John Anderson got busy directing a run of television dramas in the 1980s, including award-winning Polynesian road movie Mark ll, and two of the final works by playwright Bruce Mason. The onetime actor reinvented himself as a documentary filmmaker in the 90s, then relocated to Kiribati, where he worked on more than 400 films covering everything from climate change to dance. Anderson died in Kiribati on 19 August 2016.
John was very slow to rile, in an industry where everyone was screaming all the time. He had a lovely way with actors; actors really loved working with him. Director Steve La Hood
Seven decades after he began shooting films, Ted Coubray got his close-up in Mouth Wide Open. The documentary emerged shortly after his death in late 1997. It captured the hive of filmmaking activity that was 1920s Aotearoa — and Coubray's role as a pioneering cameraman, who even directed his own movie (horse racing hit Carbine's Heritage). The arrival of synchronised sound upped film budgets considerably; Coubray was one of the first in Australasia to create his own sound camera. In this opening sequence, he demonstrates one of his many camera-related inventions.
Naturalist Ramari Stewart never tires of the view from a subantarctic hut. "This is the only place I know where I can see a whale out my window and it’s never let me down." The documentary follows Stewart as she spends a summer and winter monitoring wildlife at remote Northwest Bay in Campbell Island. Southern right whales, Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals all feature. Stewart, who later became a whale expert, displays a jaw-dropping bond with the animals. At the end of the programme, the whales cause a stir when they play perilously close to Stewart's boat.
The Marching Girls is the seven-part story of a Taita social marching team who decide to have a crack at the North Island Championships. This pioneering series was conceived by actor-writer Fiona Samuel out of frustration over the dearth of challenging female roles: she declared that it was about time the Kiwi "alienated macho dickhead" shared some screen time with women. Synth-rock soundtracks, ghetto blasters, Holden Kingswood taxis and chain-smoking abound in this feminist-Flashdance-in-formation 80s classic.
A road movie with a heart of gold, Mark II is "the Polynesian Easy Rider". Three teens (Nicholas Rogers, Mitchell Manuel, Faifua Amiga) head south from Auckland in a two-tone Mark II Zephyr, two of them blissfully unaware they're being pursued by a van-load of vengeful thugs. Along the way, they encounter the Mongrel Mob, who turn out to be quite helpful, and experience love, prejudice and jealousy from strangers. Written by Mike Walker and Manuel, it was TVNZ's first telefeature and is the third film in a loose trilogy (following Kingi's Story and Kingpin).
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
This documentary on legendary Kiwi playwright Bruce Mason premiered soon after his death. The result is a portrait of a man who become an artist despite, as much as because of, his fellow Kiwis. There are shots of Mason performing solo classic The End of the Golden Weather on his beloved Takapuna Beach, and insights from a cast of Kiwi theatrical heavyweights. In an extended interview with The Listener's Helen Paske, Mason ranges from his works looking at Māori-Pākehā relations, to over the top reaction to controversial tele-play The Evening Paper.
Charlie is about to die. His wife is playing prison guard, stopping visitors. She wants to score him a christian grave. But Charlie would prefer a drink. It it is time for blunt honesty — which means more battles with his wife, insulting the kids, and making sure his funeral involves the ocean. One of the last things legendary playwright Bruce Mason wrote before his death in 1982, Do Not Go Gentle also offers a rare central role for veteran Bill Johnson, fresh from playing villain in Under the Mountain. Late children’s TV talent Huntly Eliott cameos as the priest.
Young Geoff Garlick reckons he's developed a game-winning move - the 'Garlick Thrust' - for his schoolboy rugby team, but the Saturday he hopes to show it off to his dysfunctional family they're more interested in the Springbok match. The national loss of innocence the '81 tour represented is captured in an end scene, where Geoff and his weeping Dad (Michael Noonan) are intercut with clips of a notorious stand-off between tour protestors and rugbyheads. Written by playwright Bruce Mason, this was one of a three TV dramas written as he was battling cancer.
This Loose Enz edition follows a theatre group developing a play about Greek Gods. The full gamut of am-dram tropes are featured: know-all director, a lecherous lead (Jeffrey Thomas), zealous extras, drunk techies, an existential playwright (Colin McColl), shambolic dress rehearsal etc. Estranged couple Tom (Grant Tilly) and Helen (Liddy Holloway) find the play’s lofty themes echoed in more earthly realities. With a who’s who of NZ luvvies of the era it’s not quite Carry On, but there are japes aplenty, the show must go on, and it’ll be all right on the night.
This Loose Enz edition sees ambitious young TV ad-man Gary (Rex Merrie) attempt to climb the corporate ladder. His pitch to his old school superiors at a dinner party involves patronising a burgeoning Polynesian market. Open-neck shirts, wide lapels and gold chains represent the aspirational early 80s and bow ties and tartare sauce mark the Rotarian generation of Kiwi Mad Men. When wife Jenny (Alice Fraser) decides to be heard as well as seen, Gary finds his gender stereotypes challenged as much as his business sense. The gabby teleplay was written by Vincent O'Sullivan.
Daphne and Chloe offers a love triangle with a twist: here the couple under threat are two woman friends (despite rumours their relationship is romantic) who work at an advertising agency. Their friendship, based partly on warding off loneliness, is threatened when the cool, cultured Edith (Helena Ross), starts dating the new office boy (Michael Hurst) — a man 18 years her junior. The typing pool are abuzz. Daphne and Chloe was one of a trio of tele-plays that resulted after TVNZ gave legendary playwright Bruce Mason the chance to choose his themes.
After hitting Wellington for a Ranfurly Shield game, two brothers from the sticks (Grant Tilly and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) have to sneak their abruptly deceased father back home. If the body isn’t buried there, they won’t inherit the family farm. Set back when "blokes were blokes and sheilas were their mums", director John Reid’s shaggy dog tale — a Weekend at Bernie's, reeking of stale beer and ciggies — both lauds and satirises the Kiwi male. Among the six clips, the final clip sees Tilly's character getting things off his chest, now that Dad is finally unable to answer back.
This two hander is one of the heavier editions of the Loose Enz series. After midnight, a woman (Heather Lindsay) rifles through her prescription drugs then smashes a glass against an Egon Schiele print hanging on her wall (with Laurie Anderson-inspired blips scoring the scene). Shortly afterwards a married colleague (Peter Vere-Jones) turns up, whom she's forgotten she's phoned. The titular samaritan finds himself drawn into the midlife crisis of a woman under the influence: from Yevtushenko to a bitter waltz to Split Enz's 'I Got You'.
No ordinary Christmas tale, The Monster’s Christmas throws viewers into a world of friendly creatures, talking hot pools and witches with gym equipment in their cave lairs. Child find Lucy McGrath revels in the role of a plucky girl who encounters a one-eyed monster with smoke billowing from his head. The monsters need her help to steal their voices back from an evil witch. The stylings of the live action creatures were influenced by the volcanic North Island locations, and designed by Janet Williamson and cartoonist Burton Silver. Yvonne Mackay (Kaitangata Twitch) directs.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.
In this experimental drama shot in 1975, four young idealists escape the city for rural Foxton, and set about living off the land. But an act of violence sends the commune into isolation and extremism. Teasing tense drama from rural settings, the 90 minute tale from maverick National Film Unit director Paul Maunder shines a harsh light on the contradictions of the frontier spirit. Although state television funded it, they found it too edgy to screen; instead Landfall debuted at the 1977 Wellington Film Festival. The cast includes Sam Neill as a Vietnam vet, and Mark ll director John Anderson.
This short black and white NFU 'drama' follows three young people on a road trip from Wellington. The trio are meant to be finding a seal colony, but in this early film from director Paul Maunder (Sons for the Return Home), the journey is the destination. The rambling adventure along the coast past Wainuiomata sees the trio discussing paua ashtrays, waning youth, marriage, the state of New Zealand television, and life in general. Future TV director John Anderson (road movie Mark ll) plays the husband, and Sam Neill edits. The music is by Tony Backhouse (The Crocodiles).