Review: The Ground We Won (NZ, 2015)

The first essential New Zealand documentary of the decade.

The Ground We Won is a gorgeous black and white cinema verite film which follows a rural rugby club, Reporoa, over the course of a year. The focus is purely on the men, their culture and relationships. It is an intimate window into the nation of a sort which has been lacking and needed for a long time.

The short version is you need to see this. It will spur many and complex responses.

(I am actually going to assume you will see this when it goes on general release in a week or so, so I’m not going to give much in the way of plot or narrative description, more comment on a cultural level.)

I grew up with rugby. I played for 12 seasons starting as a kid. My father coached club rugby, so I spent a bit of time around clubrooms and changing sheds as a kid, too. Though I drifted away from rugby and its culture as an adult, so much of the world of this film is deeply familiar.

Here’s the thing. Masculine camaraderie, working in a team, being part of a pack, is kind of awesome. (It is the reason the army appeals and would be great if it wasn’t about dehumanising and breaking you down so that you will follow orders without question and kill.) And watching this, I realise I miss it. There is something raw and honest about the physicality and putting your body on the line, and I haven’t encountered that in any other sport or physical endeavour in quite the same way.

What I don’t miss is the retarded drunken in your face side of things. (One in a while, maybe đŸ˜‰ ). And the film goes there, stark, uncomfortable and without judgement. Part of its magic is the access, warts and all, as the team goes on the road and gets hammered. They seem totally unabashed and unashamed of their behaviour. There is something beautiful in seeing our culture so clearly. And done right, it is all good fun. But there is a slippery slope with drinking. I guess it comes down to the culture of the specific group – the quality of the “elders” and those who dominate the group.

One thing the film highlights is the difference between grassroots rugby and mainstream (townie) rugby culture. At grassroots level it brings the community together, and links rural communities. The aftermatch clubrooms culture is classic NZ. The haka never made more sense than as the guys from over the hill coming to play you at rugby and doing their haka in the clubroom afterwards.

For those unfamiliar with this sort of culture, it will be a shock and a revelation. The beauty of the film is in presenting something so familiar artistically, thereby rendering it through new eyes. Seeing NZ in a timeless black and white, grounding the men in their work as farmers, the mists in the valley… it brings home the extent to which this has been the backbone of our culture for most of our existence as a rural agricultural nation, and captures it as it may be fading out. (A club like Reporoa previously would have fielded maybe six rugby teams; now it has one.)

One conclusion is we are probably better off with rugby than without it – perhaps a surprise to the liberal minded folks who disdain the game. But without rugby as a focus at the grassroots level, with its culture of play hard but fair, where would all that energy otherwise end up being channelled?

I think I will have more to add at some point. Meanwhile, here is the trailer.

 

CWC 2015, NZ v SA semi final

That was legitimately one of the most intense and amazing games of cricket I have ever seen. Truly epic.

(Unrelated rambling: I have watched quite a bit of the CWC so far, after discovering it streaming online. The weirdest part is getting British ads, the overwhelming majority of which are for online gambling. Like, seriously.)

 

 

vote drunk: on engaging youth voters and non voters

 

Is there anything to say you can’t turn up to vote drunk and stoned, and dressed like a clown, or a superhero, or a zombie, or whatever? Not so far as I know. As long as you have ID and can tick a box, who cares?

Maybe to engage youth voters (and the non-voting near majority) we need to go to where they are. Endorse a culture in which voting is a fun way to spend an afternoon. #votedrunk

I guess the challenge is your mates may live in a different electorate. So how about an election pub crawl through various electorates? Make a day of it.

The costume angle appeals. Imagine election weekend sort of like the Sevens but in a good way. Sort of “dress in a way that captures how you feel about the system” as a theme? Everyone dressed up and running around drunk. Or whatever. I mean, hell, how much of an excuse do we need? It’s only once every three years.

Not something I have thought through… but I do like the idea of turning up intoxicated in a clown suit to vote. It captures something.

 

 

on the NZ housing bubble and looming economic disaster

 

This article from Forbes is pretty interesting reading, essentially arguing that our economy is due to pop at some point due to our overinflated housing prices, the resulting exposure and risk our banks have, and the large borrowing National has been doing. Well worth familiarising yourself with.

Waitangi Day-ish special cultural appropriation post: The Plunder of Glow Worm Grotto

 

How about this (laughable, terrible) episode of an obscure cartoon from the 1980s which makes remarkable use of “Maori” culture and “New Zealand” as a backdrop. Presenting: M.A.S.K S01E55: The Plunder of Glow Worm Grotto.

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All natives are basically interchangeable, after all.

(Sometimes, despite how much further there is to go, maybe we need to reflect on how far we have come.)

 

Thoughts on the Roast Busters

Even though I don’t follow news, the Roast Busters thing has been unavoidable.

Here are some thoughts, most of which I haven’t seen elsewhere yet. Some are tangents into wider issues. I don’t claim they are thought out, comprehensive, or even useful. I guess I will figure out what I think by writing it.

a) I don’t recognise my culture in this.

Rape, sexual violence, child abuse, there’s a whole lot of ugly beneath the surface of our culture that doesn’t get aired enough, which is part of what allows it to continue. And I overwhelmingly support talking about this stuff and shining light on it, and it is an excellent use for social media and the general power of the internet to let us have the discourses we need to have.

But this particular incident feels alien.

This feels like what happens when kids are raised by the internet. This is not something so simple as “blaming the internet”. But there is an ever widening pool of influences that pour in on children. My grandparents’ generation were raised by their parents and community. My parents’ generation were raised by their parents and radio and movies. My generation was raised by our parents and the television – a massive explosion of the world and images and ideas into the home. My niece’s generation – she is of the Roast Busters generation – is being raised by a hypermediated world defined by the internet – access to any damn thing whatsoever. Which is what you make of it. A global cesspit, if that’s where adolescent toilet humour and vileness goes. Or non stop ponies and rainbows.

I was a fairly grubby minded teen with offensive tendencies. I have no idea what I would have made of the internet, and what dark corners I would have found.

b) When I say I don’t recognise my culture in this, what do I mean?

I can imagine teen douchebags I knew getting girls way too drunk and fucking them and thinking that was awesome. And I can imagine them bragging about it to their mates.

I can’t imagine them filming it and sticking it on the internet and kinda trying to destroy the girls and bragging about it to the world. If for no other reason than someone in their family would track you down and give you a hiding.

That, and it just wouldn’t have occurred to anyone as a thing to do.

So what is happening? Maybe this is an imported mentality. There is some other culture in which this behaviour makes sense – maybe not even a real culture, maybe just an internet porn fantasy they couldn’t discern from a reality, hybridised with social media and reality television – and it has infected these young people in our culture. And they (and those around them) just didn’t have the health – or self-knowledge – or fundamental sense of right and wrong – to fight it off.

Or maybe this is just part of the mutation that technology is rendering to us – we are enlarged and magnified and distorted by our new technological extensions, and they reveal us to ourselves uncomfortably – and a world without the expectation of privacy, which encourages sharing everything, was always going to bring some dark things to the surface.

c) In terms of the Roast Busters themselves, I have to wonder, where are their fathers? What did you teach your sons that this kind of behaviour seemed acceptable to them? The internet might be an influence, but surely some basic sense of right and wrong can be instilled on a parental level. If we can’t even do that, we may as well give up on raising kids altogether. Let wolves raise them.

d) The real elephant in the corner is that humans just don’t deal with sex very well. It is a massively powerful force in us that can overwhelm, obsess, and prompt all kinds of crazy. Religion and social mores have done their damnedest to control it across the centuries. Nothing much works to control it. Dealing with it directly and doing a better job of it is the way through this.

How many parents have a conversation with their kids explaining the mechanics of sex? And how few have a conversation explaining the dynamics of interaction with the other gender, the confusions of sex, lust and love, and how strongly these basic drives can kick us around and make us act like animals and drive us out of our minds? How many of us understand ourselves and our own experience enough to be able to have those kinds of conversations with our kids? And if we don’t, are our kids going to be any more able to figure it out than we were?

e) Man, when the police get it wrong, it is a real bad thing. The police have a hard, shitty job to do. If we had better people we wouldn’t need police. They are a symptom of us not having our shit together. But the police are also people who don’t have their shit together, operating within a flawed system. And when justice fails, it is ugly and sad.

f) I have seen a lot of talk about “rape culture”. I find the term weird, and the discussion interesting, though am surprised that a bunch of myths around rape continue and that so much effort is going into continually debunking those, which is a necessary step before we can start having the actual conversations that need to happen here. Because hell yes, let’s talk about sex, and consent, and being responsible for ourselves and our decisions and actions in general.

What I would add is, hey, male culture in this country is completely fucked. This is the invisible pairing with how female gender roles are completely warped. Much has been justifiably written on the warpedness of female gender roles and imagery. However, if the female role is imbalanced, the male role must also be imbalanced. This corollary is unavoidable. The roles are complementary and interlinked; by definition, two halves of a whole.

The male gender role in New Zealand is at least as limited and proscribed and warped. And it is shit. And by shit I mean a horrifically constrained and restricted version of what it means to be a fully alive, functioning, experiencing and expressive human being. The masculine mainstream of rugby and beer are a straightjacket and lobotomy in one.

Drop gender for a minute.

We are human beings, facing the same fundamental circumstance in life, lots of which is pretty rough. We need to be free to be human beings. To feel, to think, to be and do.

We need to update our understanding of what it means to be a human being. Period.

We need to remind ourselves of our needs, our drives, our rights and responsibilities, as human beings.

First, we need to know it in ourselves. Then we can understand that this stuff applies to all of us. And maybe then we can start acting like human beings towards each other.

 

Billy goes to the movies

Or, film fest 2013 review.

Blancanieves

Spanish update of Snow White, recreated as a very stylish black and white period silent film. Snow White becomes a bullfighter but somehow this makes sense. Looked great but felt very long.

The Act of Killing

Absolutely incredible documentary. In Indonesia in the 60s they killed 2.5 million communists. They don’t view this as a bad thing, and the death squads of the time are now made men in society. The doco follows some of them as they make a movie re-enacting (and celebrating) those times. It is bizarre and surreal and terrifying – much of it is incidental in purely how insane and corrupt Indonesia seems to be – but yeah, incredible to see the re-enacting, and their reflection on what they have done (killing a thousand people by hand!)… the film is long, amazingly well crafted, with so many moments of jaw-dropping speechlessness… and the ending is out of this world. Not fun in any conventional sense, but incredibly worthwhile.

The East

Brit Marling’s latest film is another very smart, very well done alt-SF feeling film. This time more of a straight thriller about an agent going undercover with a principled but extreme eco-terrorist group whom she is both sympathetic to and at odds with. Smart, relevant, excellent. Shows up exactly how shit and irrelevant the average Hollywood thriller is.

Utu Redux

Had never seen this NZ classic. Opening is very brutal, the slaughter of a Maori village by English soldiers, but it loses the edge of that beginning, and meanders into its transposed Western form. Fascinating, bemusing on occasion (particularly Bruno Lawrence), holds up with little to induce cringing, and a couple of excellent performances. Nice restoration, worth catching on the big screen as presumably it will get a general rerelease.

Post Tenebras Lux

Won Best Director at Cannes in 2012. No idea how to describe this. Lush, fragmentary, non-linear, bizarre, powerful; with some extraordinary images. Mostly about the life of a young family in rural Mexico; on the meta level seemed to be about relationships, between humans, and humans and the environment, and how these relationships shape us. One for film afficianados rather than casual viewers.

Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch’s latest is a vampire film. While very stylish and enjoyable – his jaded aesthete vampires are charming and sane, and using their perspective on humanity (“zombies”) leads to some sharp observations – ultimately it is maybe a bit pointless. Good music throughout.

Constitutional Advisory Panel

 

Apparently NZ is considering constitutional reform. Something you could easily not know about for all the government is doing to bury it.

If you are interested in amending the fundamental laws of the land, you could check out their website, which includes things like information on how to get involved, and their PDF summarising what they have done so far.

 

watch Combust in Unity free online

 

You can now watch Combust in Unity free online at www.combustinunity.com

Where you can also buy the DVD for cost price, US $1.75 + post to wherever you are in the world.

 

It has been a long strange ride.

the haka as a hymn to Egyptian-Sun-God Ra

 

One of the things about reading lots of weird shit is you come across some weird shit.

Anyhow. Any New Zealander, and a good chunk of the world, will know the haka performed by the All Blacks: Ka Mate. It is variously claimed to attributed to Te Rauparaha, or as being much older, but one that he pulled out of his hat at a particular moment now enshrined in story.

The usual translation is something like;

Tis death! ‘tis death! (or: I may die) ’Tis life! ‘tis life! (or: I may live)

’Tis death! ‘tis death! ’Tis life! ‘tis life!

This is the hairy man

Who brought the sun and caused it to shine

A step upward, another step upward!

A step upward, another… the Sun shines!

(When I was a kid we had a tea towel with a haka translation on it, I remember more about he hairy man, and it seeming pretty weird as a thing for the All Blacks to sing.)

Anyway. So in something weird I was reading I came across a reference to the work of Professor Barry Fells, who ended up tracing lots of ancient language stuff, and more or less arguing that lots of Polynesian languages were descended from ancient Egyptian/Libyan dialects.

In his rendering of the haka via ancient linguisticky stuff, it would translate as:

It is fulfilled, it is fulfilled, Ra has risen, Ra has risen!

It is fulfilled, it is fulfilled, Ra has risen, Ra has risen!

This is the resurrection from the dead. Ascending, ascending,

From out of the abyss. Give light unto us. Cause the Sun to rise!

To rise up! To shine! Rise up, leap up O Ra!

 

Which just strikes me as way cooler.

I mean, seriously, the notion that everyone in this country knows by heart a hymn to an Egyptian sun-God, that rocks.

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(It works better as an invocation of Ra, doesn’t it?)

((Our rugby team has a six thousand year old sun god in our corner, fools. No wonder you don’t stand a chance.))

Fells’ work is not accepted in the mainstream AFAIK, and I haven’t read the original. Just noting it as an awesome orthagonal piece of weirdness.

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