Friday, October 16, 2009

Remembering Martyn Sanderson


I am surprised as well as saddened to hear of the sudden death of the poet, playwright, actor, scriptwriter, and film director Martyn Sanderson. Although he was in his eighth decade, Sanderson was still producing and acting in plays and writing poems.

Sanderson built his career at a time when the New Zealand movie industry was in its infancy, and when the barriers that separated film from literature and the rest of the arts were perhaps more permeable than they are today. Like his friend and sometime collaborator Bruno Lawrence, Sanderson moved easily between the stage, the screen, and the page. Sanderson was best-known for his acting roles in films like Ned Kelly, where he had to put up with Mick Jagger, An Angel at My Table, where he did a fine job of playing Frank Sargeson, and The Lost Tribe, a dodgy attempt to transplant Indiana Jones to Fiordland, but the publication of the splendidly-titled Like Smoke in a Wheelbarrow in 2006 reminded us that he was also a serious poet.

Sanderson himself was perhaps most proud of directing Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree, the feature-length adaption of Albert Wendt's novella about a young Samoan noble who rebels against tradition and his family. Sanderson discusses the movie in this interview, which I had the pleasure of including in the 33rd issue of the literary journal brief back in 2006.

Although I never met Martyn, I did correspond with him as I prepared the interview for publication. His wry, self-deprecating humour is perhaps shown in this e mail, which was written in response to a question I'd asked about the debt that The Lost Tribe seemed to owe to Peter Weir's famous movie The Last Wave:

Re: brief interviewsMonday, 3 October, 2005 2:26 PM
From: "M Sanderson"
To: "Scott Hamilton"

Hi Scott

I haven't seen The Lost Tribe for years. I don't expect it would hold up terribly well. (I had a great time driving a fishing boat around Milford Sound, though.)

I scarcely remember The Last Wave, certainly not in any detail, but that's an interesting association. I recall that it was regarded as something of an affirmation of Aboriginal culture: I wouldn't say the same of The Lost Tribe's Maori references.

Cheers,
Martyn


The Lost Tribe may not 'hold up well', but a lot of Martyn's other work certainly does.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too right Martyn was still working. He died with his boots on, and his latest play Muntu ("Humankind'), will receive its first performance in the Otaki memorial hall, near his house, at 7.30pm tonight, as planned.

However Martyn's Kenyan-born wife Wanjiku will no longer be among the cast. The other actors, including members of Wellington;s African community and students from Toi Whakaari, the national theatre school, have rejigged the script so the show can go on without her.

Martyn and Wanjiku set this show up by inviting the renowned Kenyan playwright and director Wakanyote Njuguna to bring this anti-colonialist masterpiece to this country. It was a move entirely in accordance with this remarkably committed internationalist's core beliefs.

I worked closely with him on several TV productions, including one about Dr Smith, the equally sui generis socialist doctor who established a fully state funded health system in the Hokianga.

Martyn was an unassuming, highly intelligent, multi-faceted man (the only cast member of Lord of the Rings, it's been pointed out, who was actually taught by Tolkein at Oxford).

He kanohi kitea whanuitia, he reo rongonui o te motu, kua ngaro ki te Po, ki te wahangutanga. E te hoa, e te rangatira, haere, haere, haere.

Mark Derby

5:48 pm  
Blogger HORansome said...

As someone who likes to rewatch 'The Lost Tribe' I have to say it holds up remarkably well; it's still a quite creepy little film about identity. I don't quite get the Indiana Jones reference; the actual archaeology of the film is the MacGuffin; the real story is about one man being terrorised by another, both physically and psychologically.

6:45 pm  
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