Sam Neill was young once, you know - Tactical Ninja
Sep. 30th, 2010
11:31 am - Sam Neill was young once, you know
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.