I was amazed to find that the first films reached New Zealand in 1896 – I knew it had been around in the early 20th century, but hadn’t realised it went that far back.
The Camera in the Crowd focuses on the 25-year period that followed film’s introduction, using footage from Nga Taonga Sound & Vision, our national film archive. (An organisation I have a great deal of admiration for after they sent me the link to a documentary my late mother appeared in about 30 years ago.)
The book talks about the early days of film and of the cameramen and theatre owners who brought the world to life for New Zealanders. When I was a young child, friends of my parents had their own home theatre and we used to enjoy going there to see movies – something we took for granted in the 1960s but which looking back was something pretty amazing for a time when not every home had a television.
Reading about the early pioneers of film was fascinating – for a start, I had no idea the Salvation Army had been heavily involved in filming New Zealand’s history.
Christopher Pugsley is a leading historian with many titles under his belt and this book is meticulously researched. It’s the type of book you will dip in and out of as the mood takes you rather than one you’ll read from start to finish. It focuses on New Zealand’s history, both at home and during our many military campaigns overseas.
Some items have a little movie camera icon next to them and that indicates the footage can be found online by going to Nga Taonga’s website and entering the title number. I urge you to take the time to look at these videos as they bring our past to life in a way the book on its own is unable to do.
While this is not a complete history of the period in time The Camera in the Crowd covers, it does feature some very interesting and important events, including royal visits and New Zealanders at war. There’s everything from whaling to sports to culture.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this book will only appeal to history buffs because it deserves a much wider audience that that. Those with an interest in early movie making will find it illuminating (pardon the pun), while those with an interest in society and how it evolved will enjoy reading the historical reports and items from newspapers of the time.
Reviewed by Faye Lougher
The Camera in the Crowd
by Christopher Pugsley
Published by Oratia Books