News

Trailblazer in New Zealand film

Trailblazer in New Zealand film

A pioneering filmmaker in the 1970s, David Blyth (School 1969-1971), is now capturing tales of New Zealand’s war heroes.

David has had a long and accomplished film career, most notably as the creator of New Zealand’s first home grown horror movie Death Warmed Up.

It was one of the first horror films funded by the New Zealand Film Commission and, along with his 1978 experimental feature Angel Mine, is critically acclaimed to this day for its originality.

The NZ On Screen website says David Blyth has created some of the most graphic and challenging movies dealing with “horror, sexuality and the sub-conscious mind,” while the New Zealand Listener says he is one of the “great mavericks of New Zealand film.”

While his defining work predates Sir Peter Jackson’s, he is highly regarded in film circles for his pioneering influence. David describes himself as an outsider. “I am not the mainstream or a toe-the-line sort of person, if you like.”

David, 62 spoke to Network about his early life and career spanning 40 years from his home at Manly Beach on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, north of Auckland.

Having grown up in Remuera, Auckland, David (who is not one to mince words) says he was sent to St Paul’s to toughen him up, “because I was too arty and too sensitive.”

While he returned to Auckland to do his last two years at Auckland Grammar, there are defining moments during his time at St Paul’s.

“I was there for the moon landing, in 1969, which is incredible, I can remember in the morning we watched it on TV in School House.”

He recalls a “revolution” at the school. “The pupils went on strike one morning and we refused to go to class. A whole lot of people got into trouble and it was all over by midday.”

Perhaps the most memorable, was a visit by the radical poet James K Baxter. “He was Jesus like. He had long unkempt hair and bare feet. We were all assembled in the Chapel and I was a choir boy and he padded up the main isle and spoke about male sexuality.”

“His visit ignited something in me. It was an eye-opener. To have him turn up was quite profound.”

While studying Law at the University of Auckland David connected with film academic Roger Horrocks.

“He had a film appreciation course and he saw that I was so passionate that he let me come and sit in on the classes. I ended up with a BA in Art History and Anthropology. I didn’t make it through the Law School. That is how it all started to happen.”

His first feature film, Angel Mine, while still in his 20s, was about a young suburban couple and how they are dominated by the false needs of advertising.

The success of Death Warmed Up, both nationally and internationally opened doors overseas for David. He was invited to do work for Jim Sharmon, the director of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“That got me to London and working with all sorts of people like Barry Humphreys and Ruby Wax.”

David also spent seven years working in the film industry in the United States and also taught at the South Seas Film School in Auckland.

In more recent years, David focused on documentary-making, archiving the priceless personal stories of New Zealand’s war heroes including his own grandfather, who lived until he was 105.

“One of the reasons I have got into all of this is that my grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Curly Blyth, was a World War One veteran and while everyone else has a yellowing photo, I have a 25 minute documentary.”

He says the film Our Oldest Soldier, released in 2002, is the most watched war documentary in New Zealand history.

On the New Zealand On Screen website, under the heading ‘Memories of Service’ are 50 veteran interviews he has recorded over the last five years, in conjunction with the RSA.

In November, David and his sister and nephew will travel to France for the 100th commemoration of the liberation (by kiwi soldiers, including his grandfather) of the French town Le Quesnoy.

While he has had no contact with the school since leaving, David says he has come to Hamilton to speak at Film Society events in Hamilton over the years.

Richard Swainson, a film reviewer and owner of Hamilton specialist DVD store, Auteur House, stocks a back catalogue of David’s films.

Richard says David is the father of New Zealand horror film and one of the first directors to get state funding for his work. “My respect for him is unbounded, he is a real trailblazer.”

David’s collection of war hero documentaries can be found here

He is currently working on documentaries, recording the stories of some of New Zealand’s Prisoners of War.

Photo Caption: New Zealand filmmaker, David Blyth.

MONICA HOLT