Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Haut 80s

[Fritz Lang, dir.: Metropolis (1927 / 1984)]

I recently bought myself a copy of Metropolis with the notorious "disco" soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder. I agree that this sounds a bit quixotic, given the fact that the "complete" restored version of 2002 has now been succeeded by an even more complete version based on the recent discovery of an uncut print of the original film (before it was edited down for American release) in an obscure film archive in Buenos Aires.

What can the Moroder version - with its garish tinting, subtitles substituting for captions, and stills standing in for certain scenes - have to offer to us now? Well, probably not all that much unless you remember sitting, breathless, in the Civic Theatre in 1984 as the opening titles appeared and that drum beat began! You had to be there, I guess.

Isn't Brigitte sublime? Only nineteen, with the huge eyes and waif-like face of the silent era star, she really comes to life when she has to embody the "evil Maria" robot ... Click here and you can relive the moment for yourselves, courtesy of YouTube.

Incidentally, don't you think the Magus / Inventor Rotwang looks a bit like our own Panmure poet and visionary Richard Taylor? Especially in some of the more recent posts on his mind-bending blog Eyelight ...

Watching the movie again got me to thinking about that whole feel of the 1980s: its strange mixture of grunge and glam, the apocalyptic tone of its art. For me, I guess the style of the decade had been set once and for all a couple of years before, in 1982, when I staggered out into the daylight after having first experienced the sublime vistas of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The monstrous ziggurats dominating the skyline, the crowded Asian noodle-bars and ceaseless rain in the streets below ... On the one hand, it seemed like the landscape of a dream; on the other hand, I felt as if I'd literally seen the future. It was grimy, it was noir, it was retro, it was intensely melancholy - and I loved it.

[Blade Runner (1982)]

I couldn't believe it when the film promptly disappeared from the big screen, all the local reviewers prattling on about how "gloomy" it was, and awarding all their stars to whatever other vacuous space opera was uppermost at the time. What was it, in fact? E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial? How well that's stood the test of time!

For a while it was as if no-one understood that a new decade had begun, that a new sensibility had been announced by Scott's film. The seventies cast a long shadow. When I finally left for London in 1986, though, I saw that the revolution had indeed taken place. "Thatcher means Death" was the first piece of graffiti I saw shortly after landing: the monsters were real, the Tyrrell corporation really was in charge. The Cold War was still on, you must remember, and the most powerful country on earth was ruled by a zombie, controlled by his freeze-dried wife and her astrologers ...

I remember going to see a screening of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin at the filmhouse in Edinburgh in about 1987. The film itself had been too thoroughly assimilated by subsequent cineastes to excite me very much ("Life," as Marianne Moore once memorably remarked, "is not like that.") But they'd put another Russian short on before it, to fill out the programme.

Now that film, "Chess-Crazy", totally blew my mind. It was completely stupid. The plot consisted of everyone being so mad on chess that they'd start playing it at the drop of the hat: peasants, businessmen, soldiers and all. The hero, on his way, to see his girl, is constantly distracted by random chess matches wherever he goes.

[Chess-Crazy (1925)]

It was a silent film, from the mid-twenties, I suppose, and yet the costumes looked completely up to the minute. The hero was wearing baggy trousers, a blazer, a striped jumper - I saw him in bars in town every day. The heroine looked pretty fetching in her vintage dress. Even her hair was in haut 80s style ...

I know that people see the 80s now as all Duran Duran and Cyndi Lauper: tight shirts and mullets or kooky fringes - but that's not how it looked at the time. Our revolution may have been betrayed ... what was it all for, in any case? Better fashion solutions? 1989, and the fall of the Berlin wall, the velvet revolution in Prague, did seem more like the end of something than a new beginning. It was bizarre to hear that the Americans seemed to be under the impression that they'd won something, that now they could really start ruling the world ...

Those of us who'd really assimilated Blade Runner knew better than that. If there was change coming, it was coming from the east: initially from Japan, but then from China itself, the sleeping giant.

What, after all, had the Americans won? Who were their enemies now? YOu can't have a military-industrial complex without a dastardly foe. For a while their movies seemed as if they were literally casting about for villains - no more commies, no more SMERSH, no more sinister commissars ... They tried "separatists," drug cartels, "terrorists" until they came up with the perfect solution: Islam. That's worked out really well for all of us, hasn't it?

Blade Runner had it right, once again. "I have seen the future and it works" - that silly remark by an American journalist about the Bolshevik revolution - had to be transformed, for my generation, into "I have seen the future and it's dark" ...

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stokes Point Revisited

Auckland Harbour Bridge
[photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd]

A couple of years ago I posted a photo-essay about Stokes Point in Northcote, scene of some proposed literary inscriptions celebrating certain late great North Shore writers ... I was therefore quite intrigued, on picking up the NZ Herald the other day, to discover that the project had indeed gone ahead:

The Stokes Point Pillars
[photograph: Stephen McNicholl (NZ Herald (26/7/12)]

Poetry and musings under the bridge downtown
[text: Matthew Dearnaley (NZ Herald]

Steve Mutton
[NZ Herald]

One reason it interested me is because I was one of the "literary experts" who advised on the choice of texts and authors for this "Trestle Leg Series," as it's now been called by artist Catherine Griffiths and landscape architect Cathy Challinor, who headed the project.

In fact, seven of the eight authors now up on those pillars were suggested by me, as well as five of the texts. The Transport Agency manager substituted his own choice of Smithyman poems, and so (I see from a recent blogpost) did the Janet Frame estate. Apart from the quote from Te Waatarauihi, the rest are more or less as they appear in the anthology Golden Weather: North Shore Writers Past and Present, co-edited by Graeme Lay and myself.

But really, who's counting? I had plenty of fun with the project - first shaping the choice of texts, then giving what I thought was quite an amusing account of the process of selection in an essay for yet another anthology: 11 Views of Auckland, co-edited (this time) by Grant Duncan and myself.

Having now paid a follow-up visit to Stokes Point, though, and despite Scott Hamilton's laudatory review of the whole project, I do have to say that I have my doubts. The graffiti has already started to appear (though I sincerely hope that the word "white", written under Robin Hyde's poem, was not meant as a comment on the whole tenor of the series ...)

first graffito of spring

Of course the plan was always to regenerate the whole park, and this avenue of "literary pillars" was never meant as much more than an invitation to sample the rest of the beauties of the reserve ... It's therefore only appropriate to reserve judgement until the whole thing's completed.

I am a little dubious about how well those texts are going to last, though. It's great to have some celebration of literary figures in Auckland to march the writers' walks in other cities (Wellington's waterfront, Dunedin's Octagon), but those texts have - for the most part - been cast in bronze. I realise that carving them onto the pillars would have been prohibitively expensive, but will this work as well?

In any case, I thought it was important to get a good look at them while they're fresh and new, just in case anything does happen to them along the way. There seem to be some people actually living in their vehicles under the bridge supports at present. How do they feel about this new tourist attraction?

the residents

One thing's for certain. I wouldn't have missed this Stokes Point project for the world. It's been so entertaining from start to finish that it richly makes up for all the hours I've spent on it, first to last. Judge for yourself:


the approaches
[all photographs: Bronwyn Lloyd]

a home away from home


You are being watched ...

the series starts small

... & ends big


1 - A. R. D. Fairburn, "The Cave"

Fairburn (a)

Fairburn (b)

Fairburn (c)

Extracts from A. R. D. Fairburn's poem, "The Cave." The letters in red are supposed to add up to some kind of continuing text, or at least that was the original idea. In this case it reads:
"the sea hoards its bones"

2 - Robin Hyde, "At Castor Bay"

Hyde (a)

Hyde (b)

It was quite difficult to find anything appropriate to quote from Robin Hyde. I know she only spent a short time on the Shore, but her stay in that bach in Castor Bay is also the subject of a memorable piece of prose, "A Night of Hell." The text chosen to be put in red here appears to be:
"autumn's pining"

3 - Janet Frame, "The Road to Takapuna"

Frame (a)

Frame (b)

My plan was to include something from Janet Frame's account of her stay with Frank Sargeson in the famous army hut at the back of his bach on Esmonde Road, but instead - in consultation with the Frame estate - they've put in an interesting, hitherto uncollected poem (at any rate I can't find it in either of her published volumes of poetry), "The Road to Takapuna." The text in red here is:
"we drain our thoughts into the sea"

4 - Kendrick Smithyman, "Building Programme"

Smithyman (a)

Smithyman (b)

Smithyman (c)

Smithyman (d)

Kendrick Smithyman was a great cat lover, so it seemed only appropriate that this very friendly moggie should come up to make our acquaintance as we photographed his poem. The text in red here is:
"the skyline is not what it was, nor are we"

5 - Te Waatarauihi (1860)

Te Waatarauihi (a)

Te Waatarauihi (b)

This korero by Te Waatarauihi, chief of Te Kawerau in 1860, is "addressed by the inclusion of speech punctuation," according to artist Catherine Griffiths. The text in red here is, accordingly:

6 - Frank Sargeson, "A Great Day"

Sargeson (a)

Sargeson (b)

Sargeson (c)

I did wonder if the project designers would have been quite so keen on this extract if they'd known that this particular Frank Sargeson short story ends with one man trying to drown another man on a reef out in the Rangitoto channel. It's a fine piece of writing, in any case. The text in red here reads:
"was another world"

7 - Maurice Duggan, "A Small Story"

Duggan (a)

Duggan (b)

I really love Maurice Duggan's work, and it was a great satisfaction to include him in this series. The text in red here reads:
"each day had its own rules"

8 - Bruce Mason, "The End of the Golden Weather"

Mason (1)

Mason (2)

Mason (3)

I don't feel any compunction about including this piece from Bruce Mason's immortal one-man play, but I am rather sorry that we couldn't find room for his equally great namesake R. A. K. Mason. The text in red here reads:
"they threw them all together in a heap and stepped ashore"

So there you are. Was it all worth it? Only time will tell. For the moment, though, I do urge you to drive over and check it out if you live anywhere near here. There can be few such projects to be seen anywhere, I'd have thought.