Guest Post: HOBBIT #1: An Unexpected Journey , Review – John Stringer.

December 31st, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

[There are NO spoilers here: we all know the story of The Hobbit].

I took Domestic Goddess to see this last night.  We watched the 48 frames per sec 3D version (there are three options) and this is the way to go, although 3D gives some people a headache. I loved it, there is no going back, and 3D/48 is the future (like talkies and colour TV).  The future is full immersion with the audience ‘inside’ the movie using 360 cameras (now achievable) and being able to shift yourself about as one of the characters with different perspectives (10 years time?).  I have already seen this done in live theatre with wrap around screens, projection and live performance.

Far o’er the Misty Mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold.

I WAS STUNNED.  This is the best cinematic experience I have ever had.  Peter Jackson is brilliant.  I’ve had occasional doubts about him (Lovely Bones) but this proves (or reproves) he is a true genius and can do anything with film. I have no hesitation calling him the greatest filmmaker and story-teller alive.  Guillermo del Toro (Hell Boy, Pan’s Labyrinth) also a great director, was originally hired to direct, but moved on after the union delays. I am so glad Jackson was hands-on here to complete the tale in his characteristic style. Hobbit #1 is another stunning classic in the canon of film and will forever be the crossover movie into 48 frames.  Andy Serkis (Gollum) managed the second film unit, so establishes himself as a close Jackson colleague, having starred in many Jackson productions.

Sequel Syndrome Challenges

Telling The Hobbit on the tail of LoTRings is a daunting task.  Most sequels flop or arrive as re-hashed re-grooves.  But The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a completely new experience, with a different but complementary ‘feel’ to LotRings.  It is doubly awkward, because it comes before LotRings, so Jackson is working backwards with characters and plot. He fleshes out the Shire and Rivendell more within their contexts.  Gandalf is more wizened here and quirky (less the austere all-powerful wizard) and a maia with much more personality and obvious weaknesses. There are five mysterious maiar in Middle-Earth: Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown, Saurman the White and two unnamed others.

Pace

The movie starts slowly as narrative, but this is fine, as we spend 20 minutes establishing rich characters (Bilbo and the dwarves).  Jackson fleshes out the Hobbit dwarves more deeply as a people (tinkers, tailors, toy makers, their lust for gold, their vulgarity and stubbornness) in contrast to the lithe gracefulness of the elves. Hob1 is perfectly paced, with action, back story, flashback, and appropriately placed drama roller coasters. One is never bored.

Characters

Martin Freeman (Bilbo) channels Ian Holm (Bilbo in LoTR) to create a seamless transition between the two actors. Ian Holm is in this too, as the older Bilbo in the first 20 minutes, along with Elijah Wood as Frodo to establish the latter’s connection to the earlier story, when in the book he is not present. Freeman is perhaps best know to us from The Office (UK). I was dubious about his casting at first, but he is fantastic. Hugo Weaving returns as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as the magnificent Lady Galadriel with gorgeous dresses.

Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain has a nemesis. Azog is a pale, scarred orc captain who rides a warg, visceral and threatening, like some zombie SS Einsatzgruppen at work in Poland. His son Bolg features later in the Hobbit story.

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield (so-named after fighting Azog with a real log of oak) is perhaps a little pretty for me here, with his Jesus eyes; he also sounds very like Boromir which I found distracting.  I would have cast him more bulbous-nosed, stumpy and war-scarred (not Fabio meets Conan).  Bombur looks like a cartoon Obelix, but otherwise the dwarves are brilliant, with Mark Hadlow of Christchurch the dwarf with plaited white hair.  Jackson captures the essence of Tolkien’s dwarves, with their Celtic livery, accents and roguish lustiness. I love their head-butting greeting. They are best characterized as a dwarfish army in a flash back to a great battle with the orcs, where we witness classic Tolkien epic brought to visual extravaganza.  The allusion of the dwarves to the Jewish Diaspora is obvious (which I have written on elsewhere) as well as the adoption of Jewish mythical “golem.”

Barry Humphreys (Dame Eda) unrecognizable as the Goblin King is brilliant with his hideous neck goiter.  His voice and dialogue is gripping, and ghastly, evoking chilling isolated terror of being caught down there in his kingdom with nowhere to go, in the hands of some psychopathic serial killer who will kill you long and slow.  Ugh.  (“Be good children, or the goblins will get you!”). His demise by Gandalf is apt. The variety and design of the goblins is great. I loved the messenger goblin with deformed feet on a flying fox.  The goblins (small orcs) with their long ears are well characterised (if moving a little too quickly for my eyes).  I would have preferred more medieval hoods and armor much like they were portrayed in Labyrinth (David Bowie) but this is Jackson’s style.

Gollum is a real star in this, and obviously should be.  His character and schizophrenia are crafted more and he is portrayed a little blacker than in LotRings and slightly more dangerous, perhaps with the added confidence of having his Ring. The riddle scene with Bilbo is critical and Jackson carries this off.  There is a gut-wrenching scene where Gollum has lost Precious (after 500 years) and is arched, gasping desperately at the water’s edge, lamenting the loss of his everything and all.

I don’t know what happened to Christopher Lee’s Saruman in this movie, he is pallid and ordinary, like a school headmaster lecturing a student on his way to a fancy dress party.

Special Effects CGI

The special effects are amazing, but 48 frames a second is unforgiving and a few fakes are evident.

  1. The two heavy axes on the bald dwarf’s back appear obviously plastic at times, they sway and move as if light.
  2. Hobbit feet seem prosthetic and rigidly clumsy at moments.

However, the covering of horses in wool and packing them out to make them seem like little ponies as the company ride out of the Shire is brilliantly convincing.  I am not a huge fan of CGI.  Most CGI creations move too quickly, to mask the limitations of the technology; I would have liked the orcs and wargs to slow down a bit so I can take them in. The underground dwarf kingdoms contrasted with the ramshackle maggot labyrinths of the goblins, also underground, are among the most startling special effects and cinematography of the film (and rival LotRings) are gob dropping in their sweep and creativity.

Jackson does well to restrain Smaug in Hobbit #1; we get only tantalizing glimpses, and never a full view, but enough to evoke the terror and power of this Fire Drake from the North, of which more later.The three stone trolls are brilliant and just how Tolkien wrote them.  I enjoyed this episode for its humor and fleshing out trolls more as viable creatures with personality rather than as mindless oxen of LoTRings.

Gawihir Windlord and his wonderful giant eagles are again the cavalry hooray factor, and they play across the other star in this show, New Zealand, with gorgeous sweeping vistas and landscapes (no need for CGI here).  Jackson uses visual hyperbole: precipices drop not hundreds of feet but thousands, toppling trees hang inches from chasms, destinations lay on horizons swathed in mist, etc.

Drama

There are moments of real dramatic pathos here, although the film lacks a romantic element (like Arwen and Aragorn) hinted at only slightly by collegial affection between Galadriel and Gandalf.  The two moments that stand out for me, are:

1) BIlbo invisible with the ring on about to stab Gollum through the throat, who cannot see, but senses the hobbit.  They stare at each other full of loss, hatred, desperation, fear, loathing, compassion all-in-one. This evokes the central line of the movie, spoken by Gandalf at the beginning, “true courage is to know when not to take a life” obviously setting up Gollum’s critical role in the whole long epic.  Frodo confronts the same crossroads. Bilbo’s insight and compassion are moving, a lesson to us all.

2) The second scene is similar, as Thorin and Azog eye each other up in the dramatic forest burning scene.  Thorin heir of Durin marches magnificently towards Azog through fire, like the Terminator, to avenge his fathers, a gripping moment of goody vs baddy that ends not quite as you expect.

Weak scenes

A few implausible scenes that bordered on the annoying rollicking of Tintin:

1) Toppling down in to the goblin tunnel that no one would have survived.  Not one compound fracture; are dwarves made of concrete?

2) The collapsing platform inside the goblin kingdom with everyone onboard, after mass slaying of goblins, is too Indiana Jones. We need plausibility to create real terror throughout the epic.  If they survive anything, it becomes ho hum. Good fantasy is ‘real.’

3) The Stone Giants scene was a bit slo. mo. Transformers for me, and the characters hanging on to them as Ragnarock is played out, might have been best edited out of the movie.  Although, how can you omit the Stone Giants smashing mountains?

Myopic

Somewhat contradictory, I still enjoyed the Disney-esque rabbit Santa sleigh of Radagast the Brown.  He is a wonderful character, and adds breadth to Gandalf’s valar order.  Radagast played by Sylvester McCoy (the 7th Dr Who) is reminiscent of Catweazel played by Robin Davies. I especially enjoyed the assault on his quaint dilapidated forest cottage by large shadowy spiders, a hint of things to come. He adds real humor while contrasting completely the sinister yet mysterious Necromancer in the ruined tower (the Witch King of Angmar returned) that preoccupies Galadriel so much.

There is no Jackson cameo here, that I could see.  Also, Radagast is using Gandalf’s staff from the LotRings movies.  I don’t know if this is significant to later Hobbit films, or whether it was an unnoticed prop share between the actors (unlikely).  So watch for that in Hob#2.

Music and Title Lettering

Light reflecting across uneven (ie handmade) brassy title  lettering in Tolkien script, tick. Theme sung by Neil Finn, excellent.  I liked how Jackson sub-titled his movie “An Unexpected Journey” about 20 minutes in, the dual titles and how they fitted with LotR three sub-titles was always going to be problematic.  Jackson’s ability to chop visual story-telling into related and coherent chapters is one of his strengths.

Length and How to End Hob#1?

I wondered how Jackson could spin this out across three movies, but he achieves this admirably.  Hob#1 is a coherent self-contained movie in its own right, but obviously part of a whole.  It has its own drama (fights, the riddle episode, the three stone trolls, the burning forest, the goblin kingdom) and we await so much more: Beorn, the Battle of Five Armies, Smaug, Dale, the Lonely Mountain. This is such a rich and deep tale that it can easy stretch three movies (good on New Line Cinema for agreeing to that).

But how to end Hob#1?  I wondered as we drew to a close how Jackson might do this.  I won’t spoil this for you, but let’s just say it is a genius segue to LotRings but using the context of the Hobbit with an eye for detail.  Nuff said.

This was so good I would go back the next day and watch it all again.  Enthusiastic 10/10. I recommend 3D 48 frames version (take your glasses to save $1).

Looking forward to Hobbit #2 next Christmas.

BASIC STORY for the Uninitiated: Hobbit #1

  • Dwarves live in magnificent opulent kingdoms of power and wealth underground toiling and mining.
  • They are corrupted by lust for gold and the jewel Arkenstone (the heart of a mountain).
  • A fire drake name of Smaug attacks the realm of the Dwarves like a flaming Exocet missile entering a terrorist bunker.
  • Dwarves flee and are dispossessed (sack of Jerusalem 70AD by the Romans).
  • Smaug snuggles into a mountain of gold and gems plunder (Scrooge McDuck’s swimming pool of money).
  • Not heard of for 60 years.
  • Durin’s-heir Thorin Oakenshield  gathers willing dwarves to seek to retake their homeland.
  • Birds have started returning to the Lonely mountain, a prophetic sign the dragon will be dispossessed.
  • No one will help.  Enmity between dwarves and elves for past grievances.
  • Gandalf gathers 13 dwarves and 1 hobbit (Bilbo).
  • Adventures on the way towards the Lonely Mountain and Smaug’s stolen lair with monsters and battles.
  • While lost in the heart of the mountain and the goblin kingdom, Bilbo meets an unusual creature called Gollum in a fetid lake.

He finds a magical invisible-making ring, the possession of Gollum for 500 years.

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Cartoon – 2 November 2012

November 2nd, 2012 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

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Guest Post: Living with Dementia (my story)

October 27th, 2012 at 4:43 pm by David Farrar

A guest post from John Stringer:

This is my Mum, aged 75.  She has advanced alzheimers (dementia). Her memory is about 5 seconds long. She does not know who I am, who she is, where she is, yet we still have a meaningful and loving relationship. My youngest sister and I have just won Joint-Guardianship and Administration of her with the support of the WA Government and Attorney’s Office.  If you’re living with dementia, or about to confront it, read more below the photo. This is our story.

My Mum and I have always been close.  We had long and intelligent conversations about life, God, the world and people. We wrote to each other a lot about literature and history. We’re both melancholic personalities which leads one to pondering life’s deep waters. But that is all changed now.  Mum is gone, and someone else is in her body.  Her personality is different.  Her memory is staccato, but otherwise she is in perfect health, walks, and is very sociable.  She is also very loving.

Sometimes she thinks I’m her father.  She asks constantly if I have a girlfriend or a wife?  She has no idea she lives in Perth, Australia; thinks she is in Christchurch, NZ, where she lived most of her life and raised her family of four children. She has no idea she had children or was married.  I still travel the 5000 km to see her and my youngest sister, when I can, because it’s so worth it.

Y’see, it’s not about me.  It’s about her; honouring her memory and her integrity now as a person.  It doesn’t matter that she can’t remember me.  I am caring for her now, like she did for me and my twin sister and siblings when we were mewling, puking and needed our nappies changed. Her love was unconditional then, mine is now. This is the transaction of life for the unselfish.

If you can do this, and accept dementia as simply a wearing out of the body, like eyesight, or mobility, and adapt philosophically to change, you can cope with alzheimers.  Love conquers all. It’s possible to maintain a loving and rich relationship with your demented parent.

One of the tricks to being with dementia sufferers is “white lies.”  Dementia patients are deluded and their minds live in fantasies and incongruities (that they are eight, that they are going home to a long-dead mother).  It is best to play along, because establishing “the facts” is inappropriate to their worn out brain and causes them distress and confusion. In conversation with my Mother I play along, “Oh yes, I am married, we have seven children,”  ”yes, I have a girlfriend…several [laughter],”  ”I have a proper job,”  ’I’m a pilot,” “I’m a doctor,” “yes, we are in New Zealand, not Australia,”  ’We’ll go home after lunch,” etc.  As a Christian I have no moral dilemma with this.  My mother always had a sophisticated sense of humour and multi-levelled conversations.

Dementia sufferers regress.  They progressively become 60, 40, 10 etc.  and memories before these ages disappear as their memory banks progressively erode.  After a while they are “too young to be married, “are eight living with their parents,” until eventually they become babies again.  This is what alzheimers does.  So I live in the past with my mother, within memories my mother still has: old places and people she knew, school, favourite holidays, an old bach, her parents, etc.

I can talk for hours with my mother in this way.  We laugh and joke,  She scolds me, or cracks puns.  We do jigsaws, play cards, we frequently hold hands and hug.  She gets lots of kisses, because regardless of what she does or doesn’t remember, and who she is now, she still deserves to be loved by me, now.  And I will do everything I can to make this five second moment happy for her.  It is of no consequence that she will forget it within a breath, and have no memory of me after I leave her, happily tucking into lunch.

Alzheimers patients suffer from a special syndrome called “the sundowner effect.”  This occurs between 4 – 7pm when the sun starts to wain.  They become anxious and want to pack up and go home, so they can feel secure.  It is a common emotion in children, who were perhaps collected late from school by a parent or from Cubs as it started to get dark.  It relates to a threat of abandonment and not being loved.  This time period requires daily attention, and this is where families are needed, to assist staff in homes who cannot necessarily cope with everyone one-on-one.  We rostered family to converge their visits to my mother at this time, to lessen effects.  Sometimes they can be violent and become very agitated.  This is where you can draw in old friends (of theirs) or of yours who had connections with your parent.  Short sweet visits are best (so its not too onerous for them) and they feel able to come reasonably frequently. A 15 minute visit once a week is better than none at all.

If you’re not a talker, like me, there are other things you can do.  Sing songs with them, take them for a drive (they enjoy looking at things).  Take them to a weekly church service, for a walk to the shops, bring them while you get your groceries.  Just include your parent in daily activities.  Home for a Sunday lunch is a simple idea, but avoid busy children and noise as this can distress dementia patients who struggle to make sense of it all.

Other things we’ve done, is laminate ‘photo trees’ of her family with big captions on her wall.  ”My son John.” These create great circular talking points. Also put up big photos of older familiar places with captions.  “My home at Tuam Street” (when she was a child).  Mum remembers these (for now) and the familiarity is reassuring to her.  Have  a TV with dvds of favourite programmes (Coronation St) that can loop in their room. Picture books are good, they like flipping through and exercising their mind trying to work out “whale,” “pussy cat,” etc and this can prompt conversation between you.

A fish tank in their room can be good, they can look at the fish for ages. Pets are excellent. A cat or stroking a communal dog brings great joy.

Security is a big issue.  While my mother remembers little, she still had the presence of mind to memorize the exterior door pad code, and escape.  This led to several very dangerous physical incidents for my mother and to something of a crisis in our family.  She eventually got to a home which is now so secure she can never get out, unless we take her. My mother had seven homes in seven years and this was extremely dislocating for her condition.  She was also taking her heritage jewelry off (ie rings or brooches owned by her mother) and these can disappear (sometimes pilfered by other visitors or staff).  So, we took many of these away for safe-keeping or repatriated them to members of the family to whom they were significant.  This is better than having them lost or stolen.

As well as taking off their jewelry, sometimes patients will take off their clothes. That’s why it’s important to check the quality and personality of the staff in the home you select for your parent, if they are no longer able to live with you at home (which many attempt).  Does the home have an imbalance of immigrant staff on low wages (and therefore perhaps on low wages)?  are the professional staff balanced with a  variety of older men and women with senior qualifications? What is the ratio to staff and residents (my Mum is in a unit with 5 others, in a village of five other units, a total of 25).  This provides good one-on-one care.  Visit several times and get to know the nurses, cleaning staff, cook.  Observe their interaction with residents.  Visit several times before committing. Are they loving compassionate generous people? This is your parent you’re choosing for, so be thorough.

We first noticed Mum’s alzheimers when she asked if we wanted a cup of tea and forgot to make it, then asked us again. She has had the disease now for seven years. It is not only an old person’s condition; people in their forties get it.

As she began to progress, I gave my mother a hardbound ‘Notebook’ of her own, to diary her journey for her grandchildren, before her memory was too far gone,  This gave us a valuable final epistle from the mother we were losing, before we gained a new one, lost in the fogs of time.

My Mum is gone, but she’s still here. It need not be seen as a traumatic curse to be avoided, mourned or resisted.  Just go with it, for your and their sake.  Life is full of struggles, and you can make it work for you and them in this difficult time of life.  How you deal with things, and your attitudes (never get frustrated or ‘blame; them for their condition, or ‘correct ‘ their memory) is as affecting as their condition.  And don’t take it personally.  Your ability to compensate and continue loving your parent is about the quality of your character, not theirs.

Alzheimers sufferers often manifest the attributes and character they had in life, and these traits can accentuate.  If they were kind and patient, they will be more so.  Bitter selfish people tend to become a problem when dementia sets in, and some men can become lecherous. It is a lesson about the richness of values throughout life.

There are dozens of dementia support groups and societies. Other resources I would recommend to you include the movie The Notebook (2004), and Louis Theroux’s BBC series “Extreme Love: Dementia.”  If any of your are struggling, I am happy to talk and help you out (contact me at http://conzervative.wordpress.com).

~ John Stringer (Christchurch).

Thanks John for such a personal sharing.

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Cartoon John Stringer 14 October 2012

October 14th, 2012 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Cartoon 12 October 2012 – John Stringer

October 12th, 2012 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Prometheus Review – John Stringer

June 8th, 2012 at 3:45 pm by Kokila Patel

 

PROMETHEUS [Review]. John Stringer.

As a fan of the Alien franchise, Ridley Scott and James Cameron, I went and saw this tonight. Special effects by Weta.

It is great, but the plot has some holes. It’s a believable storyline, the pre-humans are excellent (they look like Pre-Raphaelite Silver Surfers – gaydom will be drooling), and the Aliens are awesome as usual. Not as scary as Alien I-III (no corridors with big slimy toothy crustaceans chasing you). The best thing about the movie is it ties together several of the Alien story pieces and explains: what the Aliens are (think other-world weapons of mass destruction and Iraq invasion allusions); how humans got to earth; and what/how the ‘alien’ space ship is from Alien 1.
Explanation (you need this). The opening sequence (don’t be late) is one of the human ancestors (“Engineers”) seeding his DNA on the earth at the dawn of time, perhaps Niagara Falls, NOT on an alien planet. Not that well explained visually which led to confusion. The black stuff in the movie seems to be Pre-Raf Ancestor DNA but has been invaded by those messy Aliens in their various life-cycles who swim around in it (we get a new one in this film, a hooded-cobra phase. They start tiny, and like eyeballs).

Prometheus, the Greek Titan, stole fire from the gods by trickery and seeded it to man on earth, viz ‘gods’ dna in this movie. The ship in The Matrix was the Nebuchadnessar, evoking madness from God.

A nice Creation/faith sub-plot centered around a Christian cross necklace (usually an anathema to Hollywood). “After everything, you still believe?” (a bit of a rip off from The Matrix). Sci Fi borrows heavily from the Bible, and this story is basically the “Sons of God” intrigue of Genesis 6.
The characters are not that strong, just ok (the fighting-daddy complex is a bit tired, played by “David” of Kings Speech [Guy Pearce]. There is another “David” here too, ie the giant slayer of Old Testament, Michael Fassbender [Mission Robot] – a reworking of Spock-who steals the show). Ultra aggressive red head Irish uptight geologist had potential, but is eaten early. He comes back though, as Wolverine on speed.

They all had great potential (especially the Captain and his Japanese Sulu) with better scripting, and CharlizeTheron is a bit wasted here. Her end by giant do-nut is good though.

The allusions to the earlier Aliens films are fab. For groupies like me (archaeology runes; deep sleep pods; long dripping dark tunnels; mission android gets head ripped off; acid blood; alien and heroine in the pod unexpectedly together; etc).

It is not as scary, but quite visceral (a self-caesarian section is pretty dramatic stuff) but in the end I wasn’t with the heroine as much as Sigourney fighting to survive and saving children. At least this femme fatale wasn’t the gorgeous tall Amazonian cliche so many Sci Fi.s wimp out on (like “Alien vs Predator Requiem”). She’s just a confused but persevering Seeker not a kick-butt Barbwire Babe (sigh of relief).

Best line: “distance from earth 3.7m x 10 power of 4″ screen text. Some great Alien close-ups and fight scenes (not shadows and darkness on this one Bug-eyed Monster lovers). You’ll never eat squid again.

Held me all the way, but missed some of its queues, mainly in the dialogue and character development, and overall, potential was missed. But definitely worth seeing. 7/10.

Avengers is better.

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Cartoon 14 May 2012

May 14th, 2012 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword Answers 13 April 2012

April 14th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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13 April 2012 Cartoon

April 13th, 2012 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

UPDATE – Cartoon included. Sorry folks – Kokila Patel

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Crossword Answers 6 April 2012

April 7th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Cartoon 6 April 2012

April 6th, 2012 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword 6 April 2012

April 6th, 2012 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Answers tomorrow at 7 am

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Crossword Answers 30 March 2012

March 31st, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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It’s Tax return time again!

March 30th, 2012 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword 30 March 2012

March 30th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer – Answers tomorrow at 7 am

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Crossword Answers 23 March 2012

March 24th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword 23 March 2012

March 23rd, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer. Answers tomorrow at 7 am

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Crossword Answers 16 March 2012

March 18th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword – 16 March 2012

March 17th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer, Answers on Monday, 7 am

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Crossword Answers 9 March 2012

March 12th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

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Crossword 9 March 2012

March 9th, 2012 at 7:00 am by Kokila Patel

The return of John Stringer. Update – Answers 12/3/2012 at 7 am

 

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Guest Post: Rebuilding Christchurch following 22/2

March 6th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by John Stringer:

I’m no architect, but I know a bit about art and culture and was born and bred in Christchurch. I grafted my young children here from Kapiti so they too could be ‘Cantabs’ under this sprawling big sky. I adore Christchurch and have made considerable sacrifices to remain here, and  was a parliamentary candidate for Christchurch Central in the late nineties. The confused demolition of the classic Sydenham Heritage Church (1878) a southern gateway to inner Christchurch (on Colombo & Brougham Streets) has pained me on top of all the other complex emotions of 22/2.

Heritage takes perhaps 100 years to set. Simply bowling Christchurch over and starting again will dislocate us from cultural anchoring points intrinsic to our being and history. Retention and restoration are important to healing and recovery –seeing familiarity restored, like an amputee receiving an artificial limb. Who would not restore the toppled statues of Godley and Scott?  Why then, not iconic buildings? While there is an exciting opportunity to rebuild with fresh vision, we must retain the core of what Christchurch is, architecturally.

Cultural iconography has to be a selected snap shot of time (for us mid-nineteenth century neo-gothic Victorian) otherwise cities are an unfocussed mash of everything and nothing. 
Tourists come to take pictures of the Arts Centre and the Christ Church cathedral, not the Forsyth Barr building.  We have trams, Avon punts, Christ’s College –all icons of identity and heritage.  Restoration is vital.

Perhaps our best exemplar is Dresden’s Frauenkirche, the iconic “Church of Our Lady” at the center of their city obliterated in WWII.  This building was lovingly restored from almost nothing, as the architectural heart of Dresden. This was an obvious – and no doubt expensive – piece of cultural healing and identification; holding on to an element of the past to anchor the future.  Human beings do not do well in cultural vacuums. We need reference points.

Many of our old buildings survived: the Jubilee Clock Tower on Victoria Street, much of the Arts Centre, the Museum, many of our old churches (St Albans Union at Merivale; St Mary’s a few blocks down; the Catholic Basilica on Barbadoes St– perhaps out most attractive building) and many did not. Restoration is achievable, but so is fusion. As with Kirkaldie & Stains’ fascade in Lambton Quay, Wellington. Restoration along with faked facades behind which safe modern buildings are constructed, might be a symbiosis pleasing to most: Christ Church cathedral and the Chalice – traditional and contemporary side-by-side, like grandparent and grandchild supporting each other. Eradicate the one, and the other is lessoned, a lesson to us all.

It is not simply an issue of safety.  Older buildings can be strengthened and made safe. My alma mater the red brick Christchurch Boys’ High School was largely unaffected in the quake due to strengthening.

It need not be an argument between traditionalist and progressive. Fusion is the key.  We should restore, strengthen as much of our heritage as we can preserve, and in the grey areas, retain facades at street level with modern buildings behind.

Change, however, is inevitable, and perhaps it is time to review emphases in different parts of the city.  My own thoughts are: that the eastern suburbs (Parklands, Bexley) could be thinned by natural attrition (no one should be forced away) and perhaps this area of Christchurch refocused as recreational serving city-wide sports needs with centralized hockey, cricket, rugby and soccer fields and mountain biking (already an emphasis at Bottle Lake).  Large grassed fields slotted in amongst retained housing would be well served by the existing ring roads to these areas, such as QEII Drive. It would also lesson traffic congestion around Hagley Park and Harper & Deans Avenues. The obvious beach, and attractive wetlands, already lends itself as an enhanced recreational and leisure focus nestled naturally amongst less residential intensity.  This reduces risk to human life in the event of more earthquakes, floods or tsunami.

Rather than rebuild, I would thin the CBD out (especially Cathedral Square) with small parks to set tall buildings back astride grassed areas with fountains and people friendly contexts.  New York has done this very successfully. This creates more natural space and light, for cafes, tourism, open air events like the Buskers’ festival (why jam these into Cathedral Square and the Arts Centre?).

I would extend the CBD into Sydenham-Addington with central government-subsidized commercial rentals to help re-establish small businesses lost in the CBD, and to grow new enterprises.  This area is already bisected by the railway line and rail station. Shouldn’t this be a natural hub for the city?  The trams could easily extend into this part of town traversing the new parks named after significant Canterbury events or personages, enhancing our sense of heritage as done with Latimer & Cranmer Squares reflecting our Anglican heritage. These new parks might be named: “4 Sept,” “22 Feb,”  “Crusader,” or perhaps after historic battlefields where the 1st and 20th Canterbury Battalions played decisive roles: “Suvla Bay,” “Messines,” etc. (as the French have done in Paris with “Bir Hacheim” metro station).  Our CBD would then be defined between Rolleston Ave (which I would extend across the river by the hospital into Antigua Street, renamed Rolleston Ave South), Brougham St, Fitzgerald Ave and Bealey Ave.

I would push Deans Ave south to Hazeldean St and into Lincoln Rd to create a second ‘Moorhouse’ lateral into the expanded Addington-Sydenham CBD.  This area is already flanked by Hagley Park, and is zoned commercial with little residential. It has an existing major west-east arterial motorway creating a rapid egress from the city to the south as well as the railway.  These suburbs are also traditionally lower socio-economic. What better a commemoration of the earthquake than to re-create this part of Christchurch as a new economic boon sector reflective of Merivale and Fendalton their counterparts on the other side of the Park.

There are huge opportunities.  The challenge is not to become bogged down in reactionary arguments (the Moore sheep sculpture on the Port Hills; the Chalice; the Millennium Bridge; or inter-suburban parochialism). Rather, to have a wide creative response that fuses a breadth of aesthetic opinion and culture reflective of Christchurch’s diversity while retaining our intrinsic raison d’être – the architectural vision of our city’s Victorian founders

 

John Stringer is an ex-Anglican pastor of the Christchurch Dioceses under license to the Bishop. He is an international author who lost everything at Mt Pleasant on 22/2 (house, business, car and job) and now lives in rental accommodation in St Albans with his wife Laurie.

Demolished after 144 years. St Albans Methodist Sunday School (behind the late nineteenth-century church) at Merivale, corner Papanui Rd and Rugby St, 1902 rebuilt after the 1868 fire. Damaged 4 Sept 2010 and 22 Feb. 2011 and finally demolished Jan. 2012.  Photos: John Stringer.

Dresden’s Frauenkirche basilica before and after restoration (the black blocks in the left image are original). Photos: public domain.

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