Transcendence and Compassion in Cinema

Mick Innes as 'John' in 'The Insatiable Moon', filming now in New Zealand

I’m in Ponsonby’s red light district on the set of 'The Insatiable Moon' – the portable gazebos we’re using for shade and comfortable eating are the colour of healthy scarlet; appropriate enough, given that today we turn to one of the most troubling scenes in the movie – a scene in which the hidden shame felt by a character leads to disaster. Everyone’s focused on the task in hand: to portray an awful event as truthfully as possible, without exploiting the audience’s emotions, nor denying the fact that human sorrow is real, and touches to us all. If we’re lucky, we might have an Arthur in our lives, someone who sees through the superficial mores of our culture, resists its car rally speed, and offers a human connection in the midst of the awful things that come to us, hopefully only a few times in a full life.

Mick Innes was our featured actor this morning, and it can’t be easy to do what the script requires of him – I don’t want to give too much away, but for instance, he had to be very cold and hold his breath for a long time today. I met Mick last week at his home, an amazing little place furnished with items reclaimed from the street and elsewhere – it’s one of the most character-filled abodes I’ve ever been; and Mick one of the warmest human beings. You know when people talk about someone having a twinkle in their eye? Mick’s one of them – his face may be lined from what I presume include the vagaries of being an actor; but his smile is overwhelming; his coffee welcoming, and despite his passion for sustainable home improvement, there’s nothing recycled about his performance. Trust me. You have not seen the character he plays – called John in the movie – on screen before. He will make you angry and cry at the same time. His character stands for all the people marginalized by their mistakes, and dehumanized by their community; and as a consequence not allowed to live. Mick plays him beautifully; and seeing him do it is a privilege for me as a writer used to only brining a critical eye to bear on a film once it’s made.

This has been the most illuminating aspect of being in the environs of ‘The Insatiable Moon’ – on the one hand it’s an obvious thing to say that critics and film-makers are two sides of a coin; we need each other, but we’re not always very good at communicating with each other. The reasons are fairly simple – each of us may be considered to have a vested interest in outdoing the other, but usually this either produces unhealthy cynicism rather than the kind of creative competition that we’re all supposed to believe is the nexus at which great art emerges; or, more likely, we just don’t talk to each other at all. Warren Beatty asked Pauline Kael for notes while he was making ‘Reds’ – a magnificent film that seems to get better with age – but she went back to New York soon enough; even a great director and the then most respected critic in the English language couldn’t find a way to make it work. So I’m reticent about overstating just what a film critic is doing on a film set (and while our director knows what she’s doing, I can face the reality that I am not Pauline Kael)…

Maybe it can suffice to say that I’m more convinced than ever that film-makers and film critics are, when we’re at our best, on the same side. We both want cinematic art to tell the truth; we want to share stories to the world (or whoever will watch) that reveal something that no one else has seen before in the way that we see it; we want the curtain to rise at whatever megaplex, art house or out house we’re in, and for something of surpassing quality to appear in front of our eyes. That’s not too much to ask, is it? In that light, I’d love to hear from you about your own thoughts of just what this surpassing quality in movies is – what are the transcendent moments of cinema for you? And what performances have granted you access to a world of compassion that made you want to change your life?