The argument is that, in fact, the true Ireland was created by the artists without armed uprisings and what Yeats railed against — ‘the vertigo of self-sacrifice.’ If you’re a Republican and offended by this, then brilliant, because I love polemical arguments — that was my main purpose.”
It was Yeats’ verses that moved the needle — just like Geldof and his Boomtown Rats co-writer Pete Briquette’s lyrics, decades later, when they, inspired by Yeats, attacked the Catholic-controlled “free state” of Ireland on the single “Banana Republic.”
Geldof takes special care to showcase Yeats’ poetry to full effect in the film, with readings from major U.K. actors and singers including Liam Neeson, Sting and Bono who recite “Easter, 1916,” “To a Child Dancing in the Wind” and “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven,” respectively.
Geldof summons a verse from Yeats’ “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” for courage offscreen as he nervously anticipates his return to San Francisco to present “A Fanatic Heart.”
The singer-activist was in The City when he learned of his daughter Peaches’ fatal opioid overdose in 2014 in early morning phone call, and he’s since been reticent to come back.
“But does that mean I can’t go to San Francisco again?” he says. It will be very difficult, but I have to go. I’ve got to analyze and understand what I’m feeling and tuck it back ‘In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart,’ as our man, Yeats said, and accept it and pack it up into that little box that is my life.”
IF YOU GO: A Fanatic Heart, with Bob Geldof
Presented by Mostly British Film Festival
Where: Vogue Theatre, 3290 Sacramento St., S.F.
When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 18
Tickets: $12.50 to $15
Contact: (415) 346-2228, www.cinemasf.com