Illustrious Energy


NZTECHO  Issue 51  Summer 2011 Issue 51 The Treatment

Leon Narbey’s master work is rescued and rises – a phoenix from the ashes. Waka Attewell considers meaning,  art and what happens when our cinema history is bought and sold.


It’s the mark of a good movie when you’re still thinking about it a week later – it’s the mark of a great movie when you are still thinking about it after more than 20 years. When you can still recall the details… the cricket in the small box, the two Chinamen’s interior story of digging for an elusive fortune, their isolation, the sense of the advancing world, their previous life, surveyors scribing order into the wilderness, the camera that hung like poetry in the landscape.

Leon Narbey’s Illustrious Energy (1987) is that movie. I first saw Illustrious Energy on the big screen in the 80s when it was briefly released. It got me thinking ‘art’ and ‘history’ are an interesting combination. The outstanding beauty of it threw me for a moment and then I relaxed into the experience and let it wash through me. The unease I felt could have been because it was about us… about something dark in our past, but whatever it was there was simply something raw and compelling about its perfection. There are still moments etched on the back of my retina.

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