Erewhon: Filming nowhere

  • Laurence Simmons


Photographer Gavin Hipkins’ first feature film draws upon Samuel Butler’s anonymously published utopian satire Erewhon: Or, Over the Range (1872). It pairs a stream of evocative images with a voiceover narration from Butler’s text. In particular, it is in his exploration of Butler’s critique of the coming dominance of the machine in a post-industrial society that Hipkins’ film speaks to postcolonial New Zealand. Paradoxically, however, Hipkins employs the words of Butler’s text to free himself from the tyranny of narration and produce a film of continual interruptions, juxtapositions and breaks in perspective and mood. One moment we are asked to respond to the sublime grandeur of the New Zealand bush or mountainscape, the next to the banality of a rusted dripping pipe or a collection of car carcasses. Hipkins’ images acquire their power not because of their inherent qualities, but because they prove themselves to be transformable, that is, because they can enter into relations of composition with other images. Through its montage, Hipkins’ ‘cinema of thinking’ successfully combines the documentary nature of film—its recording—with its symbolic, evocative, ruminative capabilities, thus exemplifying Jean-Luc Godard’s dictum that all good fictions are documentaries and all good documentaries are fictions.


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How to Cite
Simmons, L. (2015). Erewhon: Filming nowhere. Pacific Journalism Review : Te Koakoa, 21(2), 33-43.