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Im taking this bloody car to Invercargill, boy!
The biggest New Zealand film of 1981 was director Geoff Murphys Goodbye Pork Pie. A road movie, it follows the adventures of two very different men travelling the length of the country in a very small car.
The film starts in the Northland town of Kaitaia. Gerry is there, but he wants to try his luck in the big city. John is in a big cityAucklandbut wants to get to Invercargill to convince his girlfriend to come home. The two meet by accident and team up, racing through New Zealand in a yellow mini. For much of the way theyre joined by Shirl, a free spirit travelling south.
As they drive, they attract attention. After accidentally stealing $10.70 worth of petrol, Gerry admits that the mini was paid for with stolen money, and the group find themselves on the run from the police. Their trip takes them through Pokeno, the National Park, Wanganui, Wellington (where they narrowly evade capture by driving onto a freight train), Christchurch, the West Coast, Central Otago and Dunedin, selling off parts of the car as they go. Dubbed the Blondini Gang, the minis occupants find theyve made news headlines across the country.
The police get increasingly desperate to catch the Blondinis as they
draw closer and closer to their destination: Invercargill.
A rollicking road movie
When the Film Commission agreed, in March 1979, to assist with the funding of Goodbye Pork Pie, the film was described as New Zealands Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Originally titled Meatballs, it was always going to be a rollicking road movie.
The completed film does contain elements of Butch Cassidy a chase story, two heroes, and a showdown with the authorities but stronger than any Hollywood overtones is the sense that this is first and foremost a New Zealand film.
Shot in actual locations throughout New Zealand, the production of Goodbye Pork Pie attracted a great deal of attention. The entire crew travelled the 2,000 odd kilometres from Kaitaia to Invercargill during filming director Geoff Murphy wrote. Some said we were crazy, that most people would never spot the difference. We just smiled, and persevered. The cast and crew were welcomed into communities across the country and stories about the film appeared in local newspapers. City to Feature in Film, wrote the Southland Times, Yellow Mini Maniacs exclaimed the Marlborough Express, while the Northland Age confirmed that locals Amy Archibalds dog and Alan Burts also had star parts.
Filming so many scenes in a moving car caused problems for the crew. The crunch of gravel roads, the rattle of camera rigs and the clamour of freight cars in railway yards all made recording sound impossible. As a result, about 80 percent of the film was post-synched that is, recorded afterwards.
A total of 4 minis and 3 Holdens were needed for filming the many stunt
scenes in the film. Two minis were deliberately set on fire, and one had
its front sawn off, a hole cut in the roof, both doors ripped off, and
its boot lid and seats removed. The latter, the stunt mini, is currently
in the collection of the Film Archive.
The Foyer is like a Riot!
The filming of Goodbye Pork Pie was completed in 1980, and after screening at Cannes, the film was released in New Zealand on 6 February, 1981. To counteract the negative effect of releasing a New Zealand-made film in a country that wasnt accustomed to the idea of seeing itself on screen, Murphy enlisted the help of the press and media. A series of promotional events were held around the country, such as parking minis in theatre foyers, giving away Goodbye Pork Pie merchandise, and car rallies in both Auckland and Wellington. In Auckland, hundreds of minis drove across the harbour bridge and up Queen street.
Although Murphy was unsure how the film would be received, it was immediately obvious that it was a box-office success. When he rang a theatre manager to check the films takings after two weeks in theatres, the manager told him I cant talk to you. The foyer is like a riot. There is such a crowd I havent been able to get them all seated. Goodbye Pork Pie took in $1.5 million in 1981, a figure comparable with big Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars or Jaws.
The films phenomenal success was not without controversy, however. A flurry of newspaper columns attempted to connect the films popularity with New Zealand youth to the countrys rise in juvenile crime. Libertas, writing in the Southland Times on 20 March, 1981, described Goodbye Pork Pie as a frank endorsement of criminal preoccupation:
Geoff Murphys film depicts the theft of petrol; the flagrant breaking of speed restrictions and examples of dangerous driving; connivance in the drug scene; the defrauding of the Railways; [and] shoplifting.
After viewing the film, even Prime Minister Robert Muldoon rubbished
claims that it was encouraging New Zealand youth into a life of petty
crime. It was too obviously light-hearted and a fairy story,
was his response, perhaps relishing the common belief that the films
title referred to his political nickname Piggy Muldoon.
The end of innocence
Looking back at the success of Goodbye Pork Pie from the vantage of 1992, Geoff Murphy put some of the films success down to timing, and the fact that New Zealand was coming to the end of an age of innocence:
Inflation was running at double figures, people were beginning to queue at the dole office, Maori people outraged to find themselves treated as second-class citizens were being dubbed as radicals, and the country was beginning to slip downhill economically, socially, and racially. Suddenly here was a film where the heroes didnt buy any of this shit. And it was funny. It was the last laugh.
Other New Zealand features released in 1981 were Pictures (Michael Black) and Smash Palace (Roger Donaldson). Geoff Murphys other directing credits include Wildman (1977); Utu (1983); The Quiet Earth (1985) and Never Say Die (1988) in New Zealand, and Young Guns II (1990), Freejack (1992) and Absolute Zero (2000) produced in the United States.
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