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Sam Neill was young once, you know - Tactical Ninja

Sep. 30th, 2010

11:31 am - Sam Neill was young once, you know

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On the weekend, we watched Sleeping Dogs. It's been digitally remastered since it was made in 1977 and the quality was such that apart from the obvious datedness - 20something-year-old Sam Neill in flares! Dougal Stevenson with black hair! - it was hard to notice that this movie was over 30 years old.

It provoked a strange reaction in Polly and I, who were both kids in the 1970s.


First, housekeeping. The guy who played Bullen is Ian Mune. Not heard of him? You've seen him everywhere though.

Other housekeeping thing for those that were asking about older Kiwi movies - Shaker Run. I vaguely recall this movie not being very good, and it seems to me to be an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the much better Goodbye Pork Pie. But it still achieved a cult-like status because back then, any movie that was about New Zealand was popular here. I guess not much has changed in that department eh?

Anyway, the thing about Sleeping Dogs is that it explores an alternate reality that is believably possible. The basic pretext is that New Zealand has become a fascist state as a result of dwindling oil supplies, the breakdown of talks in the Middle East, and internal trouble with striking labourers.

When this movie was made, this stuff was actually happening. The oil shock of 1973 was still fresh in everyone's mind. Note here: on the Wikipedia page about this, New Zealand, as usual, does not get a mention. However, it did affect us - as you can imagine, a long skinny country that relies mostly on road transport for internal logistics and is a fucking long way away from everywhere else, thus paying transport premiums on imports, cannot go unaffected by a 4x hike in oil prices. More prophetically, the movie came out a year before the second oil shock, which resulted in carless days (ours was Tuesday - yes it affected us as my Dad's shop did deliveries) and no petrol sales on Sundays. In other words, everyone was thinking about oil and the Middle East was considered to be an out-of-control rising power.

As to the labour unrest, the 70s were a time when striking for political reasons was on the increase, along with strikes in protest against inflation and stagnant wages. The 1979 general strike didn't happen until after the movie was released, but there was a general feeling around New Zealand that strikes were getting out of hand, and the country was about to vote in a leader who was to become one of our most infamous Prime Ministers, the right-wing, charismatic and totalitarian-leaning Rob Muldoon.

So the possibility of current events leading to a fascist state was a very believable one.

The spooky thing? The book this movie was made from, Smith's Dream by CK Stead, was published in 1972, before even the first oil shock.

The spookier thing? All of the things depicted in the movie are currently relevant. Someone seeing the movie for the first time would not realise that the Middle East crisis and the labour issues they talk about are 30 years old. When the American military swoops in to 'help and guide' New Zealand against insurgency after the government declares martial law? Gee, how many times has that happened around the world in the last 30 years? And yeah, you still see the odd HQ Kingswood and Datsun 120Y on the roads too. Coromandel still looks the same as it did. The recent Search and Surveillance Bill combined with the Canterbury Earthquake Bill are signs that our government is not against putting in place measures that pave the way for that kind of fascist state to be possible.

In fact, the only thing in the film that's truly anachronistic is that the Air Force has Skyhawks, and they work. *snerk*

Sam Neill does a brilliant job as Everyman, quietly going about his business and forced against his will into the middle of clashes between the police state and the revolutionaries. Also, golden ringlets!

When I first watched this movie, I was 14. The fear of oil shocks and labour strikes had been replaced by the fear of global nuclear war and AIDS. Even so, it chilled me. At the time, it was considered too violent to be shown before 10pm (too much Watties tomato sauce apparently) and my folks let me stay up to watch it. Thing is, the shooting? Not so violent ackshully, especially not by today's standards. But the way in which the viewer can relate to Smithy, the way he doesn't deserve any of the crap he ends up taking, and the way he eventually wins? It blew me away then and it still blows me away.

I thoroughly recommend this movie, and I'm kind of wondering if others who've seen it have been as affected by it.


I think Boy has come out on DVD now - I think I'll get it because this is one I've been wanting to see as well.

I have loaned Sleeping Dogs to rivet and rikan_feral and I'm kind of interested to see what it looks like from the perspective of an expat American who's been here long enough to understand NZ culture, but wasn't here in the 70s.

In other news, I'm still trying to figure out what I think of Rolling.

Comments:

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From:crsg
Date:September 29th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
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The weird thing about Boy is that it's listed as being a comedy (at least, it was in theatres). I enjoyed the film and it has it's funny moments, but I found it more sad than funny overall. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it when you get around to watching it.
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From:tatjna
Date:September 29th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, when I read the plot synopsis, I thought "Gee, they're going to have to work hard to make that a comedy."

Once Were Warriors has some hilarious moments too. ;-/
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From:bekitty
Date:September 29th, 2010 11:10 pm (UTC)
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Boy was released on DVD in time for Father's Day. Apparently this is ironic. (I haven't seen it.)
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From:opheliastorn
Date:September 29th, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC)
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I think that's something about at least the newer New Zealand comedies - they're funny, funny, rip-your-heart-out. I'm sure that says something about our ~national psyche~ or whatever, hah.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:October 1st, 2010 05:49 am (UTC)
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Scarfies was a comedy as well. I did find that legitimately funny in places but it was more like what other countries would call an intelligent thriller that happened to also be witty. We have an odd idea of humour here, I think. :P
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From:rivet
Date:September 29th, 2010 11:12 pm (UTC)
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I watched and enjoyed the movie, which didn't seem nearly as dated as I expected. Sam Neil is a great actor who's only gotten better looking with age; it was strange to see him with golden hair and a Kiwi accent.

Honestly, the thing that had us talking after the film was irrelevant to the plot--the sex. As in Goodbye Pork Pie, the women in the film have sex with various men without a second thought. In the case of the blonde woman, this didn't raise an eyebrow. But with the wife, this struck me as strange. Having a relationship with another man and ending your marriage? Believable. Later falling back into bed with your ex? Believable. Then returning to guy number 2 with no apparent inner turmoil or second thoughts? In a film where inner turmoil is a hallmark of the lead male character, this stood out to me. Either sex and relationships ARE a big deal worth shedding tears over, or they're a casual thing that people do. The unexplained switch from one to another in the same character struck me as strange. I get that the 70s were all about liberation, so are we supposed to take from that that becoming politicised removed any retrograde values/morality? Is the fact that it still mattered to our hero the badge that he is still 'human' in the face of dehumanisation on both sides of the struggle? I guess I'm looking for some input on what assumptions were made about the audience.

Thoughts?
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From:tatjna
Date:September 29th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
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The first sex scene struck me not at all, except in its real, gritty, drunken portrayal. It didn't seem to impact Smithy much and he obviously has bigger fish to fry when the same woman goes off with the US army guy - he's not that worried about her doing that and that all fits with the plot and his character. A drunken fling that doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, you know?

When it's his wife, I think her behaviour says more about her than about Smithy. From his perspective, he's never really stopped loving her even though she's treated him callously, and for her to come back to him would no doubt make him very happy. Her then turning around and smooching with Bullen does impact him, he's torn up (in his stoic kiwi way) and the scene in the sheep truck demonstrates how he feels about this - until he's reminded that his desire to get back with his wife, even for one night, has likely killed her, at which point he shuts down.

Meanwhile she has become a revolutionary who is quite aware that she, or he, could be killed at any moment. I think she saw it as a last fling for old times' sake, without much thought as to how it might affect him because the situation seems hopeless and they have no future (he is, after all, on his way to a place where he won't be coming back from for a long time) - which is congruent with the dehumanisation theme. Smithy never loses his humanity, but everyone else does. A kind of counterpoint thing.



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From:tatjna
Date:September 29th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
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PS I think there might have been a bit of a 'women are fickle' thing going on there too.
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From:morbid_curious
Date:September 29th, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
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It's a good film. Last year we got out an old VHS(!) player to watch it in my flat. I think I'll have to look for this remastered version of which you speak.
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From:tatjna
Date:September 29th, 2010 11:33 pm (UTC)
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AroVideo Online is a great place for old Kiwi movies remastered. This one came in a double case with Smash Palace.

I just ordered a similar deal for Vigil and The Navigators.
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From:richdrich
Date:September 30th, 2010 01:51 am (UTC)
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Cheapo consumer version of the uMatic.
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From:phaetonschariot
Date:October 1st, 2010 05:52 am (UTC)
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I honestly can't tell if this is irony or a genuine question. o.o
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From:tatjna
Date:October 1st, 2010 06:03 am (UTC)
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We all have this problem with Feral, don't worry. ;-)
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 30th, 2010 01:49 am (UTC)
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Smith's Dream isn't all that prophetic. It has none of the oil strikes or labour unrest. It's set in a world where the totalitarian state has been in place for a while, not the nascent totalitarianism of the movie. The movie is only loosely based on the book. So I wouldn't give the author credit for being some kind of prophet, although it is a good book. (That being said, predictions that western democracy would collapse into tepid fascism due to economic pressure formed a mini-genre in the 70s)

A lot of people say the PM in the book is based off Rob Muldoon but I think he's actually based off Jack Marshall, the last (when the film was made) National Party PM. The film's PM physically resembles Marshall, has a fairly plummy pseudo-English accent like Marshall, and is depicted flying to the Middle East to personally negotiate with foreign countries, something that Marshall did frequently in his role as Overseas Trade Minister. But history has almost entirely forgotten Marshall (he was PM for less than a year) so people tend to say "Oh, it's about Muldoon".
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
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It would be difficult to justify saying the book (or the film) were about Muldoon without also calling them prophetic, since Muldoon didn't become Prime Minister until after both were released.

Not having read the book, I wasn't sure if the themes of oil/labour problems were in it or not, or whether they were put in the film to make it topical. Thanks for the clarification.
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From:bekitty
Date:September 30th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
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Although Muldoon didn't actually become PM until 1978, he was definitely prominent in NZ politics before then. He first got elected to Parliament during the Kirk years.
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From:tatjna
Date:September 30th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)
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Oh yeah, I can see how they saw it coming - after all, he'd been in politics for over 15 years by then - but saying the movie, or especially the book, was based on him?
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From:bekitty
Date:September 30th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
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I can see people claiming it after the movie was released, especially in the early 80s, but definitely not the book.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 30th, 2010 04:10 am (UTC)
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Er, during the Holyoake Years, I think you'll find. If he came in during the Kirk years he'd have been in Parliament for at most 3 years before becoming PM. When Kirk became PM Muldoon had been Finance Minister for nine years, was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and had nearly become Leader of the Opposition less than a year before.

It's not him in the book, but it's not him in the movie either. Seriously, once you've seen footage of Marshall, the PM in the movie is quite obviously a pastiche of him - he doesn't even have a single one of Muldoon's mannerisms.

The association of Muldoon with Sleeping Dogs came during the Springbok Tour, when many commentators compared the actions of the police to their fictional counterparts in the film. But I seriously doubt anybody would have seen the film and thought of the (then) leader of the Opposition, well known as he was.
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From:t_c_da
Date:September 30th, 2010 04:34 am (UTC)
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the PM in the book is based off Rob Muldoon

Actually knowing Bernard who played that character, I can state authoritatively the character was based on Rob Muldoon. Bernard told me about a year ago that he was at a reunion with Rob and told him as much at which Rob chuckled.
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