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Stateside with Rosalea: Sylvia, Sylvia and Don


Stateside with Rosalea: Sylvia, Sylvia and Don

By Rosalea Barker

Last Sunday we put our clocks back an hour, with the result that I woke up "earlier" than usual and caught the movie reviews on the CBS network's Sunday morning magazine. To my astonishment the two movies being reviewed had something in common: they were both directed by women of Kiwi origin.

Not that the critic mentioned that, or that he should have. He just reviewed the movies on their merits. He didn't much care for Jane Campion's 'In the Cut' and from the sounds of the subject matter, I'm not likely to want to see it. If that's feminist noir, he said, then he'd rather go without sleep in Seattle. (I didn't see that one either.)

I can't remember what he said about Christine Jeffs' 'Sylvia'. I'd already stumbled across so many reviews of it on the internet when I wasn't even looking, that they've all run together in my head. Sylvia Plath is something of an obsession here, I gather. But I think I recall that one review I read of 'Sylvia' reported her daughter as saying an appropriate action figure for the movie would be a suicide doll whose string you pulled and it would say "Daddy, daddy."

So, last Sunday being the second or third day of the current heatwave here in the Bay Area, I decided a nice depressing wallow inside an air-conditioned theatre was in order and I went over to the Clay on Fillmore Street in San Francisco to see Jeffs' work. Okay, okay. I was just hoping to see some familiar faces and landscapes, knowing some of it had been filmed in New Zealand. The Fernleaf butter wrapper was a (teary-eyed) bonus.

There was a more than decent-sized audience for the matinee, including a blind woman, whose experience of the movie I tried to emulate at times by closing my eyes. But, like I said, I really wanted to have a wee nostalgia fest, so I didn't take the empathy too far. 'Sylvia' is beautifully filmed. In fact, I was totally enchanted by it. You have to wonder if their kids weren't just some kind of fashion accessory though, they seemed to play so little a part in the lives of Sylvia and Ted.

Which is what the movie should have been called, if only so as not to confuse it with the 1985 New Zealand movie of the same name, directed by Michael Firth. That 'Sylvia' was about the Taranaki-born educator Sylvia Ashton-Warner, a google upon whom produces a plethora of references to quotations by her. I hadn't realised she was that important.

Tonight I decided to go down to the local video store to see if they have Firth's movie - not such a long shot as it might sound, because the store has a pretty comprehensive foreign section. On the way I discover that the billboard above the Tiki Massage Lounge, one block down the street, features Tom Cruise in 'The Last Samurai'. Two of the DVDs featured in the video store window are 'Whale Rider' and 'Lord of the Rings'.

But they don't have the original 'Sylvia', and the New Zealand section has been subsumed into Australia. I browse for something to take home and get enthused only by 'Futurama' and the blurb on the back of the 'Yes Minister' series: "You have to really get behind someone in order to stab them in the back."

Don't blame me, duckies, for Would-be Emperor Brash. I voted for STV.

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