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
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

Victoria St

Holden HSV, Hamilton, 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


03 September 2017


SH1 & the Main Trunk Line from Fort Dorset, Wadestown