Naked and spectacular

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Tired of watching films? A 1990 Bill Gosden speech

I was recently reading an interview with the new director of the Sydney Film Festival where he was asked the question anyone in a similar position can expect to be asked about 1000 times a year.

Don't you get tired of watching films?

Not at all, he replied. What could be more fun? I watch four or five films in a day and I find it exhilarating. Wow, I thought, you can spot the new ones.

Confronted by an interviewer asking the same question I might attempt a similarly ingenious response, but I know that here I can go into much more detail. And because so many people have expressed an interest over the years in this enthralling subject, I've decided to fill my allotted space tonight by telling you how I see movies – and whether or not I get tired of them.

The first thing to point out is that I became used to being paid rather than paying to watch movies at an impressionable age. As a first-year university student I received $20 a fortnight to preview the movies coming to Dunedin and to write the occasional precocious, brilliant review. There can be little doubt I considered myself an arbiter of taste. Of course one of the tragedies of youth is that so much of what strikes you as fresh, bold, original, daring, even precocious and brilliant is actually being recycled by cynical hacks for the thirty-sixth time.

What I saw in movies twenty years ago was probably a good deal more than you'd know from reading what I wrote back then. Movies were mere pretexts for trying poses. “Attitude” wasn't such a recognised phenomenon back then, but a movie column in the student newspaper was the perfect vehicle for lots of it. The cool and lofty heights from which I admired Joseph Losey's The Go-Between (1971) and deplored Mel Brooks's farty Blazing Saddles (1974) collapsed beneath me when I came to consider the films that really moved me, like Cabaret (1972) or the great movies made in the early '70s by Sam Peckinpah. Writing about these I could only rave like a besotted fool or rail against those who couldn't recognise self-evident genius.


Mess of the Demiurge

When it all started in March 2020 I was on board with the NZ Government Covid response. I was part of the Team of 5 Million. I was being kind. There was a global pandemic and the solution was a well-informed leadership and a population working together to stop the spread. The first lockdown will always be remembered as a special time in Wellington. The CBD was completely empty, everything was closed, no one was at work, the weather was extraordinarily beautiful and we all walked the streets, parks and beaches, relaxed and unusually friendly, happily keeping our two metre distance. Apart from police harassing people for sitting on benches on Oriental Parade, not considered essential exercise, it all made sense: we have closed the borders, there is very little covid here and if we don't allow it to spread we can eliminate it before it sets in. And it worked. Covid was completely eliminated from Aotearoa for months and life returned to relative normality. We enjoyed our well-earned complacency as Covid swept through much of the rest of the world. It was understood early that in the event of mass acute Covid hospitalisations, the health system would be overwhelmed and not be able to cope. Despite this, and with all that Covid-free time to work with, no serious attempt was made to increase the capacity or efficiency of the health system.

From the very beginning there were two narratives. There was the clear narrative of the Government, reported every day by our charismatic Prime Minister, Jacinda even gave us updates from her own living room with her child running around in the background. Then there was this strange story that I read about only on Facebook from people who proclaimed that Covid was a hoax or that it was caused by 5G. “Let's be honest,” I posted. “You don't really know if that's true or not.” The other story seemed quite unreasonable and unrealistic and I didn't understand why people were asserting it.

The second nationwide lockdown felt banal and irritating. The CBD was no less busy, everyone was wearing masks, less social distancing, disgust and impatience with anyone coming near. It was an unusually unfriendly time. Auckland was in lockdown for three months. I don't claim to be a health expert, to have access to data or to be able to interpret it better than anyone else, but it is an extreme thing for a government to lockdown an entire population. It is not and will never be casual, something you just try to see if it works. I began to doubt whether it was all worthwhile.

At what point does the Covid response become worse than Covid was ever going to be? This to me is a fundamental question, but tends to receive a reactionary response. It does not suggest an answer, that no Covid response would have been better. It simply suggests the consideration, whether it has already happened or may happen in the future, that the response has done more damage than the virus was ever going to. The reactionary response is a result of the fact that there are only two possible stories: either you swallow whole the narrative of the Government and their Experts or you are a Conspiracy Theorist fueled by Fake News. Almost everyone seems content to place themselves in one of these two camps. I prefer to reserve judgement and remain sceptical. From my perspective, it is highly unlikely that either story is completely true.