Forty-five odd years ago if you wanted to make a Kiwi movie you were nuts. Okay then, maybe television instead? Unfortunately you could only make a TV drama if you were employed by state television, or the National Film Unit. Outsiders like Geoff Murphy had managed to made Tank Busters off his own bat, and John Barnett did The Games Affair series in 1974. But for Roger Donaldson and myself, there seemed to be no way open. So we resorted to Roger’s old maxim “If you want it done properly, do it yourself.”
I was in the middle of a self-inflicted crisis, holed up in an old villa on New North Road with no furniture, and a mantlepiece decorated with a jar of Marmite, a bottle of milk separated into a glob of white on top and clear water beneath, and a scrunched up pair of underpants. I was feeling sorry for myself, and Roger was being sympathetic. But our friend David Mitchell thought it was a hell of a joke. Out of that, the three of us decided to make a series of sketches about a guy going through what we grandiosely called a “midlife crisis.” (We were all turning 30!) Rog would borrow a camera and some lights, and we and anyone else who wanted to come on board would work for nothing.
State TV agreed to screen our little independent film. They insisted on cutting and a shot of Derek from behind, stepping on the scales, then removing his jockstrap to lose a few ounces.
Here’s some of the letters to the editor that Derek inspired:
— "I watched with ever-increasing dismay, a piece of garbage called Derek … We are all aware of office parties and the cavortings and antics of drunks... But dear God, who wants to commit such stuff to film?"
— "I have been wondering since I saw it what merit the film had. I cannot use polite language to describe the nausea it gave me ... the film was dirty, uncouth and sordid, and a complete bore."
— "What sort of a depraved mind could think up such dirty rubbish as Derek... Youngsters watching this filth cannot help but be tainted."
— "I have just seen the most senseless, meaningless play that it has been my lot to see, Derek … A mixed up 'nut' muttering rubbish to himself, indulging in fantasies, going to bed with a woman other than his wife and finally passing out 'stoned' on some steps."
The reviewers were kinder. One (Irvine Yardley) called it "a poem of escapism", "so close to the bone it hurt". Another (Sue McCauley) found it "a sympathetic and intelligent look at ourselves", that deserved acclaim. The Listener's Dick Campion weighed in with:
"As a study in modern-day morality — a man emasculated by the office machine and empty of spirit, Derek was a Kiwi Waste Land. Ian Mune is really something. Has anybody else his ability to project the New Zealand common man? The face is ugly, the voice grates, he sings abominably. Yet you watch him like you watch a time bomb."
Of course, everyone talks about the face they see on-screen. But both kudos and brickbats belong equally to all involved.
The guts of all this is that the old protesters, hippies and varsity types of the 60s were now in positions of influence — and they thought Derek was terrific!
Roger and I went on to make The Woman at the Store, which picked up Feltex Awards for Best Drama, Script and Actress (Ilona Rodgers). Then we launched into six more films based on Kiwi short stories: Winners & Losers. I went to Wellington to act in the Moynihan series, and Rog found a book he wanted to make a movie from. By the end of 1977 we had Sleeping Dogs.
For Ian Mune's account of making and selling Winners & Losers, continue reading here.
- Ian Mune is a storyteller who has been known to act, write and direct. He helmed Came a Hot Friday and the movie version of The End of the Golden Weather.