Cinema – a moment to behold

TAKE (NZ Director’s Guild Magazine)  March 2010


When I was a little fella the universe was as long as the walk to school – down the lane, across the river and two blocks – whilst adroitly avoiding the local bully. Summer was forever and school holidays lasted a lifetime; it wasn’t exactly exciting and it wasn’t dull but it merely erred on the dependable.

What transcended this was the-mind-altering, excitement-plus, bigger than Santa-presents and birthdays, more than Coca-Cola-ice cream-spiders with double-cream-Saturday trip to the cinema.

As the lights dimmed on the parting curtains life took on a more profound purpose and before the first images appeared our minds were opened to the possibilities of everything. It was a time before we had to reason and make sense of it all… we saw life in the immediate; it was as complex and as simple as we wanted – all for one shilling.

The bad guys in this world were the Indians and the good guys wore blue uniforms – they rode in organised lines and charged without question or hesitation, they had saddles – mostly a kid rode along with the men and blew a trumpet – he knew not to ride next to the guy with the flag or he’d get shot – the flag was somehow really important especially when they were charging and shooting.

White was the might and the mighty ruled the empire – ‘head west young man and kill the savages as yee go, shoot those Bison and paddle that canoe – wear that beaver on your head and drink that black coffee and roast that varmint on a stick’.

Charge! The guy with the white horse and sword yelled.

One shot from a pistol and three Indians fall down… and then another wave of them try this foolish business of riding at the guns. BANG! Another three… it’s obvious they don’t care about dying and not too bright either – besides they don’t ride in nice neat lines. The canon fire eventually reaches the village and the women and children get blown sky high – we cheer and clap and stamp our feet. Subliminally we somehow understood the ‘sovereignty’ issues at hand though the deeper intellect of the politics would have to wait another few decades or so.

In the darkened mausoleum our weapons of choice were either the jaffa or the spit ball – though the ice cream bomb from the upper balcony was always a show stopper (and a sure way to miss the end) – yes Jeffery Farnsworth – (not his real name) – we know it was you.

A lucky arrow gets through the over turned wagons and inflicts a shoulder wound on the handsome star – the guy with the flag is killed making the older white haired guy really angry (because he has to tell the guys mum – or something) and then through the dust and smoke another guy picks up the flag and the soldiers cheer – we cheer! – but mostly all the ‘savages’ were rendered dead for our entertainment – and let that be a lesson the mighty god of cinema has spoken.

Saturday afternoon did more to form our young minds than anything that could be thrown at us the previous week. We could remember the exact frame where the Lone Ranger or Batman was between serial episodes – (and yes they did change the shot slightly on us during the week to make the escape from the impending doom easier – but we didn’t care). There was one good Indian and his name was Tonto – Api, my mate, got to play him as he was the appropriate colour – though there wasn’t too many other parts that he could play other than being shot as a ‘savage’ – I mean hell why couldn’t he understand that that was the rules? – you know brown guys get shot – white guys are in charge – sheesh!

We believed what we saw on the big screen – it was all true and mostly it was based on violence and the more extreme the better. This was the core and the primal basis of our play community… we didn’t question the violence but did halt proceedings when real blood flowed. These days they give out Oscars for it… they call it the movie business. But is this formula getting a bit tired? Does it have to be like this? I mean solving problems with might and a bigger punch and a bigger bang has maybe just about had its day.

The movies are still burning holes in our retina’s – some have made the step across the void from movie watcher to movie maker and what started as a case of blind ambition and the hubris of youth has become more considered as we try bending a few stereo-types and a bit of genre subversion… but talk about a hard task. There doesn’t seem to be a big market for this ‘other world opinion’ and I’m not talking earnest, meaningful or worthy here either.

It’s cinema that’s important, it’s the unsaid and what it means that is important. Heck in some places the ‘savages’ have now taken over the cameras.

I guess one of the lessons we have taken with us from this time is don’t get too close to the guy with the flag and if you happen to find a fallen one think before you pick it up and run with it.

The card before the end credits reads: Api became a famous Maori Poet, Jeffery Farnsworth (not his real name) runs a multi-national corporation and has political leanings.

Summer is once again upon us …the seasons do come around rather quickly these days don’t they.