Academic journal article Hecate

The New Zealand Buddy Movie: Men, Cars and the Rise (and Fall) of the Feminist Thriller

Academic journal article Hecate

The New Zealand Buddy Movie: Men, Cars and the Rise (and Fall) of the Feminist Thriller

Article excerpt

Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Good-bye Pork Pie (1981) were important films in the beginnings of the New Zealand film industry, the former because it was the first in the new wave of New Zealand films, the latter because of its popularity - it has only recently been overtaken at the national box office by Once Were Warriors. Both films were informed by a certain anti-establishment, rebellious larrikinism that characterised the form of masculine nationalism that was evident during that decade. The films can be defined by their attempts to challenge British and American cultural domination, to engage with and express a distinct New Zealand-ness. However my specific interest here is looking at the gender politics informing the films which I would argue are intertwined with, if not wholly reducible to, these other characteristics of cultural identity.

Sleeping Dogs, the more overtly politicised of the two films, tracks the engulfment of the main character Smithy in the beginnings of a civil war in New Zealand. Deserted by his wife, and living for a while in a "man alone" style on an island, Smithy, finally allying himself with his former rival Bullen, becomes a guerilla, fighting against the burgeoning New Zealand police state. Both men, after a protracted chase scene, die nobly and together at the close of the film. Good-bye Pork Pie begins in a somewhat more light hearted fashion. Two men - one an unemployed gadabout seeking adventure, the other a rejected boyfriend attempting reconciliation - bond, and take to the road in a stolen yellow mini. They drive the length of the two islands ending up in Invercargill. The film traces their scrapes with the law, which become more and more serious, culminating in their capture.

As is immediately apparent for those with an interest in representation and gender, each film revolves around the trials and tribulations of a pair of men. By contrast, the female characters have minor roles and, when present, are defined through their relationships with the male leads. The common activities within the films are those associated with masculinity - drinking, driving, shooting, and going bush (as well as having affairs on the side). The few love/sex stories that occur in the films tend to show strained relationships that are usually short-lived or sketchy and followed by break-ups, allowing the film to continue to concentrate on the man's story. Wives are very much in the wings, tired, nagging or lifeless; they either don't understand, or are continuously threatening to tie the men down to domestic servitude, force them to pay the bills, etc. Single women, on the other hand, are defined purely through their sexuality which is generally shown as threatening and provocative. While men are portrayed as mates, women are generally shown in isolation without friends, and do not confide in or support each other. Women are also seen to complicate a relationship between men; they are peripheral to the action but necessary, for reasons I will clarify shortly.

These films, with their central displays of male bonding, are locatable in the familiar territory of the buddy movie which is structured through, in the words of Eve Sedgwick, "male homosocial desire" - the trajectory from homosexuality to homophobia and back again. "Homosocial" is a word that describes social bonds between people of the same sex, obviously formed by analogy with 'homosexual' and just as obviously meant to be distinguished from 'homosexual.' In fact, 'male bonding' in our society is often characterised less by acknowledged attraction than by intense homophobia, that is, fear and hatred of homosexuality.(1)

Male friendship in itself is not the problem, but within these two films, it seems that it can only exist at the expense of women and of gay men. Anyone deemed feminine, including the gay man, is trivialised, sexualised and marginal, existing in counterpoint to the good, clean actions of men together. This is made quite apparent in Good-bye Pork Pie with its smattering of rape and anti-queer jokes. …

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