Arts Icon Geoff Murphy is a leading figure in the new wave of Kiwi filmmakers who emerged in the 70s. His road movie Goodbye Pork Pie was the blockbuster hit of the NZ film renaissance, and he completed an unsurpassed triple punch with Utu and Bruno Lawrence classic The Quiet Earth. Noted for his skill at action, knockabout comedy, and melding genres, Murphy spent a decade directing in Hollywood before returning home. Read the full biography
For our own sense of identity, cultural independence and feeling of nationhood we need our own voice in the form of a film industry. Geoff Murphy, 2003
Geoff Murphy's second feature was a low-budget smash, definitively proving that New Zealanders could make blockbusters too. Young rascal Gerry steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John, who wants his wife back; and a hitchhiker named Shirl. Soon they are driving to Invercargill to find her, with the cops in hot pursuit. Eluding the police with hair-raising driving, verve and trickery, it's not long before the "Blondini gang" are hailed as folk heroes, onscreen and off.
It's the 1870s, and Māori leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is fed up by brutal land grabs. He leads a bloody rebellion against the colonial Government, provoking threatened frontiersmen, disgruntled natives, lusty wahine, bible-bashing priests, and kupapa alike to consider the nature of ‘utu’ (retribution). Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael raved about Geoff Murphy’s ambitious follow up to Goodbye Pork Pie: “[He] has an instinct for popular entertainment. He has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic ...”
This is the opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television: from an opening night puppet show in Auckland in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ on Air, Sky and Māori Television) and interviews key players. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within a story.
In director Geoff Murphy's cult sci-fi feature a global energy project has malfunctioned and scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) awakes to find himself the only living being left on earth. At first he lives out his fantasies, helping himself to cars and clothes, before the implications of being 'man alone' sink in, along with his own culpability in the disaster. As this awareness sends him to the brink of madness, he discovers two other survivors. One of them is a woman. Los Angeles Daily News gushed: “quite simply the best science-fiction film of the 80s”.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) was set in a North Island timber town. Its portrait of the town’s folk offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; viewers and reviewers praised its Swannie-clad authenticity. This first episode sees a culture clash as a motorcycle gang (including a young Bruno Lawrence) comes to town and causes trouble, running Ray (Geoff Murphy) off the road; and stranded townie Diana (Ginette McDonald) falls in love with a local axeman while hunting.
Smith (Sam Neill), is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend, Bullen (Ian Mune). He takes off to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, New Zealand is at war with itself and the government has enlisted an anti-terrorist force to viciously crack down on its opponents. Smith is framed as a revolutionary and arrested, but escapes. Bullen, now a guerrilla, hides him and tries to persuade the reluctant Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, the adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream, heralded the new wave of New Zealand feature films.
This beloved song was written in Wanaka on the first (1971) Blerta tour as part of The Blerta Kids' Show. (The children’s slot was made to allay conservative fears as the busload of merry pranksters rolled into town.) The concept was inspired by a Margaret Mahy story — reshaped by Geoff Murphy — and the music was composed by Corben Simpson. Bill Stalker provided the narration. It became a hit single and synonymous with Kiwi counter culture. There was never a video made, nor extant concert footage: this clip is excerpted from Murphy’s Blerta Revisited doco.
If a single word could sum up the free-wheeling flavour of alternative music and comedy in Aotearoa during the 1970s, that word would surely be ... Blerta. The 'Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition' encompassed foundation members of the NZ film and TV industry (Lawrence, Geoff Murphy, Alun Bollinger, Martyn Sanderson) and many other merry pranksters and hippy freaks. Blerta Revisited is an anarchic collection of comedic skits, short films, and musical interludes culled from the Blerta archives.
This documentary follows the 1973 Heatway Rally, a mud and oil-splattered event in which 120 drivers covered 3600 miles over eight days. Directed by Tony Williams, it was a major logistical exercise, with five camera units, shot by a who’s who of the 70s NZ film industry. In addition to high speed on-and-off road action, it includes an explanation of what co-drivers actually do, a chance for a driver’s wife to ride in a rally car, and driving and cornering montages set to orchestral accompaniment. It won the Feltex Award for best documentary.
When she made Mauri, Merata Mita became the first Māori woman to direct, write and produce a feature film. Mauri (meaning life force), is loosely set around a love triangle and explores cultural tensions, identity, and a changing way of life in a dwindling East Coast town. As with Barry Barclay's Ngati, Mauri played a key role in the bourgeoning Māori screen industry; the production team numbered 33 Māori and 20 Pākehā, including interns from Hawkes Bay wānanga. NZ art icon Ralph Hotere helmed the production design; Māori activist Eva Rickard played kuia Kara.
Geoff Murphy (Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu) directs this freewheeling adaptation of the Māori legend of Uenuku and his affair with the mist maiden Hinepūkohurangi. The story of love, betrayal, and rainbow redemption was the first Māori myth adapted for TV, and the first TV drama to be entirely performed in te reo (The Listener softened viewers by providing a translation prior to screening). Filmed at the Waimarama base of Murphy and cinematographer Alun Bollinger, Uenuku was produced by Peach Wemyss Astor for the NZBC — a then-rare independently produced drama.
In 1983 director Geoff Murphy stormed out of the scrub of the nascent Kiwi film industry with a quadruple-barreled shotgun take on the great NZ colonial epic. The New Zealand wars-set tale of a Māori leader (Anzac Wallace) and his bloody path to redress 'imbalance', was the second NZ film officially selected for Cannes, and local cinema’s then second biggest hit (after Goodbye Pork Pie). A producer-driven recut was later shown in the US. This 2013 redux — led by cinematographer Graeme Cowley, with Murphy and editor Mike Horton — is Utu “enhanced and restored”.
After their house explodes and they bump into a gunman on Waiheke Island, journo Alf (Temuera Morrision) and Yank partner Melissa (Beverly Hills Cop’s Lisa Eilbacher) head to the West Coast, on the run from the cops and the crims. There’s a plot to blow up a plane of rugby players and a cola conspiracy, but mostly it’s an excuse for chases, capers and crashes galore, all imbued with plenty of pell-mell Pork Pie-style shenanigans (this time heading north in a red Ford Falcon) by director Geoff Murphy. This excerpt sees John Clarke cameo as a used car salesman.
Three New Zealanders was a documentary series that looked at the lives of three of NZ's most celebrated writers: Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh. Produced by Endeavour Films (John Barnett), the final chapter of this three-part series centres on internationally acclaimed crime-writer and Shakespearean director Dame Ngaio Marsh. It contains an interview with Marsh in her later years, interspersed with comments from former students and friends, and re-enactments from her novels (with the Blerta crew as players, and John Bach as Hamlet!).
A State of Siege is the story of a retired art teacher dealing with isolation and loneliness, culminating in a stormy, terrifying night. Vincent Ward's acclaimed short — adapted from a Janet Frame novel — was made when he was at Ilam art school. The Evening Post called the taut tale "the most sensitive and intelligent film that has ever been made in New Zealand". San Francisco Chronicle praised: "Ward creates more horror in this low budget movie with his play of light and shadow than Stanley Kubrick was able to create in the whole of The Shining."
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. This first episode include some SFX jumping sheep; John Bach as a blonde, grunting villain, and a youthful Elizabeth McRae. It was NZ telly's first children's serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
Wild Man is the missing link between early 70s musical legends Blerta, and the burgeoning of Blerta trumpeter Geoff Murphy as a man whose directing talents knew few bounds. The Blerta ensemble relocated to the mud-soaked West Coast to create this tale of pioneer con men and silent movie style pratfalls. Bruno Lawrence and Ian Watkin arrange a fight - and bets - in each town they arrive in, while Bruno channels his inner wild man from under a leopard skin. Wild Man was released in cinemas alongside John Clarke and Geoff Murphy’s Dagg Day Afternoon.
In director Gaylene Preston genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) moves from her parents’ place into a flat and buys a stylish old Jaguar in a drive to be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. When she picks up a woman in the rain, she recognises her from a dream. She discovers that this woman was the car's previous owner and she's missing... Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too ... Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out city cinemas, in order to prove their first movie had an audience.
This documentary sees director Gaylene Preston go behind the scenes during the making of Geoff Murphy's Utu — his ambitious 'puha western' set during the 1870s land wars. “It’s like football innit? You set up the event and cover it …” says Murphy, preparing to shoot a battle scene. In this excerpt, the film’s insistence on cultural respect is conveyed: Merata Mita discusses the beauty of ta moko as Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the make-up chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.
Loosely based on the case of a real-life computer dealer who acquired international bank records and later died mysteriously on Auckland Harbour Bridge, Spooked marked Geoff Murphy’s first local feature in 15 years (after a Hollywood foray). Everyman Kevin (Christopher Hobbs) is caught up in a barrage of intimidation after buying some used computer equipment and unwittingly receiving corporate secrets; Mort (Cliff Curtis) is the journalist investigating his case. The cast features rare cameos by director Vincent Ward and Goodbye Pork Pie star Kelly Johnson.
Cowboys of Culture is director Geoff Steven's personal perspective on the Kiwi cinema renaissance of the 1970s. It traces the development of the local film industry from the ‘she'll be right' days when filming permits were unknown, and all that was needed to get a picture up were a Bolex camera, enthusiasm and ingenuity. Raw they might have been, but the films (Wild Man, Sleeping Dogs, Goodbye Pork Pie Smash Palace) represented a vital new cultural force. The film features interviews with the major players, and clips from their movies.
Fellowship of the Ring was the film that bought Peter Jackson's talents to a mass international audience. A year after its release, the first installment of his adaptation of Tolkien's beloved tale of heroic hobbits was the seventh most successful film of all-time. Critic David Ansen (Newsweek) was one of many to praise the fan-appeasing Frodo-centric take, for its "high-flying risks: it wears its earnestness, and its heart, on its muddy, blood-streaking sleeve." At 2002's Academy Awards, Weta maestro Richard Taylor became the first Kiwi to win two Oscars on one night.
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and Return won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar; the box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on NZ tourism.
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, thriller-fantasy series The Games Affair was NZ telly's first children's serial. Remembered fondly by 70s kids, it follows three teenagers battling a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes. The second episode begins with the trio finding a performance-enhanced (by nifty stop-motion) beach runner. The trail takes them to QEII Park for the Games' opening ceremony where they confront the villains, and — via pioneering DIY FX — deflate John Bach Flat Stanley-style. Note: the episode has nothing to do with toilets.
Mitch (Keith Aberdein) moves to Tongariro National Park to help wrangle wild horses threatening ecology and traffic. He meets Sara, who shares an obsession for a fabled silver horse. They clash with rangers and deer recovery guns-for-hire (Bruno Lawrence is the black-clad villain) determined to eradicate the horses, and a showdown on the Desert Plateau ensues. In the notoriously fraught production a stable of Kiwi acting legends perform a melange of western and freedom-on-the-range genre turns (with the conservationists oddly set up as the bad guys).
The Italian Job meets cheap jugs and a student union gig in this early Geoff Murphy (Pork Pie, Quiet Earth, Utu) heist tale. Tank Busters' plot follows some Vic Uni students — short on exam fees and beer money — and their scheme to crack a campus safe ... the things kids got up to before internal assessment! Murphy enlisted $4000 and a bevy of mates (including Bruno on bongos) to make the film over nine months of weekends. It screened on TV on New Year’s Eve 1970; its assured pace and tyro verve in stark contrast to the stage-derived telly standards of the time.
This 2 June 1982 Close Up edition looks at the journey of the merry pranksters behind Blerta, from Dr Brunowski to making multi-million dollar movies. Geoff Murphy and Bruno Lawrence are interviewed at Waimarama while working on colonial epic Utu. Various members of the Murphy clan are seen involved in the production, reinforcing Murphy’s stab at why Blerta’s players have stuck together up to this point: “A uniformity of philosophy I suppose ... the family thing.” Nb: ‘B-roll’ shots (supplementary cutaway footage) are missing from the archive copy of this show.
A personal film diary by actor Martyn Sanderson showing the breaking-in and training of a young colt in rural Hawke's Bay. It was made when Sanderson was a vital part of the gang of Blerta creatives who based themselves at Waimarama Beach in the 1970s. Some stunning ‘wild horses' imagery is captured (shot by Sanderson and cinematographer Alun Bollinger) and narration is intriguingly provided from audience comments recorded at a local screening of the footage. It features music by Chris Seresin, Bruno Lawrence and Patrick Bleakley.
The second Lord of the Rings installment sees hobbit Frodo Baggins continuing his mission to destroy the ring. Meanwhile the Fellowship is breaking apart, and an epic night battle ensues at Helm's Deep. The film marked a star turn by Gollum, the emaciated Andy Serkis-voiced creature whose realisation was a cinema landmark and a triumph for the design and special effects team. Alongside praise for the film's pace and spectacle, The Two Towers broke international opening records, before going on to outgross Fellowship of the Ring, and win two technical Oscars.
This report for TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show was made to tie in with Nicholas Reid’s book about the renaissance in NZ cinema that began with Sleeping Dogs in 1977. Reid and a who’s who of filmmakers discuss many of more than 50 films made in the previous decade (with Bruno Lawrence ever present) — and ponder the uniqueness (or otherwise) of NZ film. The industry’s fondness for rural and small town settings, and forceful (often conflicted) male leads is explored; and more neglected areas — Māori film making and more of a voice for women — are traversed.
New Zealand’s economy is in serious trouble in the first episode of this award-winning drama series about The Great Depression. An ailing Prime Minister and a weak government seem powerless in the face of a downward spiral caused by rising unemployment and falling export prices. Meanwhile, the plight of a boot maker seeking work while people are being laid off all around him, and a jeweller struggling to keep his business afloat and food on his family’s table bring home the human cost and social divisiveness being caused by the worsening crisis.
This episode of the Loose Enz series features small town intrigue in Hawkes Bay. Prickly, violin playing, ex-POW Austin (Derek Hardwick) refuses to retire despite handing over the farm to son Wesley (Goodbye Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy) — and the impending sale of the neighbouring property (to Japanese buyers) puts him on the warpath one boozy night at the local. Rural land politics and identities are nicely observed, the farmers’ band is delightfully chaotic (with Paul Holmes as a sax-playing fencer), and the Land Rover stuck in reverse is worthy of Fred Dagg.
A rare and early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the big screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (or whether the adulterers will inevitably be found out). Grant Tilly stars as a philandering teacher fearing a future of stress, decay and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's acclaimed middle-aged comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance, and marks the feature debut of many talents: director John Reid, cinematographer Alun Bollinger, writer Keith Aberdein, editor Mike Horton, and composer Stephen McCurdy.
Hooks and Feelers tells the story of a painter haunted by an accident in which her son lost a hand. Written and directed by Melanie Rodriga, the 45-minute psychological drama explores guilt and reconciliation as the family adjusts to his disability. An adaptation of the short story by future Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme, Hooks and Feelers starred jazz singer Bridgette Allen and Keith Aberdein (Smash Palace). It screened on TV in 1984. With producer Don Reynolds, Rodriga (then known as Melanie Read) would go on to make pioneering feminist thriller Trial Run (1984).
Screening as Goodbye Pork Pie packed cinemas and gave hope that Kiwi films were here to stay, this 1981 TV documentary attempts to combine history lesson with some crystal ball gazing on what might lie ahead for the newly reborn film industry. Host Ian Johnstone wonders if three local movies per year might be a "fairly ambitious" target; producer John Barnett argues for the upside of overseas filmmakers shooting downunder. Also interviewed: Pork Pie director Geoff Murphy, early Film Commission chairman head Bill Sheat, and John O'Shea.
Before the Blerta bus and the famous yellow mini hit the road, some friends with more energy than cash dressed up as mad doctors and scarfie crims, and began making movies. This freeform short about running late is an early product of a group of schemers who were key in the Kiwi film renaissance (Geoff Murphy is a man in a hurry and Bruno is 'Dr Brunowski'). Originally screened with live music, here it’s jazzed up with a 2012 soundtrack led by Murphy on vocals; the result is an unbottling of sheer youthful filmmaking pep. Warning: final credits not to be trusted.
Edgar Allen Poe's tales of murder, burial, and ominous ravens have inspired movies, nightmares ... and an eclectic musical suite by saxophonist Lucien Johnson, which he first performed live with Wellington’s Village of the Idiots. With the aid of some home-cooked CGI, director Geoff Murphy mixes concert footage, fantastical imagery, interviews and spoken word to put it on screen. Family and friends help round out the crew. The results echo Murphy's early, genre-stretching days with ensemble Blerta, this time with themes of mortality mixing in with the horns.
In this children's sci-fi caper, an all-singing all-dancing gang of cronies led by 'evil Eva' holds Auckland to ransom for $5,000,000. As in Under the Mountain Auckland's volcanoes play a starring role, with Eva threatening to drop a nuclear bomb into the crater of Rangitoto. Who will save the city? A trio of intrepid kids and their DIY anti-gravity machine are on the case. Writers Ian Mune and Keith Aberdein give director Roger Donaldson (and a bevy of industry talent) plenty of goofy 70s fun to play with. Donaldson would shortly helm the acclaimed Smash Palace.
Set amidst the 'friendly' 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Alongside the young heroes the series featured John Bach as a grunting villain, a youthful Elizabeth McRae, and SFX jumping sheep. It was NZ telly’s first children’s serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.
This TVNZ kidult drama is a saltwater Swallows and Amazons, where the plucky "urchins" stumble upon villainous plots (from missing treasure to wildlife smuggling) on their seaside adventures. Over three series, locations like Mahurangi Peninsula in the Hauraki Gulf — where the youngsters holidayed with their uncle — and the Marlborough Sounds allowed for much floatplane, launch and navy frigate chase action. The cast included an array of experienced talent and featured a young Rebecca Gibney (the Packed to Rafter’s star’s first major TV role) and Robert Rakete.
In the one channel days of the early 70s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (an awardwinning doco about service clubs). After extended campaigning by John O’Shea, a number of emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party, bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional narration-heavy, gently-paced doco format.