Deep Cinema

[Re-posting a post from August 25, 2010 by Mike Riddell, author of The Insatiable Moon]

To put a movie out into the public domain is to take that which has been harboured in the womb of the imagination and expose it to the elements. The evaluation of creative work is so often subjective and can be downright demeaning to those who have poured something of themselves into it. You’re always open to the indefensible claim from observers that your baby is ugly. So much is acceptable. But the worst is reviewers who give your work the once-over-lightly – not even offering enough respect to attempt to understand what you’re doing.

On the other hand, there is nothing quite like coming across a reviewer who takes the time to delve at depth into that which has been offered. We have been deeply honoured by the careful attention given to our small film by Mary Trainor-Brigham, author of Deep Cinema. You can read her evaluation of and response to the themes of The Insatiable Moon below. Mary is someone who understands cinema at depth, and intrinsically that it’s a form of storytelling, which has power to affect the way we live and evolve spiritually. She can competently analyse the subtext and visual and symbolic language of a film, and for that reason is able to get to grips with it.

And not only that, but she writes beautifully. As a writer myself I deeply appreciate the care she takes with words and imagery. She weaves fine nets of meaning, which are able to reward us with new understandings. So, her review is both tender and insightful, picking up not only the voice of our film but continuing the conversation; taking it forward a level. In the end that is what film is – part of a korero – a loving conversation. Kia ora Mary! And what a gift on the night of the full moon…

THE INSATIABLE MOON Deep Cinema review By Mary Trainor-Brigham

The Insatiable Moon grabbed me from the title and took me on a most engaging run, only to lose me (bam!) with the ending. But, amazingly enough, it’s hardly a matter of “all’s ill that ends ill” here. So many indelible diamonds and pearls are strewn along the way as to make this, overall, a heartfelt delight which invites your very soul to sing. And more ~ to evolve ~ how splendid! You know you don’t get that everyday.

On one level, it’s easy to think of this as “the Riddell film,” as co-producer Mike Riddell wrote both the screenplay and the novel from which it’s adapted, while his wife, judge Rosemary Riddell, crossed over from an avocation of theater with her directing and casting skills. There’s just something so intrinsically touching about having a couple sharing the helm like that, about having the writer legitimately in bed with the director ~ imagine the pillow talk during production! Such warmth and intimacy seems to have spilled over onto cast and crew, making this movie feel truly a labour of love.

You know you’re in good hands from the start, when the opening montage takes you from the sublime ~ a Maori chanting up sunrise over Aotearoa (New Zealand) ~ to the ridiculous ~ a homeless man sniffing his own fart. This assures that you’re launching into one of those delicious hybrid genres where drama and comedy deftly entwine. And this is but the first of several polarities the plot seeks to bridge, along with that of Maori-Pakiha (European), banal-impassioned, normal-supernatural, bourgeois-marginalized, married-single, and human-Divine. Juggling several balls here and dropping scarcely a one: no small feat.

The dazzling sunrise-singer is Arthur (Rawiri Paratene of Whale Rider), self-proclaimed “Second Son of God” and an inhabitant, along with other former psychiatric patients, of Harbour Lodge in the Auckland inner-city suburb of Ponsonby. And herein is found one of the story’s central conflicts: Ponsonby is an up-and-coming neighborhood, attaining such a state of comfortable self-regard as to make some locals consider a half-way house a dangerous blight. For such, the residents of Bob’s boarding house are about as welcome as alley cats at high tea. Arguing that bias is an avid real estate agent who repeatedly descends upon Bob’s property with all the subtlety of the vulture he is. Snobbish neighbors and an avaricious realtor are not the only problems assailing this close-knit household of mentally-ill. They’re also up against one rather clueless community worker, a self-serving TV journalist who considers their dilemma good fodder for high ratings, and hospital staff who treat them as convenient guinea pigs for experimental drugs. Even the local vicar ~ a cultured and decent family man clearly in their corner ~ is going through such an eviscerating crisis of faith regarding his vocation as to be rendered ineffectual as their champion. The upshot is a veritable hydra-headed monster of opposition, nipping at their heels from all quarters.

“There is a crack, a crack in everything ~ That’s how the Light gets in…” ~ Leonard Cohen

Initially Arthur is blithely unaware of this gathering crisis, and besides, he’s busy with his singular quest to find the Queen of Heaven. This he does in the lovely person of Margaret (Sara Wiseman) ~ another, more sensitive community worker whose marriage has hit an arid patch due to her husband’s inability to impregnate her. What do children signify if not the future? Not only is this couple’s future imperiled, but their sexual pleasure in the present has become eroded by shame and a mechanized sense of performance. So when Arthur strides into Margaret’s life with his semi-divine, lushly erotic, most radiant love, she responds as would a bone-dry desert to the replenishing freshet he provides.

Rawiri Paratene makes the remarkable choice of playing Arthur with nary a tick nor spasm ~ rather as a mana-filled God-man striding forth on a mission, fully confident in his capacity to provide the world its salvation. So convincing is he that even the vicar begins to suspect Arthur’s divine lineage may be the real deal. And if the local minister is being spiritually seduced, who are we to resist?

With the character of Arthur keeping an even keel (as long as he’s on his meds), then his brethren in housing can camp it up for all their colourful roles are worth. And do they ever ~ if there were an acting award for scene-stealing, they’d have to split it amongst themselves, for: picking one’s nose in church; masturbating when the TV crew is on site; bobbing rhythmically while pouring a cuppa tea; making a most convoluted arabesque of lighting a cigarette; compulsively pounding the newspaper while reading; dispatching a fly with the skillfulness of a martial artist; and telegraphing, with one salaciously raised eye-brow, whole volumes as to what it costs a street woman to bum a fag.

While Greg Johnson as the house-manager, Bob, sometimes delivered his lines a tad too swiftly for this non-Kiwi to comprehend, it says everything that I am left, after viewing, entirely convinced that he DOES run a boarding house in Auckland. From the minute he cracked an egg into a sizzling, well-seasoned pan, he had me sold. And his salty telephone rant to the powers-that-be who would close down his operation ~ priceless ~ totally shattering my association of pineapples with hospitality, for sure!

Special notice goes to Ian Mune as Norm, which is probably no surprise to audiences in the Land of the Long White Cloud (Aotearoa/New Zealand). Just one example of his prowess ~ In less time than it will take you to read this description, he manages to wordlessly convey the multi-dimensional inner landscape of an alcoholic: inhaling a swallow from his bottle, he winces in corrosive pain (a measure of the damage it does him) before sinking into the familiar false comfort it provides. Only when its dark magic has taken hold, does he open one eye, then the other, his toxically-altered psyche first testing, and then convinced, that it is once again buffered against the worst the world could serve up. Whew! I literally sat up straighter at this display, asking myself, “Did he just do all that I think he did?” Indeed.

Yes, the supporting cast is comprised of sterling professionals. But The Insatiable Moon’s story is Arthur’s, and to Rawiri Paratene falls the multi-faceted task of keeping us guessing as to what is madness, what Divinity and, ultimately, what humanity can be at its best.

Following the film’s evolving visual imagery from a humble, albeit handsome cross to a verdant, spreading tree gives us some measure of Arthur’s power as catalyst for all he encounters. When his dear housemate (a delightful John the Baptist figure who blesses everything he passes with a touch & a proclamation of love) is having a dire crisis of temptation, Arthur tunes into it from a distance, clutching the simple cross to his heart, and rocking himself with such impassioned prayer ~ I wouldn’t have been surprised if the twigs had ignited into bloom!

The vertical force of this cross runs both North to South, as when the Second Son of God gazes skyward to chant up the dawn, and then achieves a polar reversal, running South to North, as when he determines it is his fate to make love to the Queen of Heaven and enkindle the new life she desires.

The horizontal frequency of this cross vibrates heart-to-heart time and again, a most poignantly lacerating example taking place at the funeral of one of Harbour Lodge’s own. In attendance is a woman whose daughter had been molested by the now deceased man when she was but a child, a trauma from which the girl never recovered, leading her to suicide as a teenager. The grieving mother sits across the aisle, across a class divide, across the chasm that separates the mourners from those glad to distance themselves from them. When her bitter condemnation sets the congregation astir, Arthur quells the discord and bridges the abyss by standing and, with elegant compassion, asking one simple question that melts her heart and unites them all.

This scene is indelible. If you see this movie for no other reason (and there certainly are others), let this be it. Arthur had been attending his beloved friend’s dead body, as is the Maori custom, and now he addresses its spirit. He also turns the “This is my beloved Son” chapter & verse on its head by instructing his Father as to how to care for all involved, with himself as intermediary: “Let my word stand for him, and take him to your heart. Take him to the healing place.” Veils between worlds are parted, so much so that Margaret turns and is startled to see two angels sitting on the edge of the choir loft. She is the perfect witness, as women longing for pregnancy are often open to inhabitants of the spirit realm, with wee souls sometimes floating down in the form of cherubs, seeking incarnation.

The romance between Margaret & Arthur could have gotten hung up on the old-paradigm moralistic model which absolutely condemns adultery. But there is something else afoot here, and bare-footed at that, which makes their destiny pure and purely inevitable. If the old Christian model is all about the Word made Flesh, Arthur’s indigenous soul reverses that and has the Flesh finding Voice, spirit percolating up from the beloved land through the soles of his bare feet, with erotic grace and heartfelt passion. He’s all about real connection rather than abstract, man-made rules, and so the prospect of his impregnating his Beloved has such a wave of generosity about it that the adulterous snag is minimized.

This made me think of the Old Hawaiian allowance for youth to have a divinely-ordained outlaw period during which sexual experimentation is allowed. But when you encounter someone who ignites your Higher Self, thus giving you potential to create the future, you are fated for them. Arthur repeatedly assures Margaret she needn’t be afraid, something you imagine a madman must do quite often. But in this case her fear is not of his insanity but of her divinity, her identity as his Queen of Heaven.

Great touches when they do unite. Seen through Arthur’s eyes, modest, external, metallic motel steps look like a veritable Stairway to Heaven. And while we all know it took considerable talent on the part of a set designer, the elements used ~ candles and bed-sheets ~ are modest enough to make us believe that Arthur had transformed their rented room into a magical realm, both womb-like and celestial. The contrast between the vicar’s single candle at the film’s outset (albeit beautiful and lunar) and Arthur’s Milky Way of lights is galvanizing. So when this couple goes out to the balcony to drink in a sky-scape including the phallic Sky Tower alongside a glowing Cosmic ovum of a Full Moon, you know the eternal (Vertical) and mortal (horizontal) planes are wedding that night.

If you want to skip the spoiler and go straight to the comments (or leave a comment) on this post, click here. Otherwise, read on…

Spoiler * Spoiler * Spoiler * Spoiler *

Read no further if you don’t want Arthur’s lot revealed, as integrity demands I disclose the one thudding disappointment I had with this gem. This means you. Please call your local Indie theatre and/or Film Festival and request they include The Insatiable Moon in their line-up. Enjoy, and get back to this later, if you wish. Thank you~~~

Seriously, reread that last bit about the enchanting Love Chamber and shoo!

Okay…here goes. The Insatiable Moon. Insatiable. The word “sad” comes from the same root as does “sated,” and means to be full on one level and empty on a deeper one. The Moon is the symbol of the feminine, of enchantment, lunacy, life-cycles and all that nurtures us to engage them. It pulls our tides from Deep Mystery to the shores of life, and we sense she is saddened if we are unfulfilled.

When the boarding house is under siege, Arthur takes on responsibility to save this group home. He suffers this passion to be their savior, “suffer” coming from “su-frerre,” to get beneath and carry, as one would carry a cross or pick up their bed (unconsciousness) and walk. As the neighborhood polarizes, and the vicar hosts a community meeting in which all is turning to discord & shyte, Arthur comes striding in: bare-chested, crowned with leaves, and chanting with the kind of resonance that could topple temples. The Axis Mundi alive and impassioned. The Tree of Life aflame.

He names the insanity of the World. In Maori, he names the value of Harbour Lodge: “the people, the people, the people!” Is this a decompensating client off his meds or a Son of God despairing, a madman or a Mystery man? Or, as Norm wisely assessed, maybe some of both. A poet once said that the only crucifix of any value he’d ever found was in a dark chapel in Italy, Jesus’ arms outstretched in “unconquerable beseeching.” We have that here in Arthur’s riveting, present tense, living fervor.

Perhaps at the time these lines were originally written, their outrage and urgency may have seemed borderline insane. But in 2010 they fit the bill for exactly what is needed in a world where none of the usual domain basins ~ religious, economic, political, educational ~ supply us adequate sustenance at the very least, and a hydra-headed monster of predatory destruction at their worst. And so I wanted more.

I come not to bury Arthur but to praise him. Not to be saddened by this gem of a film, but emboldened.

But bury him they do. Yes. Arthur meets the same fate as the first Son of God ~ a premature death. And that’s what stunned and alienated me. Not in a resigned way either, mind you ~ rather suffusing me with an urge to break the crockery against all four walls. I’m tired of seeing the most Sacred among us reduced to blessed Holy Fools and dying (Powder, Pay it Forward). To sacrifice is to make sacred: sooo, make the benighted Realtor sacrifice his greed and be reborn, the neighbors sacrifice their snobbery & fears.

I also get the universal concept that God is most satisfied by having the best of the best being sacrificed to Him. But I’m sick and tired of that. I want to know how to embrace the holiest amongst us and live with them, raising the bar for the rest of us, as Bob said of Arthur. I want films that teach us that next evolutionary stage. `

When such a one as Arthur is killed, too many viewers get off too easy. They get a taste of the “Other,” the marginalized, the minority, and experience a cheap rush of compassion for having supported them for the length of the screening, but they don’t have to really deal. Margaret, who was once the Queen of Heaven, lover of the Second Son of God, is now some sort of ghostly widow who never has to deal with the social consequences of being deemed a harlot and Arthur a heretic. She doesn’t have to worry about having what is now a sexual interloper storming the Maternity Ward and claiming the First Grandchild of God as his own. That would be messy. But honest. And what birth isn’t?

I saw Arthur as what is called “a Strange Attractor.” Whenever a system is in chaos, it first tries to stabilize itself by going backwards, when that would actually stagnate and doom it. What it needs is a Strange Attractor to jump the system to the next level, one with enough mana to achieve a paradigm shift.

Perhaps a fictional Arthur may have had it in him. I get that this screenplay was based on Mike Riddell’s book which was in turn inspired by a real-life Arthur of Ponsonby who actually did die of medical complications, after requesting that Mike tell his story. So of course, the author was under certain constraints. And I should accept the inevitable. But I don’t. And I won’t. I’m taking Rosemary Riddell at her generous word when she said she wanted the film “to stir something in people…stir their hearts about their own spirituality and where it could be headed.”

That’s just it: mine is heading south, down the hill with Norm, only in the best sense of the word ~ to the tree of death & rebirth, where we can exult in “Good pie!” instead of “Goodbye.” (You do have to see the film to get the pie reference). My spirituality is all about replenishing Indigenous Soul, healing holes in the Ethnosphere, and reminding people that we are all native to the Land, Sea and Cosmos, if only we revere them.

In my fantasy, Arthur doesn’t die. He goes to Tauranga Hospital and gets healthy treatment in their Maori-run ward, for three days and three nights ~ the dark of the Moon. Then he comes aboard as Vicar Kevin’s Colleague~in~the Ministry and together they so upset the Buddha field that they get fired and go on to make a great film ~ Hey ~ they did! I’m feeling better already….

Seriously, despite that one disappointment, I know I shall return time and again to this movie. To deeply cherish so much of it, such as the scene where Arthur storms the community meeting with a tender bird’s-nest in hand, his eyes gleaming with incomparable phosphorescence, as they so often do in this beautiful film. He lowers the nest lovingly to the floor. To the floor. A good part of why we’ve lost our Indigenous Souls is that we have been falsely taught to posit all that is sacred above and all that is vile beneath us. As Arthur lowers the nest, he achieves a long-overdue redemption of the earth-based orientation. And the sounds issuing from his throat ~ O my Holy Mother Moon ~ the grunting, grace-filled, gusty prayer, opens receptivity in your body like scattershot from the Divine. He “breaks into me,” as the love-song at consummation so graciously implored, grounding me in the Sacred. And he can lovingly assail your Soul as well, so you can henceforth nest in something true and enduring. I’m taking it from there. Many thanks due Rawiri Paratene, the Riddells, and the entire splendidly talented mob that brought us The Insatiable Moon. Shine on!

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-- Jonathan
AuthorJonathan Clark