Look – the ‘New Moon’ set’s just like the ‘Insatiable One!”
I’ve just spent a couple of hours with vampires and werewolves – no, it’s not the annual convention of serious-but-unpaid critics (it takes one to know one), but rather I took the opportunity wearing my other hat as a film writer to watch the new ‘Twilight’ movie and near-namesake of our own little New Zealand film ‘New Moon’, in which various well-dressed neckbiters and lupine creatures with anger management problems compete for the attention of a whiny girl named Bella, and, presumably, for the future of the world.
Bella, the kind of teenager who seems to have no discernible personality beyond complaining about how her 109 year old boyfriend Edward won’t plunge his canines into her skin in order that she might become immortal and pale-skinned too (she doesn’t need any help with the moodiness – if I was a vampire, the last thing I’d want to do would be to give a life boost to the natural span of teenage angst by making her live forever. She needs Oprah, not bitemarks. Now, I’m probably being unfair, and so I should acknowledge that ‘New Moon’ is nowhere near as bad as I had expected; it looks fabulous, Alexandre Desplat’s score is gorgeous, Kristen Stewart does a really rather good job of conveying Bella’s angst; and it will provide some emotional catharsis for anyone who has recently broken up with an immortal being from Transylvania. This is a moot point, however, for I am not here to discuss – and I imagine you are not much interested in – the plot nuances of Stephanie Meyer’s runaway bestsellers and the films that have been made from them. What’s the connection with ‘The Insatiable Moon’, I hear you cry (perhaps)?
Well, other than the semantic common bond via the lunar reference in the titles, both ‘New’ and ‘Insatiable’ moons are stories in which that which is often considered to be unreal becomes real, or in other words, in which magic (of various hues) emerges in a world we already recognize. The ‘Twilight’ books are a metaphor in which some aspects of Meyer’s Mormon faith (particularly sexual abstinence) are explored (none too subtly, I might add); the symbolism is fascinating, if a little clunky (at one point Edward crushes a mobile phone in anger at not being able to communicate with the virginal girl that he loves, under the watchful eye of the lit-up statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro; the fact that he has a rival for her affection whom she seems also to be in love with is undeniably an evocation of earlier Mormon teaching on polygamy; there is much talk of death and the possibility of resurrection is always hanging around). The difference between the ‘Twilight’ stories and ‘The Insatiable Moon’ (other than the fact that we’re shooting on a budget that is less than one-hundredth of what the American vampires get) is that ‘Insatiable’ isn’t metaphor, but it does believe in magic.
The vampires-in-high-school story seems to have come after the desire to project some dogmatic thinking on the part of the writer; the story of Arthur is rooted, first of all, in Mike Riddell’s experience of living and working in Ponsonby over a decade ago, and the interactions he had with a homeless man, who really did seem to believe that he was the second son of God. (Mike once told me that one of the quickest ways to make bad art is to try to impose a message on it before the story has taken on the contours of something so simple it’s near the point of being tautological: it has to be a GOOD STORY.) Now you may not know that through some technological magic of our own, Arthur himself has been tweeting updates from the set – you can find them on this site, but you can also sign up for them here; one of the most interesting comments that our Second Son of God has made lately is that miracles are sometimes hard to notice, because often they’re so small. (His actual tweet? “One thing God told me. Miracles are so small most people miss them.”) It’s with this topic that ‘Twilight’ loses its way, and becomes merely another in a long line of attempts at putting the message before the art. It wants to make everything enormous and melodramatic, as if upon every moment of every scene depends the future of life as we know it. There are miracles in ‘The Insatiable Moon’, but they are of the kind that we often fail to notice – a glance, a touch, an act of kindness; the metaphysical happening under our noses, 24/7, on the streets of Auckland, and of course also among the community of passionate ‘Twilight’ fans too.
Last night a few of us had a late dinner at a sidewalk restaurant, after viewing the first rough assembly of the film so far. It was an emotional experience for me to see the gathered unfolding – in albeit rough-edged form – of Arthur’s story, twelve years after I first read the novel. All I can say is this: the story as I envisaged it while reading is the story that is being captured by the film-makers; so many of the performances are pitch-perfect; and there’s a tremendous sense of excitement as the pieces fall into place. While sharing the meal afterward, a bloke invited himself to sit at our table. He said his name was Pete, had a vodka mixer bottle in his hand, and appeared to be under the influence of one substance or another. It was either the beginning of a short night or the end of a long day for him. But he regaled us with warmth and stories – invoking various languages, riffing about Bob Marley and Haile Selassie, forgetting my name and calling me Sean (I guess one Irish name’s as good as another; there is a labyrinth of complexity to why Pete exchanged my Welsh name for an Irish one, without my having told him I’m from Belfast); but there was one thing Pete said which in my hearing began to distinguish itself as just one of those small, quiet miracles Arthur was tweeting about earlier this week. When I mentioned we were making a film, Pete raised his bottle and declared to the heavenliess (and anyone else who may have been listening) two words that I am unilaterally selecting as the motto for this blog, and maybe – if the director permits – the film itself.
‘Cinematic Reality!’ exclaimed Pete, toasting the sky.
‘Cinematic Reality!’ echoed the director, and the writer, and the producer, and the director of photography, while the stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb-what-the-hell’s-he-doing-here-film-critic-from-Ireland thought to himself: This isn’t how Stanley Kubrick or David Lean or Abel Gance made films, sitting at a sidewalk restaurant eating cold chorizo sausage, and being toasted by an uninvited guest. Or maybe it was. Because it felt just perfect, as if Arthur had sent us a messenger to remind us what we were doing.
There’s a hell of a lot of work still to be done, but we’re coming to an end of the fourth and penultimate week of shooting, and the moon seems to be on our side.