Odd stage of life

By Scott Kara

Film-maker Florian Habicht has made a habit of making movies that don't neatly fit into any box. His latest offering, Rubbings from a Live Man, about the life of eccentric performer Warwick Broadhead, is no exception, writes Scott Kara

Florian Habicht likes to think of himself as a film-maker who makes films like no one else.

So far there's been 2003's surreal fairytale Woodenhead and in his 2004 documentary, Kaikohe Demolition, he delved into the lives of demolition derby fans in the small Far North town.

"I love it that I'm making films that aren't totally mainstream but I'm getting audiences and people that respond to them. With Kaikohe it was great because everybody from art curators to children and panelbeaters loved it. It just really brings people together," says the tall, constantly grinning 32-year-old.

However, his latest work, Rubbings From A Live Man, about the life of prolific veteran stage performer and writer Warwick Broadhead, who has produced more than 60 shows over four decades, is more challenging, but no less charming.

And while Kaikohe and Rubbings are very different films Habicht sees similarities between the two.

"They are focused on a group or an individual that is probably not mainstream to New Zealanders but it's a heartfelt insight into their lives," he says.

Broadhead is anything but mainstream.

Before meeting him Habicht had heard stories about the performer's eccentric past - about how he married his house in Grey Lynn, and the time he managed to convince a bunch of navy chaps to don blue speedos and emerge from the water as a band played the Jaws theme.

But he had never seen any of his shows.

The pair first met in person five years ago when Habicht was selling a video camera which Broadhead bought without even trying it out. "Warwick kind of fancied me and took the camera straight away."

During the shoot, recalls the film-maker with a wry grin, Broadhead tried to get him to "jump the fence" on more than one occasion.

It was at a future meeting at Allelujah cafe on K Rd when Broadhead told Habicht his life story "in about 10 minutes and I knew there was a whole film in there".

But convincing Broadhead to make the movie was not easy. The performer insists that theatre is a live medium, which is why none of his works have ever been recorded, and he declined Habicht's idea for a film repeatedly.

"He [believes] theatre has to be experienced in the moment and not be captured. So I kinda felt like the guy in King Kong, you know, the Jack Black character [Carl Denham], trying to capture Warwick like King Kong. And when we had the screening at the festival in Wellington I felt like I had brought Warwick to Wellington, like in the movie."

Eventually Broadhead agreed and Habicht says the film is a collaboration between the two, billed as "a documentary performed by Warwick Broadhead".

In one of the more tranquil scenes - because elsewhere it can be heavy-going, highly emotional and sexually charged - Broadhead wears an elaborate costume made mostly of ping-pong balls, sits in the bucket of a front-end loader, and blesses a rugby team with flour (magic dust) as each member is lifted, Ali Williams-style, into the air.

The scene depicts Broadhead's childhood dislike of playing rugby and how he used to run around the field without ever touching the ball.

The documentary also recounts his years growing up gay in Mt Roskill, his uneasy relationship with his father, and his touching and sad recollection of his mother's death.

The idea of Broadhead re-enacting and performing parts of his life came to Habicht after attending Broadhead's 60th birthday, an extravagant and epic affair at rugged west coast beach Whatipu.

"Every hour they had a different performance. And at 3am in the morning this puppeteer arrived and did a show, and then at 6am, when Warwick was actually born, he re-enacted his birth."

This involved Broadhead lying on a pool table under a blanket ("Which was kind of like the mother"), with his friends as midwives, and then emerging from under the blanket and into the world.

"So I kind of stole that idea of re-enactment," says Habicht, "but what I didn't realise is that when you put a camera in front of Warwick he is always performing. In the beginning I was trying to make him not perform, and capture the real Warwick, but then I realised the real Warwick in front of the camera is Warwick performing and to make an honest film we've got to go with that. I thought it was going to be easy. We're just going to go through this person's life and film it. But man, we went on that journey with him."

Rubbings was three years in the making and during that time Habicht dedicated his life to it.

"I did question that, working on something obsessively for so long. But I think if I was working in a regular job, like a bank for three years, I think I'd find that more intense even though film-making takes over your whole life."

And seeing the response from audiences at the film festival earlier this year made it worth while. "Warwick got a standing ovation in Auckland and Wellington."

Habicht is off to New York early next year to take up the Harriet Friedlander Residency, a scholarship organised by Auckland arts patron Harriet Frielander before her death three years ago.

He doesn't know what he's going to do in the Big Apple, although he's been telling people he's going to do his version of Sex and the City.

All he knows is he's taking a camera, doing some script writing, and "I definitely want to make a doco when I'm over there".

Who: Florian Habicht, film and documentary maker
What & when: Rubbings From A Live Man, opens in cinemas today
Website: www.rubbingsfromaliveman.com
See also: Kaikohe Demolition (2004); Woodenhead (2003)

- NZ Herald

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