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Sport 28: Autumn 2002

Barefoot and Bearded Men

Barefoot and Bearded Men

At one point during the film, with the hobbits and entourage traipsing along an upper ridge of the Southern Alps, I was almost waiting for the voice-over to break into a stirring recitation of Baxter's ‘High Country Weather’ (with some Lilburn-esque strings welling beneath).

Alongside the lilywhite Frodo-Baggins-esque youthful Baxter, the later, bearded Baxter would be equally at home in the Jackson/Tolkien page 106 rendition of New Zealand, with its moral imperatives, its mystical highs and subterranean, industrialist lows. The barefoot, journeyman hobbits setting off across rugged terrain bring to mind barefoot Baxter c.1970 striding up the River Road to Hiruharama via Koriniti. (Infact, Peter Jackson shares the poet's famous predilection for bare feet, and insisted on directing much of the filming barefooted—which led to the cast nicknaming him ‘the Hobbit’.)

In the best Baxterian tradition, Peter Jackson on opening night in Wellington arrived at the far end of the red rain-drenched carpet dressed casually, his hair and beard in characteristic disarray. And so he appeared on the front page of the following morning's Dominion—this darker version of Santa who, as is now well-known, in recent months employed around 2400 elves in his Wellington studio, injected many millions of dollars into the local economy and was now about to bestow his biggest present on the population just one week before Christmas: The Fellowship of the Ring.

If Baxter strove to be a ‘man of the people’, Jackson inadvertently and graciously walked into that role—in purple shirt and black trousers, ambling towards the Embassy. And so it was at the Paramount Theatre a hundred metres back along Courtenay Place (where the guests that couldn't fit into the Embassy were seated) that elegantly dressed women started climbing out the toilet window to glimpse this bowing, bearded figure as he moved slowly theatre-wards, handing out signatures like Christmas gifts to the whooping, cheering, generally ecstatic populace.

While Jackson was expected to accelerate down that runway to cheers, screams, applause, then whisk his way smartly into the theatre, instead he took forever shaking hands along the roadside, oblivious to the timetable that would have the projector flick into action at 7 p.m. If it was a question of allegiance, you could only think Jackson's were with the crowd on Courtenay Place rather than the besuited punters who waited an hour and a half for him in the Embassy and Paramount theatres.

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Black and white photograph of Peter Jackson.

Evening post