Goodbye Geoff Murphy - Iconic Filmmaker of Aotearoa — 04.12.18

We are sad to hear that the man who took early independent filmmaking to Invercargill and the world has left us.

Geoff Murphy, a truly iconic New Zealand filmmaker has passed away.

Speaking to his close friend and fellow film director Gaylene Preston this morning, she described him as "an iconoclastic filmmaker, one of those who was instrumental in inventing an independent voice in telling New Zealand stories for local and international audiences." Geoff was a self-starter, and with Bruno Lawrence, their families, and a larrikin group of actors, filmmakers, players and musicians, Blerta blasted around New Zealand in the mid-1970s - we were never the same.

"Geoff did not catch the zeitgeist, he was the zeitgeist!"

His film Goodbye Pork Pie, in particular, changed the New Zealand cinema-goers experience of kiwi culture forever. His iconic film Utu, which was only the second New Zealand film to be officially invited to screen at the Cannes film festival, is now recognised as a truly remarkable piece of cinema.

Born in 1938, Geoff grew up in Highbury, Wellington where he trained and worked as a schoolteacher. Geoff's first film Tankbusters (1969) a 30-minute drama was played on television both in New Zealand and Australia.  

During his time with Blerta, he released his debut feature Wildman (1976), which was screened on a double bill with short-film, Dagg Day Afternoon, starring John Clark, also directed by Geoff.

Over this period, Geoff's all-round technical abilities saw him create explosions and fake AK-47s for the feature Sleeping Dogs and he also rented out a homebuilt camera crane (built with Andy Grant).  Between 1977 and 1985, when he left for Hollywood, Geoff assisted many other local filmmakers to make their films from Vincent Ward's A State of Siege to co-writing Gaylene Preston's debut feature Mr Wrong.

Following on from the film that made him a household name, Goodbye Pork Pie; and UtuThe Quiet Earth became another Kiwi classic and gained an international cult following. 

Never Say Die was Geoff's next film, which was released on 69 local screens, a light-hearted thriller, with cameos from John Clarke, Geoff himself and Tony Barry. The main role was given to the then relatively-unknown Temuera Morrison.

Geoff directed his first project outside New Zealand, the television movie in 1989 Red King, White Knight, a spy thriller featuring an Emmy-nominated performance by Max Von Sydow and also starred Helen Merrin.  He worked largely in America as a Hollywood director over the next decade directing Young Guns IIFreejack and Under Siege 2. He also helmed a host of television and cable TV projects, including Blindside and The Last Outlaw.  

In 2001, he put together Blerta Revisited, a collection of skits, shorts, and music from the Blerta archives, before releasing Spooked, (2004) and Tales of Mystery and Imagination (2009). He returned to New Zealand as second unit director on all three movies of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Geoff Murphy lived in Wellington with his wife Dianne. He received an Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2013, and was also included on the New Year's Honours list an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit (ONZM).

Read more about him here.

Image: Geoff Murphy (right) pictured with Mick Jagger during the filming of Freejack, 1991.