I sent in five proposals for MLA Chicago 2014. On the one hand, even though I’m resigned to having no legit academic career, I go through phases in which I at least try to do the things that adjuncts are supposed to do to keep open the possibility of maybe some day winning the lottery and getting a permanent position. Otherwise, why would I be eager to fly from my new home in Brisbane, average low of damn near 21 celsius in January, to Chicago and its average January temperature of 1 to 10 degrees below zero celsius? In fact, since I moved away from Illinois in 2001, I have yet to return during the summer – it’s been Christmas and January visits every time.

This is my abstract/promise to The American Association of Australasian Literary Studies’ call:

“Sam Neill’s The Cinema of Unease, The Christchurch That Was Then, and the Christchurch That Was Now”

In the first ten minutes or so of Sam Neill’s 1996 documentary about New Zealand cinema, The Cinema of Unease: A Personal Journey By Sam Neill, Sam travels around Christchurch. Lyttelton, Summit Road, “virtually comatose” Cashmere, Riccarton Road, and Cathedral Square with its cinemas that connected New Zealand to the world – the Avon, the Regent, the Tivoli, and the Crystal Palace. Sam recalls Christchurch’s repressed, repressive past in terms of his cinema-going – “unofficially, of all things the Army was brought in, truckloads of conscripts were quietly trucked in here one Friday night with orders to beat the shit out of anyone who didn’t look exactly Four Square. Which they did. Cathedral Square was safe again and New Zealand a duller place for it.” The Avon shut in 1989. The Regent burned down in 1979. The Tivoli closed in 1995. The Crystal Plaza was demolished in 1986. On 22 February 2011, Cathedral Square proved not to be safe and the Army returned to Christchurch after the worst of a series of earthquakes that killed more than 175 people.

Sam Neill’s film performs a new historical function now. The near-total destruction of Christchurch’s central business district colours the edge of the frame, generating a new unease in The Cinema of Unease. Christchurch is not a heavily filmed city for non-New Zealand eyes – American audiences would have seen Heavenly Creatures (Cashmere) and The Frighteners (Lyttelton). As Sam remembers the nation that was and looks at the nation that has emerged since the 1950s, the brief glimpses of the new old Christchurch peek out, not dressed up to look like the 1950s Sam critiques, as in Heavenly Creatures, but as the lived-in city Sam walked in 1996. Sam Neill was more prophetic than he knew when he rooted his argument about New Zealand unease in the cinemas of Christchurch’s Cathedral Square. With photos of the locations Sam visited in the Christchurch of 2013, I will confront the way in which a particularly Christchurch New Zealand identity has grown more distinct, and more uneasy.

Cinema of Unease 2

Cinema of Unease 3

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