Two minutes with: Geoff Murphy

by The Listener / 11 July, 2013
His classic 1983 movie Utu, a near-factual account of a Maori rebel’s rampage against British troops in the 1870s, is about to be reissued after extensive digital remastering. The soundtrack has been made over, and Murphy has trimmed 10 minutes from his original cut.
Geoff Murphy's Utu Redux New Zealand International Film Festival NZIFF
Photo/Jane Ussher


The remastering wasn’t your idea, was it?
No, I never thought we could get enough money, because it’s very expensive, but Graeme [Cowley, the director of photography] pulled it off. I’m really glad we did it, because at the time it wasn’t a great hit with the critics in New Zealand, but I know it’s good. It’s also emotional because so many of the people who made it with me, who were very good friends, are gone. Also, it’s one of the few period movies made about New ­Zealand history.

Why didn’t the movie get a good reception back then?
It was too aggressively marketed. I wasn’t in charge of that, as I had been with Goodbye Pork Pie. With Pork Pie we said, “Oh, yeah, here’s a film about a car … it’s all right. Prob’ly a wasta time, but anyway, here it is.” And people loved it. The approach with Utu was, “This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened, biggest budget, it’s brilliant!” It’s the New Zealand thing that if you get up and say, “This thing is the ultimate”, Kiwis will say, “Nah, it’s not. Stop skiting.” But Maori loved it. The further north it screened, the bigger the audiences.

Was it nerve-racking having the biggest-ever budget for a New Zealand movie at the time?
There were times we looked at each other and said, “How are we going to pull this off?” Because it was a lot of money, but we still really didn’t have enough money for the film we were trying to make. Period drama is really expensive.

That’s why they’re hardly ever made here. For the army’s march across the tussock, we had this challenge: where the hell were we going to get 1000 extras for the middle of nowhere between Hastings and Taihape? So we went around local schools and taught them how to make soldiers’ hats out of cardboard and paint them and stick a silver milk bottletop on the front for a badge, and we got them to come wearing black, and we put masking tape criss-crossed over their fronts and backs. And all the troops on horseback were girls – from local pony clubs.

Is it true you shot a scene of Te Wheke eating the pastor’s eyeballs, as Hau Hau activist Kereopa te Rau did missionary Carl Völkner’s?
Yeah. We got the eyeballs made to be edible, out of ­liquorice and other stuff. But we didn’t end up using that scene because [Te Wheke actor Zac Wallace] chewed them. When [Maori adviser] Joe Malcolm saw the footage, he said, “That’s wrong! You don’t chew eyeballs, you swallow them!” It would have been like showing Winston Churchill smoking a cigarette, apparently. So that scene has never been shown.

Thirty years on, the film has amazing resonance: it represents many shades of Maori political opinion, which is exactly what the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection has just done. Do you think the movie was ahead of its time?
There was an element of that. People were ready to see a film about themselves. But although we got a tremendous response from Maori, the film wasn’t well received by the media; it just wasn’t the right time for that type of story.

What are the chances of more movies being made about our history?
I can’t see it. The reality is, New Zealand can’t afford a film industry. A New Zealand film industry. What Peter Jackson does is fantastic, but that’s not New Zealand film. You go through 20 actors before you find a Kiwi in the cast. I want to make a film about the Kiwi, the ship that sank a Japanese sub at Guadalcanal. But as soon as you start talking more than five minutes about the project, they [potential backers] start talking about which American actor should play the captain. That’s the reality of the ­economics of it.

Utu Redux will debut at the 2013 New Zealand International Film Festival, Auckland, on July 28, at 6.15pm.

See also: Reflections on the life of Bruno Lawrence.

Latest

When did a damn fine cup of coffee get so complicated?
106251 2019-05-24 00:00:00Z Food

When did a damn fine cup of coffee get so complica…

by Jean Teng

Long-time latte sipper Jean Teng embarks on a journey through the world of soft brews.

Read more
Win a double pass to a special preview of Sometimes Always Never
106301 2019-05-24 00:00:00Z Win

Win a double pass to a special preview of Sometime…

by The Listener

Billy Nighy plays Alan, a stylish tailor with moves as sharp as his suits, who has spent years searching tirelessly for his missing son.

Read more
What we must learn from the Israel Folau controversy
106275 2019-05-23 09:31:01Z Social issues

What we must learn from the Israel Folau controver…

by The Listener

Israel Folau has done us the unintended favour of showing how hard and counterproductive it would be to try to outlaw all comments that ...

Read more
Speaker criticised for chaotic way rape allegations emerged
106266 2019-05-23 08:58:23Z Currently

Speaker criticised for chaotic way rape allegation…

by RNZ

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard has accepted some responsibility for the way in which rape allegations played out at Parliament yesterday.

Read more
Christchurch mosque attack: Terrorism charge could be risky – but it's important
106286 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Crime

Christchurch mosque attack: Terrorism charge could…

by Keiran Hardy

Why was the terrorism charge added at this later stage? And why is it significant?

Read more
Why George Soros is a target of the far right
106102 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z World

Why George Soros is a target of the far right

by Stuart McMillan

Philanthropist George Soros, long loathed by the radical right, is spending billions to support liberal democracy and fight hate crimes.

Read more
Ian McEwan confronts the biggest mysteries of life in Machines Like Me
105820 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Books

Ian McEwan confronts the biggest mysteries of life…

by Charlotte Grimshaw

Ian McEwan’s tale of human-robot love links emotional and artificial intelligence in intriguing ways, writes Charlotte Grimshaw.

Read more
Is chemical residue on fruit and vegetables worth worrying about?
105778 2019-05-23 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Is chemical residue on fruit and vegetables worth…

by Jennifer Bowden

The chemical residues on fruit and vegetables are not dangerous, but rinsing is still advisable.

Read more