June 10, 2010

05.06: Home By Christmas

This is a bit of a mashed-up hybrid between being a documentary, a dramatisation and a home movie. Gaylene Preston takes conversations recorded with her father, Ed, about his experiences in World War II and re-enacts them with actor Tony Barry. We also have Martin Henderson and Gaylene's daughter Chelsie Preston-Crayford as young Ed and Tui, Gaylene's mother.

I thought going to see this at the Embassy would be a slightly strange experience for me. I used to work with Chelsie at the Embassy. And now there she is, in a major NZ movie release, playing her grandmother Tui, on the Embassy screen. But due in large part to the stylistic choices made by her mother, director Gaylene Preston, she’s barely a supporting role.

Its possibly due to budget constraints that there is absolutely no dramatisation of Ed’s war experiences, instead having them told with voice-over and archival footage and photographs (with Martin Henderson’s head photoshopped in). We get some sense of what it was like for those at home, as the brief sections with Chelsie and Ed Jr. are wonderful. But they are too brief to become fully involved in. I’m not sure how much Gaylene talked with her mother Tui about her experiences, but as presented here they almost feel like an aside. Or, more likely, she felt like she had laready covered them in her documentary, War Stories Our Mother's Never Told Us.

In the end, it may be that I, as an audience, is used to being shown more, but I couldn't completly connect with it. It feels a little too much like watching a talking heads documentary, with the camera on Ed just… sitting. I felt no movement, no life to it all. All of the truly interesting, intriguing pieces; such as Ed's experiences in Italy or as a POW, or Tui's brief flirtation or even the returrn home of Ed and the discomfort and upheaval that even that brings, are not given to us fully formed.

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