Ring some changes

by Jon Gadsby / 27 December, 2003

It was a "freaky" Friday, apparently. That's what I was reliably informed by National Radio's Linda Clark and her guest, movie reviewer Tim O'Brien on Nine to Noon. It was certainly a freaky Friday at our place. We were in the middle of shifting - again - and this is not a set of circumstances that sits easily with me. So I was probably in something of a jaded mien at 11.30, surrounded by boxes and packing materials, as Linda and Tim discussed their picks of the week.

Is anyone sick of Lord of the Rings yet? I never thought to hear myself say it, but I am, thoroughly. This comes at the end of a week when, had it not been for Tolkien's epic and its cinematic rendering, much of National Radio's programming would have consisted of dead air. Could we stop talking about LOTR, please? Lots of important other things are happening. We can talk about Don McKinnon and Robert Mugabe at CHOGM. All right, on second thoughts, let's talk about LOTR again.

Linda and Tim were talking about New Zealand movies, and apparently LOTR is three of them. How this came about is slightly beyond me. New Zealand is a backdrop for the movies, surely. New Zealand was a giant Hollywood lot for the films. I'm not putting down the onscreen results or the brilliance of Peter Jackson in any way, but these are not New Zealand films. Whale Rider is a New Zealand film. Heavenly Creatures is a New Zealand film. So is Goodbye Pork Pie and Came a Hot Friday. LOTR is not a New Zealand product any more than the latest Star Wars instalment is an Australian one. Certainly, the tourists may be flocking to our locations to buy stick-on pointy ears and reproduction hairy feet, but they do something much the same on tours of the major Hollywood studios. You can buy whips just like Indiana's and light sabres just like Luke's. Is The Sound of Music an Austrian movie? Most of Clint Eastwood's early epics were shot in Italy and Spain. In the 80s, most British stuff had Yugoslavia to call home.

This is not a New Zealand project. It wasn't conceived here, it wasn't written here, it's not about here and it isn't set here. We are a canvas, get it? A beautiful one, a stunning one, a magnificent one, but a canvas nevertheless. There's nothing wrong with this, but can we swallow it, please?

Once we start claiming LOTR as part of our national culture, we might as well avow Tom Cruise's Last Samurai is also part of our distinctive nationhood - with Mt Taranaki playing the lead role as Japan's Mt Fujiyama, to boot. We might as well claim Jaws was ours as well, by virtue of being filmed in the Pacific. Well, it's the same ocean, isn't it? Bollywood productions are a dime a dozen in the South Island now - and approximately the same budget. Are these garish Indian epics now part of New Zealand's rich filmic culture? God forbid.

It was a relief when Linda and Tim moved onto another film - Jamie Lee Curtis's latest offering: Freaky Friday. Something about a daughter metamorphosing as her own mother. Tim confessed to having enjoyed this gem, and Curtis's performance. Linda remonstrated. "Tim," she said, "all I can remember Jamie Lee Curtis doing in the movies I've seen is getting all her clothes off, and leaving them off for the duration. In fact, in some of her films she appears not to have a costume at all." It was a freaky Friday after all. Perhaps we should all give thanks that some mogul decided not to shoot this one in Fiordland, Matamata and the Mackenzie Country. It might have become one of ours.


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