Where Are My Cigarettes?

Ponsonby Road

For the next couple of weeks I’ll be in New Zealand, using part of a vacation to hang out with my friends Mike and Rosemary Riddell.  I’ll be writing a blog dedicated to the revelation of how ‘The Insatiable Moon’ went from being an idea in Mike Riddell’s head, to a novel, to a screenplay, and especially a film.  Hope you don’t mind, but I’ll cross-post some stuff here from that site.  We’d love the blog and facebook page to be places for conversation and anticipation about the rising Moon, so please do feel free to comment here or there. I’m delighted to be able to use some of my vacation in New Zealand to drop in on set and will do my best to keep you posted about what’s happening in and around the making of the film.

This morning, my second observing the set of ‘The Insatiable Moon’, I was walking up Ponsonby Road on the way to the church where one of the pivotal scenes was being shot. Walking through mild rain and high humidity, to the emotional soundtrack of mild annoyance at being highly lost, having taken a wrong turn from the Production Office.Had a bag of strawberries in one hand – one of the pleasures of being here from the US/UK is the fact that I’m experiencing my first December summer, and therefore get to eat fruit that went out of season where I live a couple of months ago, and my MacBook bag in the other, looking forward to what would unfold in the church as one of our beloved characters makes a speech that we hope will be something audiences remember for a long time after seeing the movie.

But it wasn’t meant to be – I was stopped in my tracks by a bloke wearing a long black leather coat, also carrying two bags, eyes hidden behind massive dark glasses. As he passed me, he let out an agitated scream: ‘WHERE ARE MY CIGARETTES’.The surprise made me jump, feel a little uncomfortable, and it was a few seconds before I could focus my thoughts. Who was this man? Why was he screaming? Screaming for the location of his smokes, on a wet Ponsonby afternoon? People sat at the sidewalk cafes looked up at him, and then at me; some tried to conceal a smile – let’s face it, a bloke shouting on the street is funny in the way that someone tripping on a pavement is funny.It’s a natural reaction to the misfortune of others. But it’s also unfair. What was strange to me was the fact that the pity of the crowd seemed reserved for me, rather than the poor guy who’d lost his Pall Malls.

I remember first reading the novel ‘The Insatiable Moon’ twelve years ago – it was the Clinton era, the year the Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature ‘Hard Eight’ was released and had to compete with ‘Men in Black’ for an audience; the year Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died; and a time when the New Zealand film industry was yet to receive global attention in the form of a shot in the arm from J RR Tolkien. One of the motifs to which the book returns again and again is the place of marginalized people in our society, in the story, on Ponsonby Road. Blokes who walk up and down the high street screaming for their cigarettes, part of them trapped inside the complex labyrinth of mental health difficulties and God knows what else.The film being made here in Ponsonby is part love story, part drama, part postmodern religious epic, and part whatever you want it to be; but one of the most beautiful things about it is the fact that it focuses on people that usually get sidelined by the stories that often get told at the movies. It’s about the occurrence of magic in everyday life; it’s about the sacred and profane meeting each other, and being mixed into something new that becomes far more than the sum of its parts.

The ostensibly innocuous moment when I was confronted by a guy shouting for his cigarettes collided with my need to get to the set to see what was happening next. And on the way, I remembered something that one of my favourite actors used to say. The sadly late, and undeniably very great Jack Lemmon used to close his eyes just before the cameras rolled, and repeat a mantra that got him in the right zone to perform, to create on screen the heightened vision of reality that always occurs when movies work. His two words could serve as the motto for what’s happening here, as a motley crew of people dedicated to very-hard-working the vision to fruition, in the hope that together they may make a film that entertains, compels, challenges, inspires, makes the audience feel grateful to be alive and maybe just a little more ready to see each other for what we are; in short, to turn a story of ordinary people on Ponsonby Road into something that transcends our sense of just what is ordinary. I think Jack Lemmon might be right at home here. His two words?  Magic Time.

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