Stewart Main and Peter Wells | The Mighty Civic | Desperate Remedies

Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)

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.

Fiction Sequences

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.

Camera Movement

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 that movie.

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.

Experimental Techniques

Some experimental photographic techniques are used as well:

Desperate Remedies

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 beautiful.

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).