As part of the canon geography section of the atlas, I’m using the bfi “100 X Films” series. In 100 Cult Films, the entry for Bad Taste (1987) is especially curious. Ernest Mathijs introduces the Bad Taste entry with reference to Aussie Philip Brophy’s idea of “horrality”, noting that “the best possible instance of ‘horrality’ originated just around the corner: New Zealand’s Bad Taste” (16). So far so good, at least when it comes to geography and a distinct cultural provenance. But after this point, the New Zealand-ness of Bad Taste disappears into a universalised American-ness.

First, a strange reluctance to address the New Zealand government’s role in the film’s production, which is, if nothing else, weridly fascinating:

Four years in the making, Bad Taste was for the longest time just an amateur hobby-job of a devoted horror geek (Jackson). After funding was received to complete the film, it entered a professional market, where it made quite an impact.  (16-17)

In a battle of attrition, Jackson finally secured completion/editing funding from the New Zealand Film Commission. As Good Taste Made Bad Taste (the doco included in the Anchor Bay two-disc release) notes, Bad Taste was, for a number of years, the most profitable film made with NZFC money.

I’m baffled by a second point tha Mathijs makes. In his discussion of the film’s politics – which he accurately pegs as “all over the place” – anything resembling New Zealand politics disappears. Bad Taste’s “all over the place” politics are certainly on view in its engagements with the agricultural sector and fast food chain incursions, but I’m not quite sure Mathijs gets it right. First, he notes that “the apology for torture raised more than one eyebrow (but then again the Reaganite 1980s had seen worse)” (16). I may be an immigrant with a limited knowledge of New Zealand history, but I can say with total confidence that the NZ80s were not “Reaganite”. The tail end of Muldoon yes. Rogernomics most certainly so. But Reagan just isn’t in the equation. In fact, Reagan represents the very opposite of the NZ 80s: Labour came into government in 1984 largely because of a nuclear-free zone policy difference within National. The Rainbow Warrior bombing was in 1985. When New Zealand refused entry to a US ship with the capacity to launch nukes, Reagan suspended US obligations to ANZUS. You don’t find anyone thinking of the 80s in terms of Reagan here (and Thatcher‘s shadow is based on UK immigration).

Finally, I’d just note that the aliens farming humans for a fast food chain seems to me to be less a brief against the agricultural sector and more a commentary on the increased presence of multinational fast food chains. Bear in mind, New Zealand’s econony was (and is) strongest in the agricultural and extractive sectors. Take, for example, James Belich’s account of the “protein bridge”. When England joined the common market in the 1970s, New Zealand’s economy suffered a great deal. For all the tension between (rich) farmers and the people in the city, lamb and dairy are the key New Zealand exports. On the other hand, it wasn’t until 1971 that an American fast food chain showed up in New Zealand – and it was, would you believe, Kentucky Fried Chicken (McDonald‘s arrived in 1976 and Burger King in 1982). Human-farming goes hand in hand with the notion of what an intergalactic/multinational fast food chain’s appearance on the scene means to a small country on the periphery.

In many ways these little quibbles illustrate the familiar-but-not-quite-the-same nature of New Zealand to the other English-speaking nations. New Zealand can play the US (The Frighteners (1996)) or Middle Earth (LOTR (2001-2003)) or even Japan, like in The Last Samurai (2003)) but, like Los Angeles, it sometimes plays itself. When that happens, even in a deliriously sloppy and fairly apolitical piece of transcendant schlock, it pays to consider the New Zealand-ness of a NZ film.

I shall include this post in my paperwork for citizenship in ten months.

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