FANTASTIQUE, Ia nouvelle dimension du cinema. September 1983
(John Charles, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra cond. by William Southgate, EMI Records Australasia, UTU I Australia).
Geoff Murphy’s remarkable New Zealand film, Utu, was one of the revelations of the official selection at Cannes ‘83; we are, moreover, awaiting its release in our country. A spectacular adventure film, it tells of the revolt of the Maori Te Wheke who, after being enrolled in the regular occupying army of his country, arrives one day in his village, in the course of a patrol, to find it savagely ravaged by the invader. A film of flame and blood, an epic of hopeless resistance - all these matters are marvellously conveyed by John Charles’ superb music, in accents which are some times very reminiscent of Beethoven. To the grandeur of the principal theme (of which one notes a brilliant reprise in ‘After the Battle’), this music adds the more intimate accents of the secondary melodies and, above all, an inspiration drawn directly from traditional and folk music, by means of which John Charles gains particularly dramatic effects in certain sequences (‘Destroyed Village’, ‘The Death of Te Wheke’), especially by combining it very forcibly with symphonic music (‘Moko’). Certain extracts, by their historically characterised grandiloquence (‘Williamson Retaliates’), their inner tension (‘The Raid’) and their epic power (‘Theme’, ‘After the Battle’) class this score among the very great examples of the genre; in other cases extracts find their effect by resorting to a moving lyricism (‘After the Raid’, ‘The Army Approaches Te Puna’). It is a long time since the dramatic epic has offered us in a film such an alliance between image and music. In this respect John Charles’ Utu comes close to being a masterpiece. Let us add that we are dealing here with an intelligent edition, punctuated from time to time, at just the right moment, with a phrase of dialogue (‘Moko’) or with very expressive intrusive noise (‘The Quadruple Barreled Shotgun’, ‘The Death of Te Wheke’). A collector’s piece for lovers of the genre, we draw attention to it all the more eagerly since at the present time there is nothing to suggest an edition in this country.