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.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years (until August 1983) 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. This first episode sees the family gathering for Grandfather’s 78th birthday. Vivian (Ilona Rodgers) moans to Tom (John Bach): “you’ve drunk all my cooking sherry”, then tenderises the beef with the empty bottle.
"I like to pull rabbits out of hats to surprise people". So said young director David Blyth, before unleashing Angel Mine. Inspired partly by the surrealism of Luis Buñuel, Blyth's inventive debut is one of a handful of Kiwi experimental feature films to win mainstream release. Featuring a whitebread suburban couple and their liberated alter egos, the film explores ideas of consumerism, sexuality, the media, and taboo-breaking. The film excited criticism from Patricia Bartlett, and a notorious addition to its R18 certificate: "contains punk cult material."
Adapted from one of Katherine Mansfield's best known short stories, this restrained culture-clash-in-colonial-Wellington tale follows Laura (Alison Routledge from The Quiet Earth), an idealistic teen preparing for her family's garden party. The raising of marques and arrangement of cream puffs and canna lilies is disrupted by news of a neighbour's accidental death. Laura protests that the party should be cancelled, but her mother disagrees. A visitation at the working man's cottage down the hill and an encounter with the victim’s corpse piques Laura's class consciousness.
The Savages are a working class West Auckland family who like drinking, and living by their own rules. Savage Honeymoon is a celebration of their passion and leather pants - and a snapshot of a couple worried their children may not be as lucky as them. Mark Beesley’s debut feature won good reviews (The Herald praised its “self-confident swagger”) – and headlines, after being downgraded from an R18 to R15. The film pre-dated the Westie family of Outrageous Fortune - though Beesley then hated the Westies label, disliking the word’s negative connotations.
Sons for the Return Home tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet romance between students Sione, a NZ-raised Samoan, and Sarah, a middle class palagi. Director Paul Maunder shifts between time and setting (London, Wellington, Samoa) in adapting Albert Wendt's landmark 1973 novel. Sons was the first feature film attentive to Samoan experience in NZ — alongside themes of identity, racism and social and sexual consciousness. In this excerpt Sione meets Sarah's parents, and his tin'a has him scrubbing their Newtown pavement prior to Sarah's reciprocal visit.
The Great Depression — the biggest social upheaval ever faced by New Zealand — is the subject of this very well-received three part NZBC drama series. Based on an award-winning script by Michael Noonan, The Longest Winter focuses on the experiences of politicians, the middle class family of a jewellery shop owner, a boot maker and an unemployed workers’ group. It examines the inter-related forces that combined in the early 30s to plunge New Zealand into some of its darkest days — and left the nation and many of its citizens scarred for decades after.
A plain tale about the swollen secretions of suburban love. In middle class Auckland vulnerable passions break the surface as Laura (Meryl Main from Highwater) aggressively pursues love and acceptance, finding something very like it right next door. For director Niki Caro this one-hour drama was a watershed in her career. It was her ultimate drama production before embarking on a feature film career; it screened as part of the Montana Theatre series on TV One in 1995. Plain Tastes features Marton Csokas and Kate Harcourt. Producer Owen Hughes writes about Plain Tastes here.
In search of a hideout, gun-totting Gigi (Kate Elliott) and a gang with criminal tendencies end up in hot water after crashing into the lives of a middle class Māori family. To describe the whānau as meat lovers would be euphemistic. Actor/director Danny Mulheron has often gleefully given the finger to political correctness — witness Meet the Feebles, stage farce The Sex Fiend, and TV's Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby. This Gibson Group production marks his in your face cinematic debut. The anarchic result promises cannibalism, comedy — and chef Tem Morrison.
This 1983 Hamish Keith-presented documentary is subtitled 'Housing New Zealand in the Twentieth Century'. Part two picks up from Michael Joseph Savage’s 1930s state housing scheme. Keith argues that as the emphasis shifted from renting to owning, middle class suburbia became the foundation of Kiwi postwar aspirations. He looks at changing demographics in the cities — as home owners fled on newly built motorways — and argues that the suburban ideal has become bland and out of reach, as New Zealand once again becomes a country of “mean streets and mansions”.