Stewart Main and Peter Wells | The Mighty Civic
| Desperate Remedies
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Stewart Main and Peter Wells
Stewart Main and Peter Wells are New Zealand film directors.
There is a Wikipedia article on Peter Wells.
The Mighty Civic
The Mighty Civic (1988) is a documentary about the Auckland Civic Theatre
movie palace in Auckland, New Zealand. The filmmakers were associated
with Kenneth Anger on this project.
Noteworthy is the historic footage of the construction of the theater.
Interspersed with a conventional, documentary style history of the theater, are passages with actors
and dancers. These episodes are completely different from those
in conventional documentaries. They are generally not historical
reconstructions; instead they are mood pieces evoking the fantasies
stimulated by the movie palace, and the zeitgeist of various historical
eras the palace passed through. The actors wear spectacular fantasy
costumes. They are photographed against the fabulous architecture
of the theater passages and auditoriums. They recall the elaborately
costumed characters in Anger's The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.
A set of scenes starts out with a fairly conventional historical
reconstruction of Thomas O'Brien, the entrepreneur who built the
Art Deco style theater in 1930.
He is played by a modern actor. His scenes become more poetic
and symbolic as the film progresses. His character recalls the
1980's fascination with yuppie business executives, and their big dreams.
A "fake" movie is about a US Naval Officer's romance. This little movie mixes
a romantic encounter with melodrama involving a telephone call.
This is the mixture of tone that will be found later in the team's
fiction film, Desperate Remedies.
Many of the scenes involve camera movement tracking
down the theater corridors, or tracking along its ceiling or its
walls. The scenes show an excellent and very personal visual style.
They anticipate the similarly elaborate tracking shots in the
same team's Desperate Remedies, in which similarly costumed
characters move down the elaborately non-naturalistic sets of
The opening 8 minutes or so of The Mighty Civic are especially good.
The camera follows an usher into the theater, in an extended
fantasy sequence. This recalls Anger's Eaux d'Artifice
and the court lady its camera watches.
Some experimental photographic techniques are used as well:
- The tracks with a multi-lensed camera through the theater.
- The opening shots of the downtown at night, shot with a process that
produces glowing metallic colors.
Desperate Remedies (1993) is a fiction film. It is from New Zealand, and is
set in a imaginary Nineteenth Century British colonial port, not
quite Australia, not quite New Zealand, but similar to them both.
Desperate Remedies fulfills the
promise of The Mighty Civic. The main appeal of this film
is in its non-naturalistic sets and staging.
Many of the visuals of this film are both spectacular and original.
My favorite scene in this movie involves the lattice lit corridor,
a long hall loaded with criss-crossed shadows. This is really
It is hardly a perfect movie: there is an odd mix of camp, serious
romance, history and just plain bizarrie, and several things in
the film just don't work. But much does, and it is recommended
to people who want to see something really different. Camp is
still a big deal Down Under, influencing such directors as
Jim Sharman and Baz Luhrmann.
The film also has non-naturalistic, aphoristic dialog,
which runs an interesting parallel to the unique staging. This
is some of the most unusual film dialog since Peter Greenaway's
The Draughtsman's Contract. In that film, everything that
was said had one surface meaning, and carefully implied at least
one hidden meaning: quite a tour de force. Desperate Remedies'
dialog is nowhere as ambitious or complex, but it is very different
from the standard conventions of movie conversation. Best line:
"We are all strangers in this land called Love."
Desperate Remedies has few precedents in film history, calling to mind such diverse productions as
Red Garters and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari!
Desperate Remedies has some resemblance to Fassbinder's Querelle (1982). Both films:
Desperate Remedies recalls the American avant-garde, especially
Kenneth Anger's The Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954).
- Are shot on non-realistic sets;
- Take place in port cities, with sets representing docks;
- Dappled lighting appears in both films.