Monday, March 01, 2004

Some things really are inspiring.

When I was studying in Australia in the late 1980s, I would frequently visit the Valhalla Cinema in Glebe Point Road near the University of Sydney. This cinema at that time showed very offbeat and unusual films. (Soon afterwards it switched to more ordinary "art cinema" material, which is what it was still showing last thing I knew). In any event, in 1988 (I think) the cinema showed a "splatter film" from New Zealand named Bad Taste. So called "splatter films", in which characters run around at one another, waving weapons and covering one another with tomato sauce and sheeps brains, are a common thing to be produced by amateurs making films on miniscule budgets, because this is about the least expensive genre in which to make a film. This film had a more amusingly create plot than many - aliens come to earth to kill lots of humans to harvest the meat for the new human-burger bar that is being set up somewhere in the galaxy, and a group of people working for a special agency of the New Zealand government that does such things stop them, but, basically it is a film of the director and his friends running around, waving axes at one another and covering one another with sheeps brains and tomato sauce.

As splatter films went, it was pretty good. It had a weird sense of humor. And the audiences at the Valhalla enjoyed it. Playing an alien named "Derek" was the director, someone named Peter Jackson who had managed to rope his family and friends into making this with him. A couple of years later he made Meet the Feebles, a low budget parody (I suppose) of the muppets, which is the grossest, most disgusting film ever made with puppets. And after that he made another splatter film, Brain Dead (released in the US as Dead Alive), which helped spread his obscure cult following around the world.

After that, though, Jackson took an unexpected turn, making a film that was seen as an art film, Heavenly Creatures, the true and notorious story of two girls in New Zealand in the 1950s whose active fantasy life led to them murdering the mother of one of the girls. The film is notable for its remarkable character development, fine acting (this was the film that introduced Kate Winslet to the world) and particularly the extraordinary dream sequences of the actual fantasy life of the girls. This film was seen as a departure at the time, but these sequences in particular now seem a bridge between the splatter scences of the earlier movies and the armies of Orcs in certain later films. This film got Jackson lots of notice, an Academy Award nomination for screenplay for himself and his writing (and other) partner Fran Walsh, and opportunities to work with the Hollywood system. However, he insisted on making films for Hollywood in New Zealand with his existing crew. He made a film called The Frighteners for Universal, but it was not a hit. Perhaps largely as a consequence, his planned remake of King Kong was cancelled. (Around this time he made a hilarious spoof documentary called Forgotten Silver for New Zealand television. Then though, in a story I have told before, he then managed to persuade New Line Cinema to fund him to make three films of The Lord of the Rings. Again, he managed to make them entirely in New Zealand, and with his existing crew.

And of course the last of these films won eleven Academy Awards last night. The Oscar ceremony consisted of a succession of troupes of New Zealanders coming to the stage and thanking Peter Jackson and other New Zealanders, to the extent that Billy Crystal joked at one point that everyone in New Zealand had been thanked and it was time to start again from the top.

Brian Micklethwait, commenting on this, observed the following

With LOR3 (although actually what was being congratulated was the totality of LORs 1-3) doing so well, we also got to see lots of dreary New Zealander technicians making speeches. Their problem was that they sounded so pathetically apologetic. We're not worthy! We're not worthy! That was the vibe they gave off. NZers know how to look worthy winners of the Rugby World Cup (although they have rather lost the trick of actually winning it), so why can't they accept Oscars as if they think they deserved them? (Ghastly thought: maybe when the All Blacks do finally win the Rugby World Cup again, their captain will break down in tears.)

I actually didn't mind all the dreary New Zealanders making speeches. The main reason I felt this is because their story is as good as it is. The story of how Jackson started filming members of his family running around waving axes at one another and ended up making movies for hundreds of millions of dollars that grossed billions of dollars and won eleven Academy Awards on the same evening is an immensely inspiring one and is a great story for him. But is is a great story for most of the other people as well. 21 people won Oscars for The Return of the King last night, and almost all of these have been working with Jackson for a long time as he has slowly been putting his film-making crew together. A number of them have been with him since Bad Taste, and a large portion since Heavenly Creatures. And oh boy, have they come a long way. And boy, do they all deserve their awards.

And I will officially stop blogging about movies for a little while, I think.

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