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Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years, 5 months ago



New Zealand/Australia 1977 97 minutes


Director: Tony Williams

Producers: David Hannay, Tony Williams

Screenplay: Tony Williams, Martyn Sanderson

Cinematography: John Blick

Editor: Tony Williams

Music: Robbie Laven, Marion Arts


Leading Players:

Vincent Gill (Paul Robinson)

Lisa Peers (Judy Ballantyne)

Martyn Sanderson (Catweazle)

Perry Armstrong (Billy Robinson)

Maxwell Fernie (farmer)

Davina Whitehouse (farmer's wife)



At Mount Bruce in the Wairarapa the Wild Life Division of Internal Affairs has been trying for years to breed rare native birds in captivity. It's a frustrating business. Apart from the difficulty of actually getting any eggs at all, there's the long process of waiting to see if they hatch, and then the anxious days and weeks of trying to keep the fledgelings alive.


With all that experience, the Wild Life people could probably give some expert advice to New Zealand's emerging film industry. Tony Williams, for instance, would have a fellow-feeling for the agonies, discouragements and disappointments of Mount Bruce. He's been part of the New Zealand film scene since the early Sixties when Pacific Films made Runaway and Don't Let It Get You. Both of those chickens were prematurely hatched into an unfavourable environment, and in spite of the very best breeding they failed to survive in such a hostile climate.


Now a breeder in his own right, Tony Williams has just nursed his own chick from embryo stage to the Point of its first flight. Those of us who want to see his film Solo take off and climb as high as it can go will be almost as tense with nervousness as Tony himself. For him, of course, there's the added complication that it comes so soon after Sleeping Dogs - the yardstick, whether we like it or not, for New Zealand films in the foreseable future. That's a pity. Solo and Sleeping Dogs have almost no point of comparison or similarity beyond their common origin. Sleeping Dogs relied on action and suspense for much of its strength. Solo is quiet, introspective, slow-moving and restrained. The pace and energy of Sleeping Dogs gave it a popular appeal which Solo doesn't set out to achieve by the same means. Its empty landscapes, individuals deeply concerned with their own problems and elliptical narrative style belong to a cinematic convention quite different from the straightforward dramatic technique of Sleeping Doge. Above all, the photography - picturesque but functional in Sleeping Dogs, poetic and moodily evocative in Solo - is a distinguishing feature.


Tony Williams wrote the original outline for the story, Martyn Sanderson (who plays one of the four main characters) then expanded it into a screenplay. Other members of the cast contributed ideas on treatment and development, making the finished film a reflection of their feelings and their attitude. For me, that seems to be the main weakness of Solo. It's long on emotional involvements and personal relationships, short on movement and dramatic conflict.


The four main characters - a flying fire warden in a State forest, his adolescent son, a firewatcher content to live almost literally in an ivory tower, and a girl hitch-hiker who enters their private worlds - all reflect different aspects of the film's enigmatic title Solo. The fire warden is a solo flyer, a solo parent and a solitary man; his son is a bit of a misfit in his peer group and has his own fantasy life; the firewatcher has cut himself off from reality in a search for communication with UFOs; and the hitch-hiker is enjoying being herself alone after a long boy-next-door engagement, with family encouragement.


These personal situations are fairly tenuous (even rather the stuff cliches are made of) to carry a full-length film. Their low-key artlessness is thrown into even greater relief by an encounter with two somewhat bizarre characters, a piano-playing gentleman farmer and his earthily eccentric wife who live in a rambling, richly-furnished mansion. With Davina Whitehouse as the wife, the whole sequence comes to life with a sort of comic grotesquerie unmatched by the film's other, more mundane attempts at sorting out its mixed-up misfits.


Whatever Solo lacks in its writing, however, it makes up for in its visual aspect. The photography is seldom less than beautiful and is frequently breath-taking in its splendour, particularly in the flying sequences and the aerial scenes. As a cameraman himself, one would expect Tony Williams to ensure that his film was pictorial delight. Solo does him proud from that point of view. I'm not so sure that it comes off so well in human terms, mainly because the story confines itself so single-mindedly to people who have deliberately isolated themselves from contact with other human beings.


- Peter Harcourt, Viewpoint, Radio New Zealand, reprinted with permission in Sequence, March 1978.



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