Film Review – 3 Mile Limit


Te Puna and, it follows, your Te Puna Correspondent was, alas, out of radio range of the Tiri in 1965. But the TPC is not too young to remember Tiri’s maiden voyage. Sending the TPC to watch “3 Mile Limit”, therefore, involved not just a fact-based appreciation of the retro qualities of the design and cinematography of the movie: there was also a lively appreciation of just how good it was, in 1964, to hear Dinah Lee belting out “The Blue Beat” in the first NZ pop record that sounded as if it really might have come from London.

So the claim made by No.8 Film for its “feature length adventure drama movie… set in 1965… a true story of one man’s struggle to bring rock music to a nation… youth will find it incredible this actually happened and existed [sic]as part of New Zealand society in the 1960’s…” might be challenged. Not that the TPC is here to critique the publicity blurb. The real problem we had with the movie was overcoming our sense of the same endearing clunkiness that preceded “The Blue Beat” in NZ’s local pre-1964 pop music. Watching the film was too much like listening to the radio before, well, Radio Hauraki came along. (Not that NZBC radio playlists were nearly as bad as the movie made out. Chamber music gets a bad rap. The script could have made more valid (but possibly more actionable) references to Mantovani and his Music of the Mountains.)

For the TPC, the soundtrack was one of the best things about the movie. We understand that the producers could not afford to pay the rights: all the same, we enjoyed those fragments of NewZild Sixties rock stars – Ray Columbus, Michael Murphy, Shane and The Chicks – and more than a few great supporting acts – that mused and commented on and framed up the moods of what was on screen.

Screen-wise, some of it is very, very good. The storm that ultimately sinks the movie-Tiri shows why New Zealanders continue to carry off awards for great technical effects in films far more expensive than this one. And the casting is pretty good too, showing how much more depth there is in the local acting profession than there was even a decade ago. This is a mateship (no pun, promise!) movie: and the mates are great. The front line stars are differentiable and likeable enough, although their kindness in not ever, really, calling Richard Davis’s bluff is one of the most likeable things about them. Behind them the bit parts line up: humorously with the hapless politicians and the local band The Yellow Sprockets, and, even, sinisterly, as with the loan shark (“Financier” according to the credits) whose money eventually got the Tiri into the magic triangle of the three-mile limit. The women are fine, but foils: in this, the film accurately mirrors a pre-feminist New Zealand, where even an artist’s smock is only vaguely besmirched and the bereaved DJ’s girlfriend wears a glamorous but unlikely hat to his funeral.

Failings include really variable location-scouting: the conformable housing of 60’s NZ, and the scenes about and on the Tiri itself, are nicely identified, but the film is uncomfortable and inaccurate with the scenes set in grand places such as Parliament and power-persons’ environs: neither the Minister nor the ad-magnates look entirely at home. Nor does the script entirely find a voice; it retreats too often to stereotypes of the “Yes, Minister” kind that are entirely unlike the TPC’s memories of either staunch Ministerial secretaries or angry young men just seeking to make a quid (decimal currency being still two years in the future).

There are also flaws induced by seeking to concentrate the story of Radio Hauraki and the two Tiri vessels into a shortened history. In its rush to set up an “us-against-the-world” narrative arc, the movie fails to take opportunities to describe the world and thought of 60’s NZ as it was. Short-back-and-sides against sideburns, slick-backs and mop-tops are certainly there, but too often they are roughed up against too much stereotypical dialogue and modern preferences for half-stubbled chins. This is an opportunity lost. There was space within this movie to develop a credible realisation that, as well as advertising revenue, what pirate radio really let loose were the forces of the first expressions of technology-based information freedom –an early indicator of the Internet. Not just pop music. Which is all, at the time, everyone thought pirate radio was for.

The epic struggle promised in the trailer is, therefore, rather missed. When you watch the movie, however, you may see its traces in the naked gaze of Morrie (he lost his specs in the storm): the true hero of his age, he pulled together the WW2 transmitter and the other bits, including a boat, that actually got the signal going out there. No 8 Films, true to its name, has done much the same thing. Worth a look.

Viewed and authored by our Te Puna Correspondent aka the TPC


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