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Eye of the Taika

New Zealand Comedy and the Films of Taika Waititi

Matthew Bannister

Filmmakers, Film Theory and Criticism, Humor, World Cinema, Popular Culture

Published: October 2021
ISBN: 9780814345337
Pages: 144 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 31 b&w illus.
Published: October 2021
ISBN: 9780814345320
Pages: 144 Size: 6 x 9
Illustrations: 31 b&w illus.
Published: October 2021
ISBN: 9780814345344
Pages: 144 Size: EPUB
Illustrations: 31 b&w illus.

Eye of the Taika: New Zealand Comedy and the Films of Taika Waititi is the first book-length study of comic film director and media celebrity Taika Waititi. Author Matthew Bannister analyses Waititi's feature films and places his other works and performances—short films, TV series, advertisements, music videos, and media appearances—in the fabric of popular culture. The book's thesis is that Waititi's playful comic style draws on an ironic reading of NZ identity as Antipodean camp, a style which reflects NZ's historic status as colonial underdog.

The first four chapters of Eye of the Taika explore Waititi's early life and career, the history of New Zealand and its film industry, the history of local comedy and its undervaluation in favor of more "serious" art, and ethnicity in New Zealand comedy. Bannister then focuses on Waititi's films, beginning with Eagle vs Shark (2007) and its place in "New Geek Cinema," despite being an outsider even in this realm. Bannister uses Boy (2010) to address the "comedian comedy," arguing that Waititi is a comedic entertainer before being a director. With What We Do in The Shadows (2014), Bannister explores Waititi's use of the vampire as the archetypal immigrant struggling to fit into mainstream society, under the guise of a mockumentary. Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), Bannister argues, is a family-friendly, rural-based romp that plays on and ironizes aspects of Aotearoa/New Zealand identity. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) launched Waititi into the Hollywood realm, while introducing a Polynesian perspective on Western superhero ideology. Finally, Bannister addresses Jojo Rabbit (2019) as an "anti-hate satire" and questions its quality versus its topicality and timeliness in Hollywood.

By viewing Waititi's career and filmography as a series of pranks, Bannister identifies Waititi's playful balance between dominant art worlds and emergent postcolonial innovations, New Zealand national identity and indigenous Aotearoan (and Jewish) roots, and masculinity and androgyny. Eye of the Taika is intended for film scholars and film lovers alike.

Matthew Bannister is a postgraduate theory supervisor in media arts at Waikato Institute of Technology Kirikiriroa/Hamilton, Aotearoa/New Zealand. He has written two previous books: Positively George Street: Sneaky Feelings and the Dunedin Sound and White Boys White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Guitar Rock. He lives in Hamilton with his partner Alice Bulmer and has two sons.

This is the first career-spanning book on Ma¯ori filmmaker Taika Waititi, now a major figure in international media. The prism of comedy offers a distinctive intervention in debates about indigenous cultural politics and popular media in Aotearoa/New Zealand and beyond.

– Nabeel Zuberi, associate professor in media and communication, University of Auckland

Eye of the Taika fills a major lacuna in film studies.

– James Morrison, professor of literature and film studies, Claremont McKenna College

The clever title of this first in-depth study of Taika Waititi is the first clue that it will be entertaining and intellectually challenging, for both scholars and fans. Highly recommended.

– Geoff Lealand, associate professor in screen and media studies, University of Waikato, New Zealand

The first in-depth critical study of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s most iconoclastic auteur since Peter Jackson and Jane Campion, this book is essential for anyone interested in Waititi’s provocative oeuvre, the small and peripheral nation and culture that produced him, and the challenge he poses to the conventions and hierarchies of contemporary cinema.

– Duncan Petrie, University of York

A much-needed study of a most remarkable filmmaker. Matthew Bannister's invaluable book demonstrates a wealth of approaches to understanding the movies and performances of an indigenous artist and comic genius.

– Ian Conrich, University of Vienna

I’d only seen two Taika Waititi films – What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – before picking up Matthew Bannister’s Eye of the Taika (Wayne State University Press). In retrospect, these two examples illustrate what many have come to see as an unfortunate shift in the writer-director-actor’s persona: from low-fi New Zealand prankster, to Hollywood gun-for-hire. But regardless of what audiences – be they local or global – may think of his work, there’s more to his identity than this simplified distinction implies, and Bannister does an admirable (if somewhat flavorless) job navigating the artist’s intersecting cultural, ethnic, and artistic backgrounds.

– Thomas Puhr, film international