Monday, November 30, 2015

'We're taking this bloody car to Invercargill' : Geoff Murphy: A Life on Film - Geoff Murphy

I'm taking this Bloody Book to Invercargill.

 Good Bye Pork Pie is still one of the greatest movies ever made - There I said it.  And not just because Bill Gruar's (no relation) daughter Shirley was in it.  It was the first on screen breast I ever saw or a willy or and the first time tomato sauce was splattered on fried eggs or the first time a mini was destroyed on screen on the road!  It was awesome - and still is. 

Murphy’s memoir should be as popular as his three hit movies of the 1980s.  He just keeps proving himself a natural story weaver, and in this entertaining account he tells his own story with a very droll humour. Often as not it's a self-deprecating rendition, with occasional unforgiving moments. Especially when it comes to his own foibles.

He talks fondly about early life in the Capital.  Almost compulsary for an artist of the 60's was the Catholic Education.  Of course Murphy was strapped during his primary school years at Marist Thorndon, nay caned during his secondary school at St Patrick’s Town and like my dad he did the compulsory military training at 18 - “Conscripts were marched endlessly, up and down the parade ground with NCOs shouting at us at the top of their voices.” there was an awakening at Victoria University, especially when he became a trumpet player in the uni jazz band.  Then the setting sun of drudgery beckoned with a move to teachers’ college.  A complete failure to teaching and a gain for film, in the long run, he was given the lowest marks during seven years as a primary teacher.  Finding other ways of earning money he ended up touring with Blerta (the Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition.)

The idea filmmaking surfaced in the dismal teaching days.  “If you wanted to make films [in the early days] you had to be tenacious, persevering, devious and lucky”... because the "absolutely absurd structure” of the local film industry in the 1960s" made it nearly impossible. “Two main producers: television and the National Film Unit, both lavishly government funded.” The Film Unit was “anointed with the sole right to make motion pictures in New Zealand. Anyone else attempting to enter this field was an upstart and should be opposed rigorously.” Of course, in the centre were the independents and freelancers, led by John O’Shea’s Pacific Films, whose film processing had to be done in Australia because the Film Unit refused to handle anyone’s images except their own.  It was a time of Muldoonism on the rise, unions and Bloodymindedness.  “How were we going to succeed in this atmosphere?”  says Murphy.  He answer his own question with many tall tales of extraordinary initiatives, including building and spec building a new camera crane, which was then hired by everyone including television and even the Film Unit. And even funnier - setting up the legendary Acme Sausage Company. “It was suggested that it should be a functioning anarchy. [But] the likes of Andy Grant and Albol had no need of philosophical principles. As far as they were concerned, you just set your goals and went for them. In the end, the devastatingly simplicity of this philosophy, or lack of it, was its strength, and ultimately we all took it up. Interestingly enough, this is pretty much what the main characters in Goodbye Pork Pie did when we got around to making that film some ten years later.”

If you're a film buff, you'll probably pooh pooh it a bit but Geoff’s descriptions of the challenges involved in making Pork Pie, Utu and The Quiet Earth are absolutely eye-openingly entertainment.  Brilliant as just a great account of good ol Kiwi Fuck-it-let's-do-it!

He’s frank about his personal life, marrying Pat, raising five children. And after 15 years, beginning a relationship of “intensity and passion” with Diane, but not leaving Pat. (“There were the kids, there was my own emotional cowardice, and then there was that thing called Catholic conditioning.”) The complexities of a shared life in the commune at Waimarama, which would lead to fisticuffs of law in court. The final separation from Pat, after 22 years and the abandonment of the relationship with Diane and a new relationship with Merata Mita who “was sometimes economical with the truth”. And then, after 20 years, a new relationship with Diane, who he finally married.

And there's a few star turns Dinner with Jagger and a holiday in the Jagger residence in Mustique. Directing Emelio Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Stephen Seagal and 'almost' directing Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Hanging out in Beverly Hills with Russell Crowe.  And, almost as famously directing second unit for Peter Jackson on The Lord of the Rings. (Five camera crews in Twizel, and 200 people under his command, as well as 300 soldiers on horseback and 150 orcs in rubber suits.)

And It goes on.  It's a book I look to every night for another instalment - I couldn't put it down or should I - Like a good movie, with a much bigger cast and a much more substantial plot - and about 10 sequels!

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