Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bashing Jackson

It was good to open the Herald this morning and find Geoff Murphy, who made a trio of great New Zealand movies in the late '70s and early '80s before heading to Hollywood and trying fruitlessly to teach Mick Jagger to act, taking aim at the multinational corporation known as Peter Jackson. Speaking to a group of graduands at Massey University, Murphy charged Jackson with making movies 'for Warner Brothers, rather than for New Zealand', and complained that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were completely irrelevant to local culture.

I share Murphy's lack of enthusiasm for Jackson's films, but I can't agree with the notion that the man's grotesquely drawn-out depictions of Middle Earth have failed to influence Kiwi culture. Over the years I've argued, cantankerously but intermittently, that Jackson's films have prompted a redefinition of New Zealand culture and identity, as propagandists for the tourism industry and lazy foreign journalists have begun to characterise this country as a ruritarian paradise populated by happy hobbits, rather than as a complex and contradictory modern society.

I don't know if my arguments against the hobbitisation of New Zealand have won over all of the readers of this blog, but I have gotten some sympathy from the University of Wollongong's Michael Organ, who cited one of my Jackson-bashing posts in his recent, splendidly titled essay 'Please Mr Frodo, is this New Zealand? Or Australia? No, Sam, it's Middle Earth?'.

Do the words of Murphy and Organ suggest that Jackson's attempts to reinvent New Zealand are beginning to lose credibility? Are Kiwis about to reject citizenship in Middle Earth, and migrate mentally to the troubled, exciting New Zealand of films like Utu or Goodbye Pork Pie? Here's hoping...

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Richard said...

As I've said before: initially I wasn't interested in Jackson's films but I did see some of his early ones. Then as my son had all three of the LOTRs we watched them. As films (and in the genre) I think they are great movies. I was surprised how much I liked them.

My generation, a friend of mine keeps reminding me were meant to all have read LOTRs but I hadn't heard of it until about 1988 or so. But I did read the Hobbit as did all my family.

A Samoan chap I know who is well educated and has a University degree gives the thumbs up completely to LOTRs citing it as a critique, on one level of war, and a parable of evil and much else. (The book I believe is much different from the film but I think the main points of the book are revealed in the movie.

But the wider issues are those of the way these movies are received, the way thus NZ is perceived and so on.

It is strange as the movie doesn't depict NZ in any real way. That should be obvious but the travel people and the Govt. (obviously with Jackson's support, tacit or otherwise) have run with it and the facile idea of the clean green NZ image.

But then US cowboy movies and much else we see on movies might give us many false ideas of other places. LOTRs is not a documentary.

'Heavenly Creatures', when I finally saw it on video was a very good movie.

I saw Utu some years ago and some of those movies based on the books of Ronald Hugh Morrieson. They are good also.

I think Jackson really was sincere. He had a great love for the book and made the film. Good on him.

But we need also something as "world box-office successful" on issues of more relevance to NZ. Or such a movie would also be good to see.

There was 'Out of the Blue' which is great, 'The World's Fastest Motorcycle' which was also. I wasn't so keen on 'The Piano' (for reasons of who I took to that movie and a relationship more perhaps than the movie) but it was a good film for sure. Rather unclear I thought but certainly up there.

I think someone will do something "epic" about NZ as such. Te Kooti and his struggle seems a good one. Shadbolt wrote a novel about him - is it any good? But such a movie has to have something to pull in the same people who might also watch LOTRs as well as others.

The "art movie" thing wont do it. Such a (more or less 'under the radar thing) will not offset in any way the image resultant from LOTRs. It is unfortunate the way that absurd image has been lapped up but people are by and large fascinated with the kind of thing in such movies as LOTRs.

It deals with certain fundamental fascinations with stories and myth and magic. "Reality" - unless somewhat 'disguised' - is not big.

But a movie such as 'Germinal' (book by Zola) was a great movie but it was never going to hit home like LOTRs.

Utu had quite a following though.

9:19 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Another NZ Movie that I think is one of the best I've seen is a film of Bruce Mason's 'End of the Golden Weather'

I liked the book by Maurice Gee 'In My father's Den' but the movie did nothing for me.

There is work there for an imaginative and enterprising film maker for sure.

9:23 pm  
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