26 October 2011


Real. : Bernardo Bertolucci
Robert De Niro
Dominique Sanda

Collection Christophel

In 1978, I experienced my first foreign epic, Bertolucci’s 1900 (Novacento). A propagandistic saga about class and coming of age, at a shortened 4.25 hours it was still a luxurious, grand folly. De Niro and Depardieu as childhood friends then competitors; the gorgeous Dominique Sanda; Burt Lancaster as a family patriarch; Donald Sutherland playing a Fascist as “only a very dedicated liberal” could: “hyperbolic … grotesque … curling of lips, baring of jagged teeth, and flashing of demented eyes …”

Next day, I found a copy of the New Yorker at the local library with “Hail, Folly!”, a review that praised Bertolucci’s “crazed utopian romanticism” while still being appalled by his vision, its flaws and the occasional horrific scene (one featuring Sutherland and a cat, hence that line above). The review was equally epic, flamboyant and unforgettable. The final lines were: “… a grand visionary folly. Next to it, all the other new movies are like something you hold up at the end of a toothpick.”

The critic was Pauline Kael, the issue was 31 October 1977, but the review is collected in her 70s anthology When the Lights Go Down. A new Kael collection and the first biography are about to be published, and the New Yorker has marked the occasion with an essay by Nathan Heller. The magazine’s astute sub-editor of its film reviews Richard Brody also blogs about Kael’s foibles, includes links to other tributes, and directs the reader to her collection of capsule reviews 5001 Nights at the Movies for the nearest she ever got to declaring her canon. When Kael died 10 years ago, Brody provided links to other tributes, at Salon and The Cooler; on her 80th birthday in 1999 Salon published “A Gift for Effrontery”, a profile of Kael, and they have just published a slideshow of their selections of great film books.

Without visiting the library though, we can spend half an hour in the company of the woman herself:

06 October 2011

Cannes without cant

It was probably in the dying days of one-channel NZBC-TV that I saw Lost in the Garden of the World, so it was unavoidable. But the 1975 documentary was unforgettable, because it was about New Zealand and the world, culture and identity. Most importantly it wasn’t about sport, the only other occasions New Zealand seemed Michael-Heath-Gallery-2.jpg.552x402to feature internationally (though the broadcast of ‘God Defend New Zealand’ – mistakenly performed as our national anthem at the 1972 Munich Olympics – was also a cultural watershed).

Lost in Garden of the World follows a small New Zealand film crew as it makes a DIY documentary about the Cannes film festival. Tony Williams, who made many legendary advertisements (eg, the Crunchie ad, and Dear John for BASF tape), is the director. But the star is the frontman and scriptwriter Michael Heath, who swans about like a hippie Bruce Mason, waxing lyrically about the relationship New Zealand writers and artists have with the Northern Hemisphere, three-quarters of the way through the 20th century.

There were other stars in the film, the people they came across as they spontaneously and cheekily asked for interviews. Filmmakers I’d never heard of until the night of that broadcast, late on Friday as the August school holidays began: a small, hyperactive, bearded Italian-New Yorker who’d just directed Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese); a tall, young man who was about to release a film about a shark (Steven Spielberg); an apparently important German called Werner (seen here with Michael Heath on the right). Dustin Hoffman was charmed by the film crew’s chutzpah and offered to take messages for them on the phone at his outdoor cafe table.

About 15 years ago I went to the NZ Film Archive to see why the film had knocked me out so much at the age of 15. It turned out to be much more about “overseas” than New Zealand, and much more pretentious. But it was still an inspiring romp.

Lost in the Garden of the World can now be viewed in its entirety at the NZ On Screen site, which goes from strength to strength. They describe it as being about “Cannes is the town in France where Bergman meets bikinis, and the art of filmmaking meets the art of the deal.”