Actor Bruno Lawrence rounds out a handful (Buck, Billy T, The Topps, Crumpy) of Kiwi icons who have achieved sufficient mana to be recognised by an abbreviated name. His charisma was key to ground-breaking films, Smash Palace, The Quiet Earth and Utu. Jack Nicholson reputedly had Bruno envy. This collection celebrates his inimitable performances and life.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
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. As this awareness sends him to the brink of madness — see the excerpt above — he discovers two other survivors. One of them is a woman. The Los Angeles Daily News called the movie “quite simply the best science-fiction film of the 80s”. Read more about it here.
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 ...”
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' included foundation members of the NZ screen industry (Lawrence, Geoff Murphy, Alun Bollinger) plus other merry pranksters. Drawing on the Blerta TV series and beyond, Blerta Revisited (aka Blerta - The Return Trip) is an anarchic collection of comedy skits, musical interludes and films culled from the Blerta archives. Costa Botes writes about Blerta here.
Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving Kiwis could make blockbusters too. Young Gerry (Kelly Johnson) steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John (Tony Barry), who wants his wife back, and hitchhiker Shirl (Claire Oberman). Soon they're heading to Invercargill, with the police in pursuit. High on hair-raising driving and a childlike sense of joy, the Blondini gang are soon hailed as folk heroes, on screen and off. Remake Pork Pie (2017) was directed by Matt Murphy — son of Geoff, who drove the original film.
Numero Bruno is a warts and all biography of widely popular actor, musician and counter-cultural hero Bruno Lawrence. Lawrence's intense, charismatic screen presence was key to ground-breaking Kiwi films, Smash Palace, The Quiet Earth and Utu. Directed by Steve La Hood (the veteran director’s TV swansong), this documentary features interviews with family and friends, and liberal excerpts from Lawrence's film and musical work, including performances by 70s alternative Aotearoa icons Blerta and clips showcasing his seminal collaborations with Geoff Murphy.
Wild Man is the missing link between 1970s musical legends Blerta, and the burgeoning of Blerta trumpeter Geoff Murphy as a director whose 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 betting — 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 Fred Dagg comedy Dagg Day Afternoon.
This fast-paced trip through Bruno Lawrence’s first 50 years combines interviews, clips from his many film and TV roles, and priceless material from the vaults (early acting parts, Edmund Hillary presenting Bruno with a Feltex). Bruno talks about favourite roles, the challenges of breaking into the US after hit Smash Palace, and the music-based film he long hoped to direct. LA Times critic Sheila Benson raves about both Bruno and Sam Neill. The Bruno interviews conducted for this doco would later win an extended airing in biographical doco Numero Bruno.
The Italian Job meets cheap jugs and a student union gig in this early heist tale from Geoff Murphy (Goodbye Pork Pie). The plot follows some university students — short on exam fees and beer money — and their scheme to crack a campus safe. Murphy enlisted $4000 and a bevy of mates (including Bruno Lawrence in one of his earliest screen roles), and made it over nine months of weekends. It sold to local television (as well as the ABC in Australia). Its deliberately low key, naturalistic acting stood in stark contrast to the stage-influenced television dramas of the time.
Band Spats demonstrated they could write a catchy song with 'New Wave Goodbye'. But it needed the addition of singer Jenny Morris, a name change to The Crocodiles and a track called 'Tears' for the public to really sit up and take notice. In the video, drummer Bruno Lawrence hangs around next to a shady lamp post while Morris passes by, and the band's bubblegum coloured costumes positively shine against an all white set. After reaching number 17 on the NZ singles charts, 'Tears' won the APRA Silver Scroll songwriting award for 1980.
Before the Blerta bus and Goodbye Pork Pie's yellow mini hit the road, some friends with more energy than cash dressed up as mad doctors and criminals, and began making films. This freeform short about running late is an early product of varied schemers who were key in the Kiwi film renaissance. Geoff Murphy plays the man in a hurry, and Bruno Lawrence is Dr Brunowski. Originally screened with live music, here it’s jazzed up with new opening credits and a 2012 soundtrack, led by Murphy on vocals. The result is an unbottling of youthful filmmaking pep. Warning: final credits not to be trusted.
This epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
This late 70s gender politics satire was a Television One sitcom written by future Gloss creator Rosemary McLeod; it was broadcast live-to-air from Avalon Studios. In this episode, Ginette McDonald’s lippy feminist withholds the joy of sex from her hippy hubbie, and Bruno Lawrence (sporting a magnificent anti-comb over) is the unreformed motorhead neighbour whose hangover cure is beer and cornflakes. Lawrence’s larrikin performance in the show was spotted by director Roger Donaldson who cast Bruno in his breakout big screen lead role: Al Shaw in Smash Palace.
In this tale of an English servant woman doing it hard down under, Lizzie (Sarah Peirse, who won a Feltex) finds herself trapped on a rundown Canterbury sheep farm alongside three men: one mean, one silent, and one simple-minded (Bruno Lawrence, in one of his favourite roles). Directed by David Blyth between his edgy debut Angel Mine and splatter-fest Death Warmed Up, this pioneer tale was written by English author Elizabeth Gowans. Newbie scribe Fran Walsh later extended the film to tele-movie length, from its original incarnation as A Woman of Good Character.
In this infamous edition of the Loose Enz anthology series, sexologist Rufus (Grant Tilly) has marriage problems, due to being more theoretical than practical when it comes to the ways of the flesh. Things grow more complicated when patient Ernest (Bruno Lawrence, playing nerdy for a change) claims he is suffering from having a magic touch with women. Alongside Joy of Sex japes and punning pillow talk galore, this sex farce gained notoriety for scenes of high-profile newsreader Angela D’Audney (as the dissatisfied wife) going topless, then donning a turquoise catsuit.
One of those Blighters began life as a doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but after interviews with many who knew him, morphed into something more offbeat: a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists. The dramatisations are from his four novels - all became movies - plus one posthumously published short story. Amidst a cast packed to the rafters with carousing Kiwi screen legends, fellow multi-talented muso Bruno Lawrence plays Morrieson.
Shot on location, Inside Straight‘s colourful portrait of Wellington’s underworld helped usher in a new era of urban Kiwi TV dramas, far from the backblocks. Phillip Gordon (Came a Hot Friday) stars as Steve Keenan, the everyman learning the ways of the city from taxi driver Roy Billing. In this episode, Steve finds himself on the run from dodgy gamblers, while trying to raise $5000 to enter a high stakes card game. Meanwhile another card-player has hit town: conman Nick (Bruno Lawrence), who quickly starts romancing Steve’s sometime girlfriend (Joanne Simpson).
For this documentary director Gaylene Preston goes 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, as he prepares 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 star Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the makeup chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.
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).
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.
In a lawless fuel wars future, marauders roam the wasteland looking for oil. Their malevolent leader Straker threatens his daughter Corlie; she’s rescued by loner Hunter and they harbour with eco-sensitive folk in the Clearwater Commune ... but not for long: there will be blood on the Central Otago plains! Following in the exhaust of Mad Max, the cult film was made during the 80s tax-break feature surge, with US director (Harley Cokliss) and leads flocking south during a Hollywood writers’ strike, and Kiwis as crew (“artists with chainsaws”) and supporting cast.
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.
In the early 1980s, director Roger Donaldson was part of a new generation of downunder screen talent, making their mark overseas. In this extended interview, the nominally Kiwi, Australian-born filmmaker talks about success, failure, famous actors, the talented Bruno Lawrence, and his big-budget remake of Mutiny on the Bounty. Donaldson describes how stateside reviews of Smash Palace paved his path to Hollywood, and talks with candour about his feisty first encounter with legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis – who invited him to take on The Bounty.