Story: Experimental film

Page 2. Experimentation expands, 1970s to 1990s

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1970s to 1980s

In the 1970s a number of film-makers and artists began to explore film-making as a fine art practice.

Philip Dadson's Earthworks (1971) was constructed from a 10-minute performance and recording event staged across multiple locations around the world at the same time (1800 hours Greenwich mean time). Rather than assembling the resulting audio, film and photograph records into a narrative, Dadson edited the film to evoke the simultaneity of people spread across the planet.

Working on 8-millimetre and 16-millimetre film, Joanna Margaret Paul made a remarkable number of films of home, family and place. In works such as Jillian dressing (1976), Bag (1976) and Task (1982), Paul depicted domestic activities including ironing, packing and dressing. Other works chronicled the subtle impressions left by time, human presence and urban settlement in locations including Port Chalmers and Wellington.

In the world of drama, the influence of the European avant-garde weighed heavily on psycho-sexual surrealist short film Circadian rhythms (1976) by David Blyth and George Rose's Art man (also known as The sadness of the post-intellectual art critic) (1979). Film historian Roger Horrocks offered a balanced assessment: ‘Art Man ... is at times too eager to score points, but it is clear that the director has an unusual gift for pure image.’1

1980s to 1990s

In the 1980s and 1990s a handful of film-makers emerged who combined an extreme visual sensibility with the dynamics of pop.

The Auckland-based group Fetus Productions (around 1980 to 1989) presented multi-media performances featuring their own live music with film images of human deformity, nature and medical procedures. Similarly confrontational, Brent Hayward’s excoriating explorations of sexuality, state control and AIDS were marked by occasional humour and the film-maker’s brilliance as a cinematographer and editor. Lisa Reihana's Wog features (1990) was a dynamic piece of editing with a political heart; mixing animation and live action to address racism in culture and gender. The animation and stop motion of musician Chris Knox showed a taste for the comic grotesque, often located in his own body.

Travelling down the highways that carve through the unpeopled wilderness of New Zealand's South Island, Lissa Mitchell's direct-to-film animation Bowl me over (1995) paid homage to Colin McCahon, Mina Arndt and Rita Angus, local artists whose work was inspired by the landscape. With text rallying against the flooding of the town of Cromwell for the construction of a government-owned dam, Bowl me over lent a political edge to the New Zealand scenic.

The New Zealand art exhibition Headlands, at the Museum of Sydney, Australia, in 1992, featured a 13-part screening series which freely combined experimental films, short films, music videos, documentary films and government newsreels. In the exhibition catalogue Horrocks wrote: ‘The most startling work being done today is by the mysterious group Popular Productions ... the extremism of this work, its subversive play with national icons, its suspicion of language as a pre-existing structure, its low-tech and low-budget ingenuity, its off-beat humour – these ... qualities are the opposite of what we see on our television and cinema screens.’2

  1. Roger Horrocks, ‘Twenty years of experimental films.’ Art New Zealand 24 (Winter 1982), (last accessed 22 September 2014). Back
  2. Quoted in Headlands: moving images from Aotearoa/New Zealand. Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1992. Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Williams, 'Experimental film - Experimentation expands, 1970s to 1990s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 2 March 2024)

Story by Mark Williams, published 22 Oct 2014