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Middle Age Spread

Middle Age Spread is no mere parading of middle class morality. Wit and thoughtfulness are judiciously mixed. And there is a bonus in the excellent original music of Stephen McCurdy

Middle Age Spread, New Zealand, 1979

Director: John Reid
Production co: Endeavour Productions
Producer: John Barnett
Screenplay: Keith Alberdein
From the play by Roger Hall
Lighting cameraman: Alun Bollinger
Sound recordist: Craig McLeod
Editor: Michael Horton
Music: Stephen McCurdy
Production manager: Warren Sellers
Assistant director: Geoff Murphy
Camera operator: Paul Leach
Camera assistant: Michael Hardcastle
Gaffer: Warrick Attewell
Best boy: Stuart Dryburgh
Sound assistant: Lee Tamahori
Set design: Gaylene Preston

With: Grant Tilly (Colin), Dorothy McKegg (Elizabeth), Peter Sumner (Reg), Bridget Armstrong (Isobel), Donna Akersten (Judy), Bevan Wilson (Robert), Kerry McGregor (Jane), John Linaker (Roddy), Sophie Perkins (Caroline), David Mahon (Stephen)

16mm, 94 minutes, M–contains sex scenes

Middle Age Spread centres on Colin, the deputy principal of a city high school. He’s a reluctant applicant for the principal’s job but the pressures of school life don’t encourage him to seek this promotion. At home his wife Elizabeth has settled into the role of an increasingly disinterested partner. As the film begins, she’s giving a dinner party to which four friends have been invited. One of them is Judy, a teacher who has had a temporary job at Colin’s school. She’s with her husband but the two have had a long separation and have been reconciled only for the sake of the children. Two other neighbours make up the guests at the dinner party and what happens during the evening makes for a unique ‘comedy of bad manners.’ The dinner party is only a part of this film – flashbacks reveal the secrets of all the dinner guests, most importantly the slow-growing love affair between Colin (who has taken up jogging in an effort to combat his spreading waistline) and Juldy. The climax, which ends the dinner and also the film, is electric.

“Roger Hall’s play, and Keith Aberdein’s script bring the feelings and fears of this rampantly middle-class, slightly weathered, uncomfortably ‘real’ bevy of people together under one roof to begin their comic dissection of our days in suburbia and beyond. Set around ‘a dinner party’ these six people are the trappings of (products of?) and trapped by their own self-inflicted materialistic greed – people, who it seems, have got everything, but end up with nothing more, nothing less… The film is at its most hilarious when pinpointing acute areas of pretence, leaving very few subjects untouched that are dear to all our hearts. Director John Reid has fluidly and stylistically incorporated areas from the stage version and made the film transition equally well. I felt more involved with his version in its unrelenting jokieness, tinged with the very pains that make us what we are. It is as if we are given the chance to laugh at ourselves, and identify with that laughter, on the screen… As a film about people we all know, experiences we have all been through, it simply one of the best. The cast, the crew, producer and director (plus of course the two writers) are to be congratulated. They have made a very valid, and truthfully reflective film. It’s also bloody funny, if I neglected to make that point!” — Michael Heath, Evening Post, 30 June 1979

“The fourth major New Zealand feature to be released within the last three years must be seen as first on a number of counts. This is the first important local movie to be filmed entirely in Auckland, the first to be billed as comedy, and the first to be adapted from a stage play of already proved success. The greatest compliment that can be paid to the production is the fact that its stage origins are not much in evidence… indeed, one is tempted to the view that the film improves on the play. A truly professional job.” — Nicholas Reid, Auckland Star, 23 June 1979

“There is nothing more inevitable than middle age spread – that time in live when living patterns start running amok and all that one has taken for granted begins to sag and hang limp… this film adaptation of the middle life crisis of a collection of middle class couples proves to contain the most satisfying content of any NZ feature film made during the current production upsurge. Made on a low budget, but crisp in appearance and offering top drawer performances, it is a distinguished first-up presentation… To his credit, director Reid, one of the actors in the original stage presentation, has created a film that is not just a pale adaptation of the play… it will be the performances that are remembered, particularly that of Tilly in the main role… Middle Age Spread is no mere parading of middle class morality. Wit and thoughtfulness are judiciously mixed. And there is a bonus in the excellent original music of Stephen McCurdy.” — Mike Nicolaidi, Variety, 18 July 1979

“Reflecting New Zealand’s 1970s white, suburban middle-class, the film adaptation of Middle Age Spread is provocative, accurate, sad and funny. Made at a time when the dinner party, with its creaking conversations and predictable menus, had become a funnel for middle-class social ritual, the film skewers the post-1960s pretensions of its trapped, ageing, self-deceiving characters… Keith Aberdein’s adaptation, with advice from dramatist Roger Hall, is based on Hall’s dialogue and characters (minor characters are added in the film). The opening out of settings, the addition of action to replace explanatory dialogue and an economical shooting style ensure the production is cinematic. The significant events have occurred before the dinner party begins, thus the narrative’s movement is in revelation. There is pleasure in watching the revelations unfold and in being party to the consequences, although some of the flashbacks are unclearly signposted. The wit sparkles, with the script adding new jokes while retaining Roger Hall’s excellent ear for caustic dialogue and capacity for the brilliant one-liner. Although the specifics of the film have dated, the underlying assumptions about middle age and the middle class retain some force. Middle Age Spread was the first New Zealand feature telecast by the BBC. The film struck a chord with audiences in New Zealand and abroad. Hungarian film director Istvan Szabo was reported as asking John Reid, ‘How can you know Hungarian life so well?’” — Helen Martin, New Zealand Film, 1912-1996

Screenings: Middle Age Spread screened on 20, 21 & 23 February 2013; and on 1 February 2006