Ronald Hugh Morrieson fashioned dark yet exuberant novels from the provincial Taranaki towns where he spent most of his life. A classic Kiwi example of a writer who won increasing fame after death, Morrieson remains one of New Zealand's most filmed writers, despite writing only four books.
In the beginning — of both movies and books — is the word. Many classic Kiwi films and television dramas have come from books (Sleeping Dogs, Whale Rider); and many writers have found new readers, through being celebrated and adapted on screen. This collection showcases Kiwi books and authors on screen. Plus check out booklover Finlay Macdonald's backgrounder.
The Coming-of-Age collection includes many of New Zealand's most beloved films. Featured are grumpy uncles, annoying parents, plus a wide range of children and teens negotiating the challenges of growing older — and wiser. Among the young actors making an early mark are an Oscar-nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), James Rolleston (Boy) and 12-year-old Fiona Kaye (Vigil). The titles include Alone, the winner of NZ On Screen's very first ScreenTest film contest. In the backgrounder, young Kiwi actor Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie writes from New York.
The last novel by Ronald Hugh Morrieson revolves around a freezing plant worker (Peter McCauley) in an interracial marriage. For this little seen movie adaptation, the role of an English remittance man was expanded in an attempt to cast Peter O'Toole (New Zealand-born Bruce Spence got the role). Morrieson's view of small-town Aotearoa is a dark one, as he explores racism, violence, suicide and blackmail. Bruno Lawrence contributes to Jonathan Crayford's jazz-tinged score, and features in the wedding band. The freezing works scenes were shot at the defunct plant in Patea.
Based on a novel by the late Ronald Hugh Morrieson — whose stories painted hometown Taranaki as a hotbed of colourful characters and dodgy dealings — Predicament is a prohibition-era tale of blackmail, anxiety and criminal partnerships. Awkward teen Cedric (Hayden Frost) meets two oddball misfits (played by Conchord Jemaine Clement and Australian comedian Heath 'Chopper' Franklin), and becomes entangled in a plot to blackmail adulterous couples caught in the act. Jason Stutter's film went on to win six Aotearoa Film Awards in 2011.
One of those Blighters began life as a doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but after interviews with many who knew him, morphed into something more offbeat: a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists. The dramatisations are from his four novels - all became movies - plus one posthumously published short story. Amidst a cast packed to the rafters with carousing Kiwi screen legends, fellow multi-talented muso Bruno Lawrence plays Morrieson.
Praising novel The Scarecrow, one critic argued that author Ronald Hugh Morrieson had melded genres together into “a brilliant, hallucinatory mixture distinctively his own". The movie adaptation is another unusual melding; a coming of age tale awash with comedy, nostalgia, and a touch of the gothic. Taranaki teen Ned (Jono Smith) is worried that the mysterious arrival in town (US acting legend John Carradine) has murderous designs on his sister. The masterful narration is by Martyn Sanderson. The result: the first Kiwi film to win official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, a year after Came a Hot Friday became 1985's biggest local hit. Though Billy T’s loony Mexican-Māori cowboy is beloved by fans, he is but one eccentric here among many — as two scheming conmen hit town, and encounter bookies, boozers, country hicks, nasty crim Marshall Napier, and Prince Tui Teka playing saxophone. Until the arrival of The Piano in 1993, Ian Mune and Dean Parker’s award-loaded adaptation remained NZ's third biggest local hit. Ian Pryor writes about the film here.
Michael Heath's imagination has spawned movies bursting with murder and mayhem, as well as lyrical tales of childhood and unheralded artists. Heath's work ranges widely – some of his films are lyrical, comical and murderous all at the same time. His scripts include two contenders for New Zealand's first horror film (Death Warmed Up and Next of Kin), plus an affectionate adaptation of Ronald Hugh Morrieson classic The Scarecrow, which was the first Kiwi movie invited to the Cannes Film Festival. In recent years Heath has blossomed from writer into director.
Jason Stutter has a talent for going for the jugular, yet doing it in style. In Stutter’s movies, the camera plunges headfirst into haunted hospitals, dodgy smalltown dealings, and fight scenes with Pacific Island Ninjas whose parents were unexpectedly half-gobbled by fish.