Edge of The Earth; Stories and Images from the Antipodes
Vincent Ward (with Alison Carter, Geoff Chapple and Louis Nowra),
Reed, Auckland, 1990, $34.95
The appearance and title of this loosely strung together collection of prose pieces, photographs and film stills, make it difficult to avoid the impression that the book may have been intended for the coffee tables of some other country than that of its author, film-maker Vincent Ward. It’s an impression which the effusive but odd introduction by John Boorman (‘Has not every child’, he asks, ‘dug specially deep in the sand of an English beach and felt the dread of falling into New Zealand?’ Well, frankly John … ) does little to mitigate. But despite being printed on twice as much paper as is strictly necessary, Ward’s brief, mainly autobiographical narratives contain moments of genuine power. His account of his stay amongst Tuhoe in the Ureweras, and his relationship with the old woman Puhi and her ‘schizophrenic’ son (who became the subjects of In Spring One Plants Alone) is one of these – an unsentimentalised description both of a harsh existence and of the dilemmas inherent in Ward’s own position as outsider, Pakeha and film-maker. ‘A Prelude’ is a tantalizingly brief account of the histories of Ward’s own parents, particularly that of his mother. Her story travels to New Zealand by way of Germany and Palestine, and it is beautifully illuminated by photographs culled from family albums – photographs whose blurring, scratches and torn edges mirror eloquently the losses as they suggest a likely source for Ward’s own devotion to the vivid, iconic visual image. The book’s remaining pieces chronicle the making of Ward’s own fictions Vigil and The Navigator, and, for enthusiasts of the latter, The Navigator receives a prose incarnation in pseudo-medieval form in ‘The Monk’s Codex’.
Alison Glenny is a recent graduate in English from Victoria University of Wellington.