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October 2, 2011 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Billy T: Te Movie

There is a scene in Billy T: Te Movie in which previous winners of the Billy T Award for best New Zealand comedian elucidate on the late Billy T James’s importance to New Zealand comedy. They conclude that it is his wonderfully uneasy mix of uncomfortable racial awareness and wink-wink-nudge-nudge celebration of New Zealand’s drug and alcohol culture that endears him so fondly to the national psyche. James’ delightfully witty and cynical take on the uncomfortable realities that we all wake up to, a world of honkies and darkies, stoners and drunks, wasn’t groundbreaking then and is even less so now, but as with all great artists, the message was in the delivery and James’ shy-yet-confident manner conveyed a delicacy that somehow made all (or most) New Zealanders reflect fondly upon our culture, even with all of its many flaws.

It is a pity the same could not be said about director Ian Mune’s handling of Te Movie. He directs with the ugly heavy-handedness of someone unwilling to relinquish their storyteller’s reigns to his subjects. The constant interjections of silly and annoying graphics says less about James and more about Mune, who is clearly enamoured with the fact that computers can now animate pictures. He directs like a child let loose in a filmmakers’ toy shop, playing with everything except his cast of exceptional characters. When the time comes for Mune to flex his emotional muscles he gives us a painful montage of comedians looking glum as they reflect on James’ death, a painful and didactic gesture that would have been the funniest scene in the film had the hapless director not slightly redeemed himself with generous helpings of James’ stand up clips.

Billy T. James was an exceptional comedian whose uncluttered honesty and appeal endeared a nation to itself. Ultimately, Mune’s production is cluttered and dishonest and does its subject a disservice.

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