19 November 2017

The South Island, or 2176km of it

Day 1: Wellington > Blenheim

Finally after many years I organised another driving holiday to the West Coast, and now it was time to depart on the Saturday morning Interislander crossing. The cloud-light burst over Wellington Harbour as the Kaitaki prepared for its 9am departure, and naturally I arrived far too early. A stiff northerly whipped up as we departed, and I enjoyed the harbour view from the top deck as far as the heads, when the chill became too much. I felt sympathy for the Tongan school group onboard whose South Island adventure may have been the coldest experience of their lives.

Following a grey-skied cruise up the sound to Picton, I spent half an hour in town perusing the shops, picking up a vintage book of Norse mythology to add to my already overtaxed bookshelves. Then it was on to the main destination of the day: the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, which I had so enjoyed on my first visit in 2012. The World War 1 collection is still spectacular, and since my last time they've added an additional World War 2 gallery featuring impressive aircraft including a Hurricane, Spitfire, Kittyhawk and Stuka. A must-see for aviation buffs. 

After a stroll around the quiet centre of Blenheim - only one or two places seemed populated despite it being Saturday night - I returned to my room at the Grapevine Hostel for an early night in preparation for more driving tomorrow.
Kaitaki top deck

Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV


Day 2: Blenheim > Westport

After breakfast I departed sleepy Blenheim for the drive west along State Highway 63 up the Wairau River. Passing packed Army camps full of military personnel gathered for Exercise Southern Katipo, vineyard country and then into the ranges, I paused for lunch at beautiful St Arnaud. An hour-long bush walk along the shore of Lake Rotoiti from Kerr Bay to West Bay and back kept me occupied, and the onward journey to the West Coast was punctuated by a short break for icecream in tiny Murchison (epicentre of a major earthquake in 1929) and a climb up a bush trail to visit the cemetery of the now vanished ghost town of Lyell.

Traditional West Coast heavy rain greeted me as I rolled into Westport for the first time in around a decade. After checking into the grand merchant house that now hosts the town's YHA, I wandered along the main road, Palmerston St, and did a spot of people-watching while eating takeaways from the Buller Cafe, a local fast food institution, where the proprietor's daughter had returned from Christchurch for the long weekend and had naturally been pressed into working the counter; everyone who came in seemed to know everyone else. Nearby, a historical curiosity: a plaque commemorating the centennial of port activities in Westport, unveiled in September 1984 by the then Minister of Transport, Hon Richard Prebble. A fairly narrow window of opportunity for such occasions before his popularity declined rapidly, I would imagine.


Wairau River

Lake Rotoiti view from St Arnaud

Lyell ghost-town cemetery


Day 3: Westport and parts north

As is often the way, as soon as I book a week off I come down with a cold. It was always the same with University holidays. The headcold that took hold overnight stayed with me for the rest of my roadtrip, but with all the accommodation booked I just pretended I was 100 percent. Taking in a possibly-ill-advised coffee from the excellent Whanake Cafe, I then drove north on the road to Karamea to meet my cousin Steven, who has lived in the hamlet of Granity north of Westport since around the turn of the century. Meeting at Waimangaroa, Steven treated me to a ride up to the trig station atop Mt Rochfort (1040m), which is only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Sadly, the summit was in the clouds with zero visibility, and similarly there was no view from the lookout at the famous Denniston Incline. Nevertheless, it was interesting to revisit the historic mine remains and hunt for the elusive burning mine vents around Burnett's Face. 

We followed the road further north to drive past Seddonville and up the Mokihinui River, just about at the end of whitebaiting season, for lunch at the marvellously isolated Rough & Tumble Bush Lodge. The establishment, which is wreathed in net-clad verandas to ward off the ferocious West Coast sandflies, mainly caters to the mountain-bikers who now flock to the 85km Old Ghost Road trail that traverses the Lyell Range and begins way back at the Lyell ghost town I had visited the day before. We were the only customers for our late lunch, and our splendid pizzas were prepared by a friendly French chef. Rounding out my visit we walked the Charming Creek rail track, which I recalled visiting with Steven on my first visit to the Coast many years ago, and hunted for interesting rocks on Gentle Annie Beach, where the wild Tasman surf breaks on the driftwood-laden stony shore.

After stopping in to visit Steven and his family in Granity, I headed back for a quiet and early night in Westport - although the town does have a cinema I preferred to have an early night to give my cold its due respect.


Denniston Incline wreckage


Day 4: Westport > Franz Josef


After a refreshing hot chocolate sitting outside Whanake watching myriad utes come and go, it was time to drive south down the beautiful, rugged West Coast. After pausing for some cake at Charleston, I spent the rest of the morning on an entertaining detour. Just north of Punakaiki I turned left to drive inland around six kilometres on a rough track to reach the walk to Cave Creek. In from the coast the temperature climbed and the only people around were a couple of DoC rangers who upon seeing me apologised for swearing. Having never seen pictures of the creek, the visual impact on first viewing is spectacular, with its fantasy-land moss-covered stones and trees like some elven haven. At a discreet distance there's a plaque commemorating the 14 young visitors who tragically lost their lives here in the 1995 viewing platform collapse that shocked New Zealand.

Back on the main highway it was only a short drive south to the famed Punakaiki pancake rocks, which seemed to be dwelling in the same subtropical microclimate as Cave Creek - palm trees waved at the roadside, at the latitude of Chile and Tasmania. In a sign of the times, a notice firmly reminds visitors that no drones are permitted to fly over the rocks. After half an hour admiring the rock stacks, blowholes and plentiful bird life, it was on to Greymouth for supplies and a quick walk. One day I will discover something to do in Greymouth! But not this day. (I didn't try all that hard, I admit - there's Shantytown to explore, one day). Hokitika was more inviting, as I walked along the foreshore and back down crooked Revell St, trying to remind myself of the convoluted plot of The Luminaries and picture all those gold-rush barques stranded on the bar.

Finally there came the long drive south to Franz Josef and my room at the YHA. Cold-related low energy levels meant I called off a planned detour to beautiful Okarito, so instead I walked around the village, still relatively quiet in the pre-season, and spied a clever kea perched atop a tall tree, keeping lookout over the Waiho River's tumbling waters.

Cave Creek

Punakaiki


Day 5: Franz Josef & Lake Matheson

Despite earnest preparations at no time on the West Coast was I bothered by its fearsome mosquitoes, but on this day I was definitely beset by traditional West Coast rain. But this wasn't a major impediment to my visit to the Franz Josef glacier in the morning; if anything, it helped because it meant the glacier valley wasn't disturbed by clattering helicopters every few minutes (they don't fly when it's that wet) and the combination of my Wellington rainwear and the sturdy umbrellas of the Eco Tour folks meant I kept nice and dry. Guide Cliff took me and a pleasant young couple from Hong Kong for a walk up the valley, on and off the tracks, to view the glacier as close as it's possible to get without being a proper climber. The glacier has retreated hundreds of metres since my last visit in the early 2000s, and Cliff was able to convey an interesting overview of the valley ecosystem and the glacier's life cycle.

After a couple of hours back in the warmth of the YHA and a dinner of Chinese takeaways, it was time for my second Eco Tour walk of the day, this time with Taranaki guide Rose, who took a pair of Hong Kong ladies, a young English backpacker and me for a dusk walk around the beautiful Lake Matheson reserve. The lake, which is famous for its glassy reflections, is surrounded by an impressive stand of pristine native bush as a reminder of the West Coast ecosystem before farmers came along and hacked much of it down for pastures. After a rewarding walk learning about ferns and fungi, we drove the 25km back to Franz Josef, arriving back to the village in the still, dark night.


Franz Josef Glacier

Lake Matheson at dusk


Day 6: Franz Josef > Fox Glacier > Haast > Wanaka

The rain had eased overnight, so my morning drive south to the Fox Glacier was decidedly more pleasant. The walk to view the Fox is more challenging than at Franz Josef, with the best view requiring a steep hill climb for the optimum vantage. All those daily stair climbs to level 8 at work finally proved useful! But given I saw an elderly woman on crutches doing the same walk, maybe it wasn't that big a deal after all. In the fine and warm conditions the valley had a splendid appearance, with sheer cliffs rising from the dead flat river plain and the jagged, dirty blue-black glacier boiling over the lip of the valley like an eruption.

On the long drive south I paused for lunch and some beachcombing at the sunny, wind-swept expanses of Bruce Bay and a brief detour to revisit the pretty campsite at Lake Paringa, which I remembered passing many years before. I also took a bloody-minded detour south of Haast to drive the long, isolated road to Jackson Bay, just to see what was down there. It turned out this was prime whitebaiting territory, with many jetties and fishing huts and a fine collection of utes south of the Arawhata River prospecting for the Coast's 'white gold'.

Then it was time to head inland through the Haast Pass, keeping an eye out for the fabled 15km/h corner warnings and entering the ranges that signalled the end of the West Coast and the beginnings of Central Otago. The road to Wanaka passes the stunning vistas of both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, so there was always the temptation to pull over for more photos. Finally I made it to sleepy Wanaka - I've always preferred its laidback charms to the more flashy atmosphere of Queenstown - for a night at the YHA.

Fox Glacier

Bruce Bay

Jackson Bay

Haast Pass


Day 7: Wanaka > Lyttelton

It was a sleepless night in the YHA dorm, thanks to both my headcold and the nocturnal ways of American retiree Bob, who proceeded to reorganise all his bags until late at night in preparation for an early departure, and then had to be shaken awake when his shuttle arrived at 7am. Hardly restful, but on the plus side the Wanaka weather was spectacular. This was the longest driving day of the trip, a northeasterly haul of 450km through the Lindis Pass to Christchurch, so there wasn't much opportunity to linger. Luckily I had covered much of this territory on a lower South Island road trip two years earlier, so I wasn't missing out.

There was time to pause for photos at the stunning Lindis Pass viewing area, before lunching at the one-horse town of Omarama, which was sweltering under temperatures I'd not yet seen on my trip. I managed brief detours for photos of Mt Cook from the shore of Lake Pukaki and of the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, with the latter requiring a good deal of patience to get the shot without including the pair of Chinese tourists who lingered for what seemed an age bang in the middle of the frame. But this was far easier than my 2015 visit, when a tour bus of 40 passengers thronged the place and prevented any decent photos at all.

Aside from the excitement of trying to navigate through rush-hour traffic in sleepy Geraldine, where clearly no-one walks to work, it was a long, straight drive to Christchurch, with State Highway 1 noticeably packed with southbound traffic and many double tractor-trailer trucks, making passing mostly impossible. Then came the joys of the car-laden Christchurch traffic (you guys seriously need light rail, stat) to reach my destination for the night, an Air B'n'B room in the Lyttelton flat of two pleasant German chaps. Following an enjoyable walk along pretty London St and some dinner, I turned in early for the night, to try to beat my nagging cough.

Wanaka

Lindis Pass

Mt Cook Aoraki

Lyttelton


Day 8: Lyttelton > Nelson

As the pretty morning sun lightened the crater valley I walked down to a bustling London St for scrambled eggs at the Shroom Room cafe, which I had enjoyed dining at during my Easter 2017 visit. As I had a long way to drive north, my only activity in Christchurch was revisiting the excellent Christchurch Art Gallery, where a fascinating Len Lye exhibition included half a dozen of his kinetic sculptures and a selection of his highly influential short films (including A Colour Box, Lambeth Walk, and N or N.W.). There were also appealing exhibitions of British artist Bridget Riley and Canterbury photographer Laurence Aberhart.

After taking lunch to the wild and windy Amberley Beach north of Christchurch, there was time for a brief detour to the North Canterbury hamlet of Hawarden, which I visited in January 2013 for a friend's wedding. Unsurprisingly, everything was shut! Then it was on northwards through the spectacular mountain scenery of the Lewis Pass, a route now overburdened with freight traffic thanks to the Kaikoura detour in place until December. A plaque halfway extolled the exploits of five European explorers who ventured through here (presumably with Maori guides) from 1860 onwards, and claimed that 'Cannibal Gorge was an important Maori east-west route'. Possibly no longer known by that name, I'm guessing.

Finally I made it to Nelson at dusk, in time for a walk around the town centre and a slap-up meal at the Turkish kebab shop on Bridge St, before listening to podcasts and turning in at the handily located YHA.

Len Lye kinetic sculptures

Lewis Pass near the St James walkway


Day 9: Nelson > Picton > Wellington

Rain covered the 80km drive to Picton, so there was little opportunity for sightseeing, but in Picton itself there was a treat as I revisited the superb Edwin Fox museum, which houses the hull of an 1853 merchantman that once brought colonists to New Zealand, troops to the Crimea and convicts to Australia. It's a must-see for those interested in maritime or colonial history - it's possible that Florence Nightingale returned from the Crimea aboard the ship. Then after lunch it was time to board a different, much larger vessel: the Kaitaki for the crossing back to Wellington. A sunnier day than the outbound journey was perfect for photographing Navy ships in the sound for the Katipo exercise, the West Wind turbines above the Wellington south coast and re-reading Alan Bennett's entertaining 2007 novella, The Uncommon Reader.

Edwin Fox hull, Picton

West Wind
See also:
Blog: Gold has been all-in-all to us, 4 October 2011
Blog: Bad meat & bad blood, 20 April 2011
BlogA Cook Strait tunnel, 16 April 2008

11 November 2017

Viva Peru!

Peru fans congregate at the Wellington Stadium for this afternoon's World Cup football qualifier against the All Whites, in traditional capital spring weather - sunny with chilling gales.




08 November 2017

Colour separation

John Fortune was once in a TV show with Irene Handl. It involved colour separation, a technique then in its infancy, and the enthusiastic young director thought he should explain the process to Miss Handl at the outset.

Swathed in a fur tippet and carrying at least two Pekingese, the dumpy old lady listened patiently while he embarked on a lecture about electronics. Eventually she interrupts: "Excuse me, dear, but I think you're confusing me with one of those actresses who gives a fuck"

- Alan Bennett, Writing Home (1980 diaries), London, 1994

31 October 2017

The death of American compromise

[Former US Speaker of the House of Representatives John] Boehner worries about the deepening fissures in American society. But he sees Trump as more of a symptom than the cause of what is a longer arc of social and ideological alienation, fueled by talk radio and Fox News on the right and MSNBC and social media on the left. “People thought in ’09, ’10, ’11, that the country couldn’t be divided more. And you go back to Obama’s campaign in 2008, you know, he was talking about the divide and healing the country and all of that. And some would argue on the right that he did more to divide the country than to unite it. I kind of reject that notion.” Why is that? “Because it wasn’t him!” Boehner replies. “It was modern-day media, and social media, that kept pushing people further right and further left. People started to figure out … they could choose where to get their news. And so what do people do? They choose places they agree with, reinforcing the divide.” [...]

Boehner believes Americans are ill-informed because of their retreat into media echo chambers, one of two incurable causes of the country’s polarization. Another is inextricably related: the unwillingness of lawmakers to collaborate across the aisle, for fear of recriminations from the base. Boehner says the fact he and Obama golfed together only once—and agreed that it was usually better for him to sneak into the White House—speaks to how the two parties punish compromise. He doesn’t foresee this toxic political climate improving, ticking off potential fixes—term limits, redistricting reform—that he says won’t make a bit of difference. “It’s going to take an intervening event for Americans to realize that first, we are Americans,” he says. An intervening event? “Something cataclysmic,” he responds, gazing upward.

- Tim Alberta, 'John Boehner Unchained', Politico, Nov/Dec 2017

29 October 2017

New resident in old timbers

A sparrow guards its nest amidst the teak timbers of the museum ship barque Edwin Fox (1853), in Picton this morning.


15 October 2017

Homeward bound

Wellington tugs Tiaki & Tapuhi return to port, 15 October 2017

12 October 2017

Four gentlemen of Amman

I was wandering through the middle of Amman, the Jordanian capital, on my last day in town some nine years ago (6 November 2008) when these four chaps noticed my camera and asked me to take their picture. I can't remember how extensive their English was, but they liked the picture. Didn't spot the naughty cigarette no.2 is rocking! Wonder what they're up to now? (That was a great trip, by the way).


09 October 2017

Coalition formation & potential Executives

One feature of the continuing coalition negotiations has been speculation about the likely shape of any resulting Cabinet. Now the election result is final there's no such thing as a 'moral right to govern' in the rulebook: the fate of the next Parliament is determined by Parliament alone.

While New Zealand First may choose to sit on the cross-benches outside of Government, it’s more interesting to guess what a full coalition arrangement with shared responsibilities might look like. In these negotiations Ministerial positions are the subject of negotiations along with policy concessions and other appointments, but parties generally receive a number of positions proportionate to their vote. In practice this means that if it goes into a formal coalition New Zealand First could expect to have four of its caucus of nine ending up holding Ministerial warrants, whichever major party Winston Peters ends up deciding to support.

The estimates below are based on a hypothetical Ministerial list of 25 Ministers. While this is smaller than the 27 Ministers under the last English administration (or 28 if you count the non-Ministerial Parliamentary Under-Secretary role created for ACT’s David Seymour), there are fewer minor parties in the new Parliament and an Executive of 28 was arguably too many in a House of 120 members. For the purposes of this discussion I’ve opted to keep things simple with 25, with 20 in Cabinet and five Ministers outside Cabinet. Given the number of tiny portfolios used to flesh out the numbers, a new administration wanting to economise could do worse than opting for an even smaller Executive, but the need to reward ambitious caucus members probably makes this unlikely.

If Peters supports a National-led Government the combined parties would have 65 votes. This would suggest 21 Ministerial positions for National and four for New Zealand First. If there was no major National reshuffle, that would allow all the present Cabinet to keep their warrants, plus Hon Nicky Wagner. Four National Ministers at the bottom of the current Ministerial list would lose their warrants: Jacqui Dean, David Bennett, Tim Macindoe and Scott Simpson. The four New Zealand First members to receive Ministerial warrants would likely be Winston Peters, Tracy Martin, Ron Mark and Shane Jones.

If Peters supports Labour plus the Greens (63 votes), this would suggest a line-up of 18 Ministerial positions for Labour, four for New Zealand First and three for the Greens. While the Green vote (6.3 percent) is only slightly smaller than New Zealand First’s (7.2 percent), it would probably be smart politics to reward New Zealand First with an extra spot. Examining the Labour caucus and list rankings, a line-up of 18 ministers could consist of: Jacinda Ardern, Kelvin Davis, Andrew Little, Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods, Chris Hipkins, Carmel Sepuloni, David Clark, David Parker, Stuart Nash, Raymond Huo, Iain Lees-Galloway, Su’a William Sio, Damien O’Connor, Ruth Dyson, Nanaia Mahuta and Rino Tirikatene. Four of the 18 have previous Ministerial experience: Parker, O’Connor, Dyson and Mahuta. Trevor Mallard would be given the role of Speaker. The New Zealand First Ministers would be the same as under the National-led administration. The Green Party would receive three warrants, perhaps for their top three list candidates James Shaw, Marama Davidson and Julie Anne Genter.

While the prospect of a National coalition with the Greens excited some comment among National-aligned commentators last week, it’s a toxic option as far as the Greens are concerned. In any case, a hypothetical National-Green administration (64 votes) would look similar to a National-New Zealand First one: 22 National Ministers plus three Green Ministers. Jacqui Dean could retain her warrant and the same three Green members as above would become Ministers.

Of course this all becomes moot if Peters decides to stay on the cross-benches!

02 October 2017

'Not one of them would have dampened my ambition'

Working on Michael Cacoyannis' 1971 film The Trojan Women, English actor and raconteur Brian Blessed became friends with the film's lead actor, the legendary Katharine Hepburn. In his autobiography Absolute Pandemonium Blessed recounts in his own words Hepburn's reasoning for never having had children.

One of the more interesting yet difficult conversations I had with Katharine was about her decision never to have children. This, I believe, revealed the mark of Katharine Hepburn. She spoke with honesty, candour, empathy and consideration; four words I believe sum her up perfectly. They were her bywords. 
I remember what she said and will attempt to convey this to you now. I think you'll find it illuminating. 
'I could not bear the thought of being a mother, Brian. I've been attacked for this over the years, attacked and pilloried by all kinds of people: journalists, politicians, fellow actors; even fans. And, do you know, I'm sick of it. I've had it up to here. Being a mother is the most important job in the world and it is probably the hardest job in the world, and I'm afraid that I just wasn't up to it. But at least I was honest enough to admit that. Do you know how many people have children because they believe they should, or because other people tell them they should? Millions. But the consequence of bringing a child into the world under those kind of circumstances and in that kind of environment wasn't lost on me, Brian. It made me think and it made me act. 
A child needs to be loved unconditionally, but especially by its mother. When I was of child-bearing age, I was obsessed with my career. Nothing else mattered to me and I did a lot of things to further my career that I'm not proud of. Things I should never have done. Can you imagine what kind of life a child of mine would have had? Because, believe me, I could have given birth to a thousand children and not one of them would have dampened my ambition. There would have been precious little love for a child of mine. I'm ashamed to say; and no attention or affection. Just a room full of au pairs and a lifetime of resentment. Hollywood has been having these kinds of babies for years, Brian. It's abuse. It's child abuse. So that's why I decided never to have children and I stand by my decision. It doesn't matter to me any more because I'm over sixty now, but it still does to some'.
- Brian Blessed, Absolute Pandemonium: My louder than life story, 2015

27 September 2017

Young Spielberg

The young [Steven] Spielberg seems a picture of an unsettled personality darting about internally in search of its own borders. He was a brilliant child whose intellectual curiosity did not motivate him to be more than a desultory student; a nerd who shunned athletics and the outdoor life yet found his greatest social fulfillment in the Boy Scouts; a Jewish kid uncomfortable with his identity, fantasizing about the communal joys of Christmas. He yearned, apparently, for the mainstream American life evoked by the paintings of Norman Rockwell (of whom Spielberg would become a major collector) and from which his Jewish identity seemed to exclude him. “Being a Jew meant that I was not normal,” he would explain, “I was not like everybody else. I just wanted to be accepted. Not for who I was. I wanted to be accepted for who everybody else was.”

The sense of a barrier was heightened by the communities in which he found himself living—especially after his family moved to Arizona when he was nine, to a suburb on the edge of the desert, an environment of (in Spielberg’s words) “kitchen windows facing kitchen windows facing kitchen windows,” precisely analogous to the freshly built development so thoroughly devastated by the angry dead at the climax of Poltergeist (a film, written and produced but not, at least officially, directed by Spielberg, that as [biographer Molly] Haskell notes serves as a repository for some of his darkest fantasies).

Not long after the move to Arizona his father gave him an 8-millimeter movie camera, and a life still nebulous came abruptly into focus. At first he took over responsibility for filming the family’s vacations, complete with retakes and carefully elaborated setups, and discovered that “staging real life was so much more fun than just recording it.” By the age of twelve his ambition as a filmmaker was fully formulated, and with it the conscious construction of his own legend. Filmmaking defined his social life, reinforcing his ties with his fellow Boy Scouts and classmates, as he roped everyone in his circle (including of course his parents) into increasingly complex projects.

- Geoffrey O'Brien, 'Spielberg: The Inner Lives of a Genius', New York Review of Books, 23 February 2017


See also:

25 September 2017

In every respect the theatre is comfortable, convenient & hygienic

Image result for wenders Falsche Bewegung
The cast of Wim Wenders' Falsche Bewegung

Tonight several hundred Wellingtonians gathered at the Paramount Theatre in Courtenay Place for the last ever Wellington Film Society screening at the venue. Thanks to the perfidy of some nameless council flunky, the theatre building had been re-designated to allow other uses, and the building owner wasn't keen on spending the money to refurbish its aging structure. So the culture capital of New Zealand loses an irreplaceable strand of its artistic heritage: a cinema that has been operating for just over 100 years, and the cinema that screened the first ever talking picture in New Zealand. And unless the new Film Museum provides the option, with the demise of the Paramount Wellington loses its only cinema with 35mm film projection capability.

An almost capacity crowd gathered on the cinema's last day in action to watch some traditional Filmsoc fare, the 1974 Wim Wenders road movie Falsche Bewegung (Wrong Move). I love the line from the 1975 Variety write-up of the movie in the Filmsoc catalogue: 'The single drawback is that it's probably too German to be grasped by uninitiated audiences'.


The sad end of a grand old cinema should be countered with the optimism of its birth a century earlier. Cinema was big business in New Zealand in 1917, despite the ongoing war, and the newspapers covered its opening in early August.

===

The opening of the new Paramount Theatre at the Courtenay-place tramway junction will take place next Saturday evening. The theatre has been planned on up-to-date lines, due care having been paid to seating, ventilation, and other essentials, while only the latest machinery has been installed for the purpose of showing pictures to the best advantage. The screen was specially imported from America. It is made of a scientific composition, and is said to greatly improve the quality of the pictures. The Paramount Theatre will be on the Paramount circuit, and the first production shown will feature the ever popular Mary Pickford in an Artcraft film, "Less Than the Dust," the scenes in which are laid in India and England.
- Evening Post, 30 July 1917

(Less Than the Dust was Pickford's first of 13 self-produced pictures for the Paramount Artcraft division. In 1919 she co-founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, DW Griffith and her soon-to-be husband, Douglas Fairbanks).
 

Considerable interest is being shown in the opening of the new Paramount Theatre, a luxuriously-fitted picture palace situated at Courtenay place, at which the initial screenings commence to-night. The Paramount is a spacious, cosy building, in which quaint architecture and new designs in appointments have combined to ensure the comfort and congenial surroundings that movie “fans" and general entertainment patrons appreciate. For the opening session, the first of the Artcraft productions, “Less Than the Dust," has been secured. In this big feature play the idol of the screen, Mary Pickford, is seen at her best, in the role of a deserted orphan, reared among sordid native surroundings in India. There is an uprising, very realistically carried out, and thence on there is a tender love story interwoven in the exciting plot. Miss Pickford’s latest effort is described as her triumph in dramatic acting. There are other well-selected pictures, an ideal programme for first-nighters in a new and handsome entertainment house. Excellent lighting, seating, and ventilation arrangements have been installed in the building, which ranks among the handsomest of Wellington's many theatres.
- New Zealand Times, 4 August 1917

(One of Less Than the Dust's two assistant directors was the later-famed Austrian emigre, Erich von Stroheim)


The Paramount Theatre, the twelfth addition to the picture theatres of Wellington, was opened on Saturday night under the most favourable conditions. The theatre itself may be described as up to date. Seating accommodation is provided for about twelve hundred, and the house was filled to overflowing on Saturday evening. The seats are comfortable, and the rows are wide enough apart to permit patrons to pass with comfort. The screen can be seen from every part of the house without any straining or twisting about. The decorations are simple but effective, and in every respect the theatre is comfortable, convenient, and hygienic. There was no hitch or delay in the opening, showing clearly that the management had given attention to every detail. The screen is quite the latest, and its special merit lies in the fact that it brings out the contrasts of light and shade. It is claimed that this screen is the only one of its kind in New Zealand up to the present time. The biograph is known as Baird's, and is a very powerful machine, projecting the pictures with remarkable clearness and free from flicker. Prom the smoothness with which everything went along from the start few people could be led to believe that it was the opening night, for usually there are delays and drawbacks at the initial performance through little details being overlooked. For about twenty minutes or more before the first picture was shown a very capable orchestra entertained the early patrons with a fine selection of music, and appropriate music was rendered throughout the evening. 

Pickford in Rebecca
of Sunnybrook Farm
(1917)
The star picture chosen for the opening, entitled "Less Than the Dust," and featuring Mary Pickford, the popular artiste of the films, proved highly attractive. The story is an endeavour to blend East and West. It opens in India, where Radha (the role assumed by Mary Pickford), the little English castaway daughter of a social derelict, is shown in her daily life as the adopted daughter of a Hindoo swordmaker, and some typical Indian scenes and customs are depicted. The natives of the district are called upon to submit to vaccination, which they resent, and some of the hot-headed natives foster a rebellion, the Hindoo sword-maker being a leader among the rebels. Radha meets Captain Richard Townsend, of the local garrison, in the course of her wanderings through the bazaars, and her efforts to study English are helped by the gift of a book from Captain Townsend. During a fight with the rebels, Radha saves Townsand's life, and the latter goes on furlough to England to recuperate. The sword-maker finds himself in prison, and Radha's identity is discovered. She is sent to a boarding-school in England, where she again meets Townsend, and they eventually marry. The young couple return to India, and a Mrs Bradshaw, a widow who had marked out Townsend for her second husband, persuades Radha that she is unworthy to be the wife of Townsend, and the heartbroken girl flees to the desert with the intention of ending her life, but is saved by her husband. The picture is very fascinating, and the Eastern life and customs are very faithfully reproduced. Some very fine scenic pictures of the West India Islands, including St. Thomas and Martinique, were also shown. The Paramount should have a prosperous future.
- Dominion, 6 August 1917

"Less Than the Dust," now being screened daily at the Paramount Theatre, Courtenay-place, is a play that overshadows all Mary Pickford's screen triumphs. This picture was extremely successful in America, and the reason is easily apparent to all who see this superb superfeature. Smiles and tears are exquisitely blended, and the film will be remembered by all who see it for the sheer charm of its simplicity. At the evening performance the orchestral accompaniment adds greatly to the enjoyment of this picture. The music has been most carefully selected, and is very effectively rendered.
- Evening Post, 8 August 1917

(Less Than the Dust is listed as a seven-reeler)


"And departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of Time," doesn't quite apply in a literal sense to Mr James Bennie, Wellington's architect, who, when he goes hence, will leave his "handmark'' on the features of Wellington City. Thorough in his work is Mr Bennie, combined with which excellent trait is an artistic taste of the highest grade, as several public buildings in this city bear silent testimony. His latest "output" is the Paramount Picture Theatre in Courtenay-place. That end of Wellington is flourishing like unto the green bay tree. Shops are springing into existence daily — substantial structures — to catch the trade of those who walk from the centre of the city to collar the trams at Courtenay-place to save an honest "brown''
- Free Lance, 10 August 1917

(The Lance also records the run in another theatre of DW Griffith's racist blockbuster epic, The Birth of a Nation. Saving an 'honest brown' would I guess refer to saving a half-penny or perhaps the tram tickets for the city section were coloured differently to the suburban service tickets)

16 September 2017

09 September 2017

Huxley's prescience

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and [George Orwell's] prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another -- slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny 'failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.' In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us”

- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985

(Via the Delancey Place email newsletter)

08 September 2017

Conversations with Prime Ministers

Photos from this evening's book launch at Te Papa's marae in Wellington, for journalists Guyon Espiner and Tim Watkin's The 9th Floor: Conversations with five New Zealand Prime Ministers. Mike Moore was unable to attend and sent his apologies, but present were Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer (Prime Minister in 1989-90), Rt Hon Jim Bolger (1990-97), Rt Hon Dame Jenny Shipley (1997-99) and Rt Hon Helen Clark (1999-2008). In what was a historic gathering possibly never before attempted in New Zealand, the four ex-leaders discussed the nature of the premiership, the challenges facing New Zealand and the interviews' contribution to posterity.

In Te Papa's marae

Helen Clark Snapchats while Palmer looks on

Shipley makes a point, Espiner listens

Bolger


03 September 2017

Kaiwharawhara

SH1 & the Main Trunk Line from Fort Dorset, Wadestown

27 August 2017

Seal-spotting at Turakirae Head

It was perfect sunny weather for a walk to Turakirae Head on the Wainuiomata south coast yesterday afternoon - bright, breezy but not gusty. The last time I'd been out that way the whole city was dry but the south coast was wreathed in sheets of rain. The DOC signs at the entrance near Orongorongo Station say it's an hour walk to the head, but I took quite a bit less time than that, even allowing for photographic detours. The rocky landscape at the head - the result of a series of earthquakes over the past few thousand years - is perfect for the seals, and along with the fine views of Palliser Bay there was the rare opportunity to say (with tongue in cheek) that I had walked to the Wairarapa and back.





Looking southeast to Cape Palliser

23 August 2017

Launching 'A Bark But No Bite'

At Victoria University of Wellington's Rutherford House for the launch of the latest New Zealand Election Study book, A Bark But No Bite: Inequality and the 2014 New Zealand General Election, by Jack VowlesHilde Coffé and Jennifer Curtin. Former fellow politics student and lecturer Rt Hon Helen Clark was the guest of honour, and other guests included another former Prime Minister, Rt Hon Geoffrey Palmer, and politics experts Dr Elizabeth McLeay, Dr Bryce Edwards, Colin James and Brian Easton. The book can be downloaded free from ANU Press.

Clark, Vowles, Coffe & Curtin

Rt Hon Helen Clark

Prof Jack Vowles

20 August 2017

A man for every season

Shayne P Carter 
Meow, Wellington
19 August 2017

Having seen Shayne Carter in a double-act with Don McGlashan at the Paramount a while back, it was good to follow up with this louder band gig at Meow last night, with Carter chiefly on guitar as usual, with bass and drums backing. Booming, jagged waves of tortured, coruscating anti-pop and all that. Ears buzzing into the night. He played a couple of numbers from his uncharacteristic piano pieces too, off the 2016 album Offsider (which for reasons of keyboard proximity I'm inclined to type as Oddsider), including this track below, in a 2016 RNZ clip. It's interesting to see a guitar supremo contort his music through an unfamiliar instrument (he taught himself to play for Offsider). In support the Magic Numbers-lineup of local band Draghound (two girls, two guys) impressed.

I'm still taken aback by New Zealand pub gig audiences though - the ones who pay money to hear an artist perform and then talk all the way through the performances. Oftentimes in the quieter numbers they're louder than the band. Such rude behaviour is beyond my ken!

 

17 August 2017

Die kleinen Gesichter

Live on German TV programme 'Beat-Club', a pacey 10-minute set by the Small Faces at the height of their powers, with four numbers including All Or Nothing and Whatcha Gonna Do About It, and plenty of would-be German mods in the audience attempting to keep up. That might be British DJ Dave Lee Travis of later BBC fame doing the intros there - he hosted the programme from 1966 to 1969.

14 August 2017

Film festival roundup 2017


Here's my top five films from the 2017 NZ International Film Festival here in Wellington, where I saw 20 films in 17 days. An excellent year for the festival!

Patti Cake$ (dir. Geremy Jasper, USA, 2017) :: Embassy 108 mins

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I knew I had to see Patti Cake$ the moment I read the festival blurb recording the moment the Cannes crowd heard the film's lead actor Danielle Macdonald speak at a Q&A they 'gave an audible gasp when she answered her first question because no one had a clue she was Australian let alone not American'.

There's no question that this quest-for-stardom music flick traverses the most hackneyed of cinematic cliches - the embattled outsider with a heart of gold striving to overcome adversity with the help of their plucky, wacky friends and a huge helping of sheer talent. In lesser hands this would be trivial, forgettable material. But with Macdonald director and writer Geremy Jasper has a legitimate, stone-cold star. There's never a moment in Patti Cake$ that leads the viewer to disbelieve her tremendous ability with a mic and a rhyme. Her rapping performances are quite authentically superb, and that's from someone who has little time for the musical genre. And whereas a film like Steven Soderbergh's Haywire can coast on a serviceable lead performance by Gina Carano thanks to her eye-watering martial arts talents, Macdonald is the complete package here because in addition to rapping like a boss she also acts with commendable talent.

I won't spoil the audacious climax of the film, but this is that most treasurable of offerings, a true crowd-pleaser in every respect. Don't be surprised if you see Macdonald at the Oscars, or at the very least performing at the Grammys - assuming they can devise something PG-13 for her to rap, that is.

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web (dir. Annie Goldson, NZ, 2017) :: Paramount 112 mins

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You don't have to like Kim Dotcom in the slightest to be impressed by the scope of Annie Goldson's stellar documentary. While the biographical aspects of the sorry Dotcom tale are strong, the broader implications for the entire way society consumes intellectual property are particularly intriguing. Particularly telling is the example given of the early rise of Dotcom's Megaupload, when a recent University of Kansas graduate tells a reporter friend that her campus was abuzz with sharing free movies on the site, and that it was her lecturer who first turned her onto it - a clear sign that the social impact of this type of sharing was mammoth and permeating every corner of the world.

Goldson has assembled a formidable collection of international interviewees to augment the expert insights of the Herald's David Fisher, including Jimmy Wales, Moby and Glenn Greenwald. And whether or not you think Dotcom is guilty of the crimes he's been charged with, his case has been handled diabolically by the New Zealand authorities at seemingly every stage. The questionable granting of New Zealand residency (potentially with the ultimate intention of handing him over to the Americans), the ludicrous overkill of the January 2012 raid on the Dotcom mansion (which was conducted using faulty warrants), the police's illegal cloning and sharing of his entire evidence file with the FBI, the illegal surveillance by the New Zealand security services (which was later patched up by highly contentious legislation) and the eventual court ruling that he was eligible for extradition to the US but not for the charges originally laid against him, the five years it's taken to even get this far ('justice delayed is justice denied', after all): these all add up to a picture of a New Zealand justice system seemingly taking its orders from overseas and bending its rules to suit.

Throughout, Dotcom appears as a charismatic chancer punching way above his paygrade - a low-level crook who made millions while Hollywood refused to adapt its business model to reflect changing technology.

Ethel & Ernest (dir. Roger Mainwood, UK, 2016) :: Paramount 94 mins


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The highlight of the last day of the film festival was Brenda Blethyn & Jim Broadbent voicing the animation Ethel & Ernest - the story of artist Raymond Briggs' parents and their 40 happy years of marriage. If the idea of following the mundane, everyday goings-on of ordinary South Londoners strikes you as boring or dull, then you'll be missing out on a precious social document replete with wry humour, affecting pathos and small tragedies bravely borne. Personally, I loved every minute of this loving tribute to the heroism of ordinary working-class people making their way through life. Even if it did feature plenty of exposition in the form of Ernest listening to the wireless and exclaiming, 'Blimey, that Mr Hitler's only gorn an' invaded Poland' - because that's just what Ernest would have said. If only we had something like this lovely little film for New Zealanders' lives of the same generation, for a way of life now lost and almost forgotten.

Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993, dir. Carla Simon, Spain, 2017) :: Embassy 97 mins

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An expertly realised evocation of a momentous summer from the director's own past, as orphaned six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) is taken to the Catalan countryside for a new life with her aunt and uncle and her tiny cousin Anna. Wiry, inquisitive and puzzled, Frida struggles to adjust to her new environs and the family struggles to adapt to this newcomer, half insider, half outsider. As a simple depiction of childhood, familial kindness and learning to get along, this is hugely effective, finding particular joy in the small and utterly genuine interactions between Frida and the cherubic, playful little Anna that pepper the film. So many of the episodes depicted have the ring of true memories to them, and as Frida's story and that of her family emerges one can't help but be impressed with the performances of all concerned.

A Date for Mad Mary (dir. Darren Thornton, Ireland, 2016) :: Paramount 82 mins

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An object lesson in how to make a small film with a big heart, A Date For Mad Mary works in every respect - dramatically, comedically, narratively and visually. The tremendous cast led by Seana Kerslake as loose cannon Mary offer believable and memorable performances and the film provides a glimpse into the motivations and challenges of a determined young woman seeking a 'plus one' for her best friend's wedding, with the slight impediment that she's got anger management issues and has only just emerged from a six-month jail term. The blind date scenes are particularly rich with humour, particularly given Mary's first stab in the dark is to ask out her middle-aged former drug dealer.

Other films seen and enjoyed at this year's festival:

The Party (dir. Sally Potter, UK, 2017)
The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2017)
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (dir. Matt Tyrnauer, USA, 2016)
Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no junin, dir. Miike Takashi, Japan, 2017)
The Farthest (dir. Emer Reynolds, Ireland, 2017)
My Year with Helen (dir. Gaylene Preston, New Zealand, 2017)
I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, USA, 2016)
The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray, USA, 2016)
Manifesto (dir. Julian Rosenfeldt, Germany, 2017)
Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1979)
Kedi (dir. Ceyda Torun, Turkey, 2016)
6 Days (dir. Toa Fraser, New Zealand/UK, 2017)
Human Traces (dir. Nic Gorman, New Zealand, 2017)
The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola, USA, 2017)
The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen, dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 2017)

See also:
Movies: Film festival roundup 2016 part 1, part 2
Movies: Film festival roundup 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009