Art & Entertainment | Book Reviews | Education | Entertainment Video | Health | Lifestyle | Sport | Sport Video | Search


Massey’s movie man launches NZ classic film series

Monday, April 24, 2017

Massey’s movie man launches NZ classic film series

New Zealand cinema is established enough to merit a series of books each dedicated to a movie deemed a local classic, and Massey University cinema expert Dr Brian McDonnell has written the first, In My Father’s Den, adapted from the novel of the same name by Maurice Gee.

In his painstakingly researched and copiously illustrated analysis of the film, he explores both the 1972 novel and the process by which scriptwriter/director the late Brad McGann took the book’s core and made it his own.

His book launches the New Zealand Film Classics series of short texts published by boutique UK publisher Kakapo Books, which specialises in New Zealand material.

He considers the 2004 film to be “one of the boldest and most radical adaptations of a classic New Zealand novel” and hopes his thorough analysis will affirm why he and other film specialists consider it “an undisputed classic of New Zealand cinema” for its intelligent, perceptive script and sublime cinematography.

He says the film exudes an “austere, chilly beauty” in its nuanced, sensitive depiction of the relationship between Paul Prior (British actor Matthew Macfadyen) and Celia Steimer (New Zealand actor Emily Barclay).

A dark story reimagined for cinema

Set in Central Otago, the film revolves around disillusioned war journalist Paul Prior whose return home is blighted when he becomes implicated in the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl he has befriended.

In his re-working of the novel, scriptwriter/director Brad McGann made dramatic shifts in time, setting and characterisation, says Dr McDonnell, a senior lecturer in the School of English and Media Studies at the Auckland campus in Albany.

In the script, written 30 years after the book was published, Mr McGann moves the story from West Auckland to the South Island, updating it by reimagining the core ideas and central characters. The main female character, Celia, in particular, is more mature and prominent in the film, while Paul Prior, a teacher in the novel and a war journalist who becomes a teacher in the film, is perhaps “the most complex character of any New Zealand film,” says Dr McDonnell.

Peering into the NZ psyche

“What he [McGann] really liked was the depth of character [in the novel], and he thought it was a great example of the potential of the New Zealand psyche – there’s a promise of change, a seed of a better, kinder way of living.”

The book is in part a tribute to Brad McGann, who Dr McDonnell spoke to in 2005 for a series of taped interviews. He was unaware that the director – who had so impressed the New Zealand film industry with his highly accomplished first feature film – was seriously ill. Brad McGann died two years later in his early forties from bowel cancer. For the film world his death marked a significant loss of artistic potential by an emerging talent who spent 10 years in Australia, including some years studying film in Melbourne, before returning to New Zealand.

The film is not an example of “in one eye and out the other” light entertainment, says Dr McDonnell, who defines it as “a serious, intelligent analysis of the New Zealand character. It’s a rather unblinking view of how tough, and how difficult, family life can be. Brad said family life could be like a war zone.”

Throughout its darker palette and themes, the film is softened with “some very sweet moments”, he says, including a birthday party scene that showcases an unparalleled artistic beauty, shot by renowned New Zealand cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh.

The film became one of the top ten earners at the New Zealand box office, and won international awards in Canada, Spain, France and the United States.

In My Father’s Den is available online from the publisher. One or two new books in the series will be published yearly, written by local and international academics and other specialists in the field. Among films already chosen to be part of the series are: Heavenly Creatures, Came a Hot Friday, Whale Rider, Out of the Blue, Rain, The Piano, Boy, Rewi’s Last Stand, Once Were Warriors, An Angel at My Table, Ngati, Broken Barrier, Sleeping Dogs, Sons for the Return Home, Smash Palace, Bad Blood and No.2.

This is Dr McDonnell’s fourth book about film, his best-known previous work being the Greenwood Press Encyclopaedia of Film Noir, which he co-wrote with Australian film scholar Geoff Mayer in 2007.

Read more about Kakapo Books here.

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines

Gold For RNZ: Muslim Post-9/11 Series, Kim Hill Win In New York

The Radio New Zealand podcast series Public Enemy has won a gold award for excellence for its presenter, Mohamed Hassan, at the prestigious New York Festival Radio Awards announced in Manhattan today. RNZ National’s Saturday Morning host, Kim Hill, also received a gold award for Best Radio Personality. More>>

Human Rights Commission: Give Nothing To Racism

A campaign urging New Zealanders to give nothing to racism and refuse to spread intolerance has been launched by some of the country’s most well-known people. More>>

Louis Vuitton Series Win: Emirates Team NZ Will Challenge For The America’s Cup

By beating Artemis 5-2 they now take on Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup match starting next weekend. More>>


Monterey: Rodger Fox Big Band Invited To Celebrated Festival

The Rodger Fox Big Band has received an invitation to perform at the 2017 Monterey 60th Anniversary Jazz Festival in the USA in September of this year. More>>

AntARTica: Scientist’s Painting Discovered In Antarctic Hut

The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust has discovered an almost perfectly preserved 118 year old watercolour painting among penguin-excrement, dust and mould covered papers found in an historic hut at Cape Adare, Antarctica. More>>

Scoop Review Of Books: Set In Stone

Tthere are over a thousand public war memorials scattered around the country, commemorating over 30,000 New Zealanders who have died in wartime, and most of whom are buried overseas. More>>>More>>




  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland