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Sport 28: Autumn 2002

Undisclosed Destination

Undisclosed Destination

Chartered buses were waiting outside the theatre at 11 p.m. to bear invited guests off into the night, heading towards the official opening-night party, its tables laden with hobbit party-food and a sample hobbit house for guests to explore. Security around the undisclosed destination—Jackson's Miramar film studio—was almost military in its organisation, hoopla befitting a function confidently labelled ‘the party of the year’ by the New Zealand Herald the following morning. Although even here the feeling lingered that the film didn't exist for the crowd page 108 at the screening. Rather, it existed for those out on the street, in the wind and rain, all the teenagers in their baggy shorts and hooded jackets; Baxter's nga tamariki, those happily rained upon and kept waiting and overjoyed in spite of it all. It was the women in evening gowns, remember, who were climbing out the theatre window to be with them—not the other way around.

And so a long night merged into a long morning. 19 and 20 December 2001. A book was launched, a film began its journey from the projector lens to the expectant screen at the other end of the theatre. Both were works of the imagination and spirit, the difference, in the end, being one of scale and process. While the young Baxter disappeared into his solitary place to create: ‘I, in my fuggy room at the top of the stairs, / A thirteen-year-old schizophrene, / Write poems, wish to die …’, Peter Jackson choppered from location to location, assisted by a crew of thousands and with $600,000,000 of someone else's money to float the boat.

And while the young Baxter worried that his poems lacked ‘the kernel of actual experiential knowledge [and] revealed no life but dream’, Peter Jackson managed to create a universe that was, at once, a life as it might be dreamt and a dream lived. Exploiting the hyperproduction values that typify Hollywood, the Rings production team enlisted all manner of special effects as a means of delivering their imaginative world to its audience. In a remarkably similar fashion, the Western literary canon was the young Baxter's ‘Hollywood’, with its studio/workshop crammed full of devices, special effects and virtuosic techniques. The difference is that this phantasmagoria of beasts and mythical figures, arcane symbols and heightened language—Baxter's ‘special effects’—only serve to remove the production from its audience (or so it feels in the present era). The kind of excess the film industry thrives on, poetry can only suffer beneath. However, as any reading through Baxter's Collected Poems makes clear, the quarter century of poetic output that followed the years of the Baxter-Ginn correspondence could be considered a triumphant exercise in the removal of such effects, a reduction to essence.

Waihi Beach, 22 December 2001