Friday 4 December 2015

Postcard from Auckland - Cinephile and film maker Ben Cho visits NZ's biggest city

 A recent stopover in Auckland delivered two film-related highlights: one in the heart of the CBD and one about a hundred feet from the city’s airport. Given that the city (bleak and cloudy like every time I’ve visited in the past) basically offers nothing special that you can’t find in similar cities, say Sydney or Vancouver, my hopes for the 24 hours there were not particularly high. But, despite a pack of Maori youths racially taunting me as I strolled into town, I now hold considerably better memories from this trip than previous visits.

The Fifth Night
Currently on show until 25 January next year, the Auckland Art Gallery (downtown) has devoted its top floor to a small (read: three) sampling of Chinese video-artist Yang Fudong’s work. The dazzling noir-ish THE FIFTH NIGHT evokes memories of 1930s Shanghai cinema but the gorgeous B&W cinematography makes no bones that this is a piece of 21st century artifice. Set across seven screens playing with our sense of perspective and time as a group of young men and women meander around a studio set, the mystery of Yang’s noir is in the constant disconnection of people, geography and motivation. 

THE NIGHTMAN COMETH, a 20-minute snowy circus collision of China’s past and present was less absorbing stuff even if it boasted a effortlessly beautiful stream of imagery to wax over the obscurantist dynamics between the key players.

The Coloured Sky
And then there was the terrific finale as you reach the last space in the exhibition, THE COLOURED SKY: NEW WOMEN II (commissioned by the Gallery and ACMI). Shooting high-def video instead of the usual 35mm, Yang doesn’t let the switch in format sacrifice an inch of beauty as the five-screen set-up rolls through a sumptuous kaleidoscope of the female form as three young ladies inhabit a surreal candy-washed beachside. Of course it’s all a commentary on gender politics and feminine identity in contemporary China, but this male gaze got so lost in the hypnotic visuals bombarding me from every angle (the screens were set up in a 360° manner) the last thing on my mind was whatever is fashionable SJW-speak in feminist university lectures.

Right near Auckland’s international airport terminal is a strip of shops and fast-food outlets but for cinephiles the only store worth mentioning is The Warehouse, a sort of cross between Australia’s Big W and the behemoth bigbox outlet Costco. Alongside standard NZ/Australian DVDs and Blurays, the section is crammed with hundreds of discs from the UK and the US, all reasonably priced or part of a “2 for NZ$18” or “2 for NZ$10” promotion. A few that stood out:

Lauren Bacall
A slew of the Ealing Studios Rarities multi-title collections were available in the “2 for NZ$18” deal; UK DVDs of Dmytryk’s THE YOUNG LIONS (this one is available in Australia), Minnelli’s MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS with a bunch of extras and Frankenheimer’s THE TRAIN (in 4:3 fullframe) all part of the “2 for NZ$18” promotion. UK DVDs of Carol Reed’s THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY and Lynch’s ELEPHANT MAN in the “2 for NZ10” bin.  The US multi-title TCM DVD collection of Lauren Bacall flicks (KEY LARGO/BLOOD ALLEY/DARK PASSAGE/DESIGNING WOMAN) for NZ$13. There were quite a few other TCM collections but the details escape me.

Given that The Warehouse is dotted all around New Zealand, I’m sure there’s plenty of other bargains to be found if their airport outlet is anything to go by. A brief mention should also go to a massive music and DVD store on Queen Street called REAL GROOVY which has a cracking selection of new and used soundtracks on vinyl (spotted LPs of ANATOMY OF MURDER, TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA, MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM amongst dozens of others in there).

I know, I know, there’s probably some random survey that ranks Auckland as one of the world’s greatest cities but while I enjoyed the City of Sails’ discount DVD bins and some galleries, I’ll take the sunnier sprawl of Brisbane any day of the week. Plus, at least in Queensland when you get racially taunted you don’t have to wade through a Kiwi accent to make out the insults. 

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