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.
Founded in 1977 by ex-vacuum salesman Bert Potter, Centrepoint was an alternative lifestyle settlement that promoted intimate communal living, along with personal and sexual freedom. This documentary observes members' struggles to reconcile the values of their new home with the outside world. Director Geoff Steven threatened to take his name off the credits, in a successful bid to avoid the cutting of emotional scenes of 'encounter group' style psychotherapy. Potter and others were later convicted for a spate of child sex abuse and drugs charges.
In the early 1970s expat broadcaster Michael Dean took Aotearoa’s pulse, as it loosened its necktie and moved from “ice-cream on mutton, swilled around in tea” conservatism, towards a more cosmopolitan outlook. Dean asks the intelligentsia (James K Baxter, Tim Shadbolt, Peter Cape, Shirley Smith, Bill Sutch, Ian Cross, Peter Beaven, Pat Hanly, Syd Jackson, Hana Te Hemara) for their take. The questions range from “what does the family in Tawa sit down to eat these days?” to the Māori renaissance. Dean had made his name in the 60s, as a high profile broadcaster with the BBC.
This notorious film looks at '70s bikie culture, focusing on Auckland's Hells Angels (the first Angels chapter outside of California). These not-so-easy riders — with sideburns and swastikas and fuelled by pies and beer — rev up the Triumphs, defend the creed, beat up students, cruise on the Interislander, provoke civic censure, and attend the Hastings Blossom Festival. After a funeral, Aotearoa's sons of anarchy head back on the highway. Bikies was banned by the NZBC — possibly due to the public urination, lane-crossing, chauvinism and pig's head activity.
In this experimental drama shot in 1975, four young idealists escape the city for rural Foxton, and set about living off the land. But an act of violence sends the commune into isolation and extremism. Teasing tense drama from rural settings, the 90 minute tale from maverick National Film Unit director Paul Maunder shines a harsh light on the contradictions of the frontier spirit. Although state television funded it, they found it too edgy to screen; instead Landfall debuted at the 1977 Wellington Film Festival. The cast includes Sam Neill as a Vietnam vet, and Mark ll director John Anderson.
Starting in the questioning times of the late 60s, many New Zealanders began leaving town to set up their own communities, in search of alternative ways to live. This then and now documentary travels to communes long gone and still active, and tracks down many of those involved. Tim Shadbolt describes a time when people questioned "everything fearlessly ... without reserve and without restraint". The back to the land approach brought both satisfaction and fatigue. Dirty Bloody Hippies played to full houses at NZ's Documentary Edge Festival.
Forty-five years in the making, this documentary looks at the history of Kiwi adventure sport. Via spectacular — original and archive — footage, it follows the pioneers (AJ Hackett et al) from sheep farm-spawned maverick surf kids to pre-Lonely Planet OEs chasing the buzz; and the innovative toys and pursuits that resulted. From the Hamilton Jet to the bungee, No.8 fencing wire smarts are iterated. The exhilaration of adventure is underpinned by a poignant ecological message — that the places where the paradise chasers could express themselves are now in peril.
Marking one of the earliest films made by Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace), this curio chronicles the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in NZ. The made for TV film features interviews with those who've swapped walk shorts for wigwams to "start again". There's rebellion against all things straight, and rejection of the city in favour of getting back to nature. Folk songs are the soundtrack to leaping hippies, outdoor bathing, "group touching", the Blerta bus, and DIY dome housing. Counterpointing the Counterculture are 1984-style scenes of masked marchers representing the "silent majority".
The three day Nambassa Festival, held on a Waihi farm in 1979, is the subject of this documentary. Attended by 60,000 people, it represented a high tide mark in Aotearoa for the Woodstock vision of a music festival as a counterculture celebration of music, crafts, alternative lifestyles and all things hippy. Performers include a frenzied Split Enz, The Plague (wearing paint), Limbs dancers, a yodelling John Hore-Grenell and prog rockers Schtung. The only downers are overzealous policing, and weather which discourages too much communing with nature after the first day.
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.