In 1999, NZ writer Michael Morrissey was diagnosed with manic depression. He has suffered eight manic episodes since, and been briefly hospitalised three times. Despite this, Michael rejected traditional medication, believing it would inhibit his creativity. Instead he chose to try and control his condition – to “tame the tiger” through willpower. The results have not been easy for his long suffering wife. Daytime Tiger is a feature length documentary that explores its subject with astonishing frankness. It makes for unsettling, even provocative viewing at times, but there’s much humour, and the final message is more hopeful than bleak.
“I felt like I had company. I felt relief. I felt hope.”
Daytime Tiger had its world premiere at NZ International Film Festival in 2011. It is available for sale on DVD, please click here:
Daytime Tiger began with a somewhat mysterious message from Michael Morrissey. I had not seen him in several years. Back in 1986, I adapted one of his short stories, Stalin’s Sickle (see short films section of this site), and it was a positive experience for all concerned. Michael would occasionally send me other stories but nothing quite fit my interests in the same way.
And then I got a call from Mike, strongly urging me to meet him for lunch. He’d found out I was coming to Auckland for a screening, and insisted I stop by his place for lunch. he said he wanted to pitch me a project that I would find it impossible to resist.
I had my guard up, but he turned out to be correct. The account Mike gave me of his travails contained a number of extraordinary details which indeed convinced me to try and make a film about his situation. Of course, our perspectives and aims were rather different. I know now that Mike was in the grip of a manic delusion when he pitched his proposal. I must have caught a touch of mania myself to see a movie in such an unruly topic. But art and life have a way of colliding in the most interesting ways when making documentaries and I hope that audiences find this to be so when they watch the film.
Michael was interviewed by Kim Hill on her popular Saturday morning show on National Radio. You can listen to the interview here:
Hill read some emails from listeners after the interview. A common response was, “there’s nothing romantic about bi-polar”. I could not agree more. I believe there is a great deal of pain and destruction suffered by people with this disorder, and those who live with them. It’s a horrible illness, which the film plainly shows, but it’s not all bad, and it’s not hopeless either.
Michael’s book about his condition doesn’t shirk from describing the realities of his situation, but like the movie, it’s intended to promote understanding and empathy in an entertaining way.
Taming The Tiger: Michael’s Manic Memoir
Music in the Film
Tom McLeod wrote the principle cues heard in the film. Tom is a valued collaborator. His original music adds just the right notes wherever it is heard.
The end credits feature “Lonely Soul”, a beautiful song by Cy Winstanley and Her Make Believe Band, from their album “AM Radio”.
The band has since been rebranded as Tattletale Saints. Here is their web site: http://www.tattletalesaints.com.
Email from a viewer
Well, it took until this evening for us to watch your DVD, and I wanted to write and tell you that I really appreciated your honest and candid portrayal of Michael and Ann. It was not the harrowing experience I had been fearful of. Sure – it did evoke some emotion and responses in me relating to my own experience as the partner of someone with bipolar disorder, but I was saved from myself by your skillful editing. The potentially distressing parts weren’t dwelled upon and the inclusion of your own exasperation with Michael in the midst of his mania, along with Ann’s personal commentaries really illustrated how hard is it to be around someone in that state. I felt like I had company. I felt relief. I felt hope.
We both had read Michael’s book before watching the doco, and the two go really well together – the book for the first hand account, and the doco for the perspectives of others alongside Michael’s experience.
I am genuinely grateful that both the book and the documentary are out there. The book has helped me understand more about what it is like to experience mania and psychosis, and the documentary has helped me feel less alone as a partner.
“Magneto” Q & A
NZ International Film Festival Programme Page
Dominion Post Review 30 July, 2011
4 ½ Stars
Wellington film maker, and once Dominion film reviewer Costa Botes has been amazingly prolific over the last few years. His documentaries are distinguished by a rigorous and refreshingly unsentimental way with an edit suite, a minimum of manipulation and flammery, and an absolute commitment to serving his story accurately and well.
In Auckland writer Michel Morrissey, Botes has found his most engaging and challenging subject yet. Morrissey is bi-polar/manic depressive. In the grip of his mania he becomes one of the most objectionable and obnoxious human beings you’re ever likely to meet. Bit in his quieter, post mania reflection, he will break your heart with his self loathing, vulnerability, and shame.
Morrissey invited Botes into his house to film his battles with his “tigers” and Botes has brought back one of the most honest, engaging, and provocative portraits of an extreme personality you will ever see.
It’s a troubling portrait at times, but Daytime Tiger is also enthralling, honest, and perversely entertaining. This is Botes’ best film yet. For now, that is some high praise indeed.
Reviewed by Helen Martin ONFILM August 17, 2011.
According to legend, Orson Welles called RKO studios, “the biggest electric train set a boy ever had.” Shot largely within the confines of an Auckland home and garden, what happens on set in this film is more like a big train wreck … “There are plenty of tedious documentaries in the world already,” says director Costa Botes on his website, “I wanted to make something riveting.”
And riveting it most certainly is. Central to and clearly the author of the wreckage is Michael Morrissey. Born in 1942, he has been a fixture on the New Zealand literary scene since the late 70s, a prolific writer of wonderful poetry, short stories and novellas, and a poetry anthologiser. The 1982 PEN Award for Best First Book of Fiction was the first of several awards recognising his literary and artistic worth.
What many of us did not know was that in 1999 Morrissey was hit by late-onset bipolar disorder, learning later that his mother and grandmother were also afflicted with mental illness in middle age. In common with other sufferers Morrissey, not wanting to suppress his creativity, steadfastly refused medication. A couple of years ago, having written about his condition in the memoir Taming the Tiger, but unable to find a publisher, he invited Costa Botes to his home to make a documentary (Botes had earlier filmed an adaptation of Morrissey’s short story Stalin’s Sickle). The purpose, says Morrissey, was to show that through willpower he could use the illness to his advantage. “As long as I stay un-depressed I should write the greatest novel in history,” he cheerfully asserts.
For much of the film’s running time Morrissey raves – at Botes and his hand held camera and at his long-suffering wife Anne – about happiness (“I ‘m the only happy person I know”), about ‘the feminazis’ who prevent his work being published (“women are basically like naughty children’), about his talent (“we are the ultimate geniuses, Jimi Hendrix and I”), about Anne’s inferiority (“my wife’s banal parrying of my wisdom”) … When talk turns to violent action we watch him smashing up his lithium pills with a hammer (“beer is my medication!” he roars) and with alarming accuracy re-enacting a time when he threatened Anne with a machete.
Calmer, more balanced moments are provided in interviews with those – friends, a psychiatrist – who know Morrissey in all his moods and who are able to put his mania into some kind of perspective. Anne at first seems resigned, but as the film progresses and Morrissey’s abuse escalates she becomes tearful and talks of leaving. A diminutive Malay-Chinese woman Morrissey had met working in a cake shop some 18 years previously, Anne doesn’t ask for much – she’d like companionship and a quiet life – coming across in the film as the front-line victim of her husband’s refusal to take his medication. Watching him in full flight you get the feeling he’s having a lot more fun than his beleaguered wife and the intrepid filmmaker, but there wouldn’t have been a soul in the film festival audience who would have wanted to change places with him.
Morrissey, in an interview with Kim Hill describes the film as a confession in which he exposes himself because he is ‘a Catholic masochist’. Ego aside, given how exposed he is there is no doubting his courage in supporting the film’s release. It was also a catalyst for change – seeing himself raving on screen was enough to convince Morrissey he needed that medication. For the rest of us, Daytime Tiger holds up a very sobering mirror to the destructiveness of a disease to which most of us have some connection, while at the same time providing the pleasure of being witness to a bravura documentary.
At the Q and A session after the Auckland Festival screening Botes, accompanied by a calm Morrissey, asked us to see the positives in the film he had created as ‘a reluctant traveller.’ “It’s about the potential for human happiness,” he said. “It’s a gift, of sorts.”
Daytime Tiger is available now as a DVD from my web store at www.costabotes.co.nz
I don’t have any immediate plans for a wider commercial release, but I have authored a disc and can print copies on demand. The cost is $30.00 plus 5.00 P&P, incl. GST.
Book Sales – Taming The Tiger: a manic memoir.
Michael Morrissey’s book is not easily available in stores. Contact the publisher. Their web site can take credit card orders :
Any further questions can be directed to Michael Morrissey. He favours phone or old fashioned mail:
PO Box 5129