March 26, 2011

The famous movie dead

"I'm troubled by movie dreams. Glamorous faces appear and disappear. All the great names. I find it troubling for some reason. I wake up fearful and unsettled. The faces are sad. Maybe that's it. The sadness of great fame. The famous movie dead. Dead but not dead. That's why I'm unsettled maybe. Because they're unsettled. Dead but not really dead. Never really dead. The whole concept of movies is so fundamentally Egyptian. Movies are dreams. Pyramids. Great rivers of sleep. The great and the glamorous with their legendary sphinxlike profiles. I wake up trembling."
-- from Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo, 1973.

March 23, 2011

March 18, 2011

Mirror on the Mirror

"Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror is a film I’ve seen several times, and I can state without hesitation that it is the most profoundly meaningful film I’ve experienced thus far. Having said that, it’s the absolute last movie I ever want to watch. I will put on anything over The Mirror, usually a comedy I’ve worn threadbare. It’s a miracle that I’ve seen the film at all." From here.

March 16, 2011

Deconstruction time again

One of the listed heritage buildings that appeared on the to-be-demolished (or "deconstructed") list released yesterday. This is around the corner from us, at 112 Centaurus Road, Huntsbury. According to the Christchurch City Plan, the house has been here since the 1880s.

March 15, 2011

The Crown Masonic Centre

It's been nearly a month since the February 22 earthquake and it is still almost impossible to process the event -- still almost impossible to move beyond the sense that it has only just happened, that we are in the immediate aftermath. This is partly because so much of the central city, the best known part of Christchurch, remains behind a closely-guarded cordon, and we see images, in newspapers, on television and on the internet, of streets we struggle to recognise. The event is still beyond our comprehension.

I have been inside the cordon just once, from the north side, as far as Peterborough Street, to retrieve a few belongings from the former teachers' college building, where my father in law has an apartment. My sister in law made the same trip on a different day and reached for a movie metaphor: it's like the opening of Vanilla Sky. She meant that she was more overwhelmed by the quiet and emptiness than the physical destruction.

You can only understand it in small pieces, by registering what it has done to your immediate surroundings or to familiar landmarks. But these are small changes and against the tragedy of events at such sites as the CTV building and the Pyne Gould building, and the much greater tragedy in Japan, our snapshots of cracked footpaths and fallen bricks must seem trivial.

The building pictured here is the Crown Masonic Centre, a lodge on Wordsworth Street, Sydenham. For a time, this building was for sale. Indeed, a pre-February 22 Masonic newsletter (link), tells us that it was sold to the New Zealand Sikh Society in August, just under a month before the first earthquake. The damage from that quake caused it to close "and its long term future remains in doubt". That comment was made in December. It didn't look like this then.

There is something unexpectedly moving about the way events have overtaken these plans. The newsletter gives the history.
The Crown Lodge 138 celebrated its last night in The Crown Masonic Centre in Wordsworth St, Sydenham on Thursday 5 August 2010 with a small gathering of Brethren who marked the passing from one part of history and into its future. While The Crown Lodge Masonic Centre has existed since its foundation stone was laid on Saturday 9 December 1922 and it opened its doors to its first meeting on Thursday 2 August 1923, the Masonic Centre has been home to many different Lodges, side orders and long term tenants.

In the newsletter, Brethren of the Crown Lodge are pictured in a blue room with white columns. In the picture above, taken seven months later, the same room is ruined and open to the elements.

March 10, 2011

Eight years later

"I remember seeing Zabriskie Point about then and that scene at the end when the house blows up and all those brightly coloured products go exploding through the air in slow motion. God, that made my whole year. That was the high point of whatever year that was."
-- Moll Robbins in Running Dog by Don DeLillo, 1978.

March 8, 2011

Twenty four years later

What goes through your head when you're playing music this intense live?
At the best moments, nothing.
-- Michael Gira, interviewed last month.

Swans? Yes it was epic. All that stuff Michael Gira has said for years about rock music’s potential for transcendence, the white-light annihilation of the ego as both pleasurable and terrifying – they got all that out of the way in the first ten minutes and went on from there. You were pulverised, hollowed-out, elated; time among other things was destroyed (Jonathan Lethem). It lasts forever and you don’t want it to stop. When it does stop, you come to in the same room you walked into three hours earlier, but it feels like three days. If the mystical rhetoric sounds pretentious, there’s no other way to talk about what they’re up to: once you’re empty of thought, emotion, even a history, and you are ready to be filled up with something new (“the new mind”), Gira does his mock-preacher routine in “Sex God Sex”, calling loudly for a miraculous intervention – “Jesus Christ, come down now … ” – but nothing ever appears, night after night. What if you could simulate transcendent experiences but they were devoid of their traditional meanings? Would it be a good or a bad thing? Maybe that’s what it’s about. Transcendent nihilism, or something like that.

They also played "I Crawled". They were slow, loud, deep. They had two drummers. One of them was called Thor, a fact I'll forgive in this case.

Some people with better phones than mine have already put some clips on YouTube.
Pictured above: a lousy mobile phone shot of Gira in cowboy hat, drinking a beer in the Power Station’s signing area (like a fanboy, I bought a T-shirt and a ltd ed tour CD -- #133 of however many copies). Moments earlier, there had been an illuminating exchange. After 24 years, I finally had my chance to speak to the great man. In full, it went:
Me: Is there going to be a live album of this material?
Gira: Yes, and a DVD.
Me: Great!
Below, Auckland Airport, yesterday: always something there to remind me.

March 5, 2011


Yes, this takes me back: 1987, Chris Knox's review of Holy Money in the Listener, reminding him of "War Pigs" and the Stooges' "We Will Fall", his illustration a painstaking copy of the six mugshots of the band on the inside sleeve, overlapping with just two of them (Gira, Westberg: older, less angry, perhaps more morose) above. Strikes me now that it would not have been the kind of thing Knox usually likes -- perhaps he didn't like it but just described it so well that I knew I would. Which is what a critic should be doing anyway. When I worked at the Listener ten years later I dug the review out and was amazed at how much of it I remembered verbatim. Should have taken a copy of it.

March 3, 2011


Riverlaw Terrace, St Martins

Opawa Community Church, Aynsley Terrace, Opawa

Opawa Cycles, Opawa Road, Opawa

Waltham Road, Waltham

Eastern Terrace, Beckenham

March 2, 2011

Time capsules

For a long time, more than a century, Waltham was a suburb in the shadow of the gasworks. In fact, Waltham Road -- pictured above -- was once known as Gasworks Road; it appears in Christchurch newspapers under that name as early as the 1870s. The gasworks and the railways were big employers here; the streets were lined with modest, wooden workers' cottages. Even after the earthquakes, many of those cottages are still standing. Like Sydenham, a suburb of the same age which sits just to the west, Waltham has suffered from creeping light industry that has swallowed up residential streets and the widening of Brougham Street in the early 1980s which bisected the suburb and created cul-de-sacs where there were once through-roads. Of course, the gasworks and the railway yards closed down years ago.

Waltham School is one of the oldest in Christchurch but like many of Christchurch's old primary schools, it has relatively new buildings. According to my memory of John Wilson's history Lost Christchurch there was a programme of demolishing the old, brick, two-story school buildings as potential earthquake risks (Beckenham's went in 1979). Such foresight. Had those brick school buildings survived until last Tuesday, and then collapsed, the consequences would have been unthinkable.

John Wilson's Lost Christchurch -- a diligent record of demolished buildings, published in the 1980s -- will need updating. I would like to consult it but the only copy I am aware of is in the reference room of the central library, far behind the police cordon.

Brougham Village on Brougham Street, Waltham. Architect Don Cowey designed this "ambitious attempt at low-cost living" -- in the words of the Christchurch Modern website -- as a Christchurch City Council commission in 1978. It fits squarely within the post-war Christchurch modernism practiced by the better-known architects Miles Warren and Peter Beaven. Thirty years after construction, it won a New Zealand Institute of Architects award for enduring architecture. The NZIA said: This 1978 development presents an inventive and humanistic approach to the architectural endeavour of community housing. A fine-grained assembly of forms is generated from a thoughtful study of the relationships of living units and the urban issues of a long narrow site along a busy road. The fact that this housing is still used is a testament to the quality of the design and a gesture towards sustainability.

Architect Don Cowey was killed during the Christchurch earthquake on February 22. The Christchurch Modern tribute is here. More words on Brougham Village here.

Buried time capsules were discovered in Cathedral Square yesterday. But in a sense, nearly all of the post-earthquake work reveals traces of lost or buried history. I had wondered about this brick building at 110 Waltham Road. Before the September quake, a sign had identified it as the clubrooms of the Canterbury Mineral and Lapidary Club. But that must be relatively recent. Yesterday, a man was scraping mortar from fallen bricks outside. What was this building, I asked. A library, he said. And there are references to a Waltham Library in Christchurch newspapers as far back as the 1870s. A nice example: in the Star of September 6, 1877, the Sydenham Literary and Debating Club was to meet at the Waltham Library, to discuss "the Sunday Schools of the Future". Source: the National Library's Papers Past website.

The lost sights and the lost smells. Have you ever lived within sniffing distance of a maltworks? There is a cluster of old maltworks buildings on Waltham Road, which survived the quakes, looking only slightly scruffier than before. There was talk, in 2008, of a property developer putting townhouses on these sites; in the meantime, there has been car parts and firewood storage and post-industrial leisure time usage. Once a factory, now a paintball range and kickboxing gym.

Cracks on Vienna Street, Waltham.

This brick bungalow on Buffon Street, Waltham, has been red-stickered and is behind a Fire Service cordon, suggesting that it's unsafe to enter. The inscription -- IOOF no 30 -- tells you that it was once a lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, present in New Zealand since 1843. Below, the partially collapsed World War I memorial gate at Waltham Park.

March 1, 2011

Nearly a week

"That’s it. I’m running away."
"Can I come too?"

"I’m going to go to China. It doesn’t have a fault line under it."
"Actually, China has a lot of earthquakes."
"Are they having one right now?"

"Take a photo of this fence. It’s broken."

"Come on, pumpkin. I want to go home and watch the news."
"I want to go home and have a bath."

St Martins Road, Gamblins Road, Wilsons Road. The carpark of St Martins New World. The St Martins community library. February 28, 2011.