Blerta Revisited

Director: Geoff Murphy
Year: 2001
Country: New Zealand
Running time: 81 mins
New Zealand

Producers: Geoff Murphy, Barrie Everard
Additional Photography: Warrick Attewell
Editors: Rongotai Lomas, Richard Rautjoki
Sound: Dick Reade
Beta-SP

With
Bruno Lawrence
Ian Watkin
Beaver
Martyn Sanderson
Bill Stalker
John Clarke
Tony Barry
Ian Mune
Geoff Murphy
Jan Finn
Roger Donaldson

2001 New Zealand Film Festival World Première
At the end of the era that gave the world Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Blerta – Bruno Lawrence’s Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition – was a changing lineup of musicians, actors, technicians, filmmakers, friends, lovers and hangers-on who, between 1971 and 1976, toured New Zealand in a flower-powered bus, stirring the heartland from its slumber with their wild and crazy vaudeville show.

Blerta Revisited is Blerta alumnus Geoff Murphy’s 2001 compilation of film and tape of Blerta and associates, structured to resemble the format of their final shows. The film’s musical numbers, drawn largely from the 1976 TV series that was their swansong, range widely, from jazz, through lewd or satirical ditties to soul and rock & roll. The songs are interspersed with other material from a variety of sources: clips, comedy sketches and the mixed media events (i.e. explosions) which showcase the group’s movie-making proclivities. Many of the films they made failed to survive the rigors of the road, but to see the excerpts here from Percy the Policeman, Dagg Day Afternoon, Wildman and the Blerta Kid Show is to watch the germination of the film industry that has been a vital force in our cultural lives ever since. The on-the-road antics in these films provided a glorious rude rebuttal to McCahon’s famous characterisation of New Zealand’s landscape with too few lovers.

The Blerta repertoire was an energetic, distinctively kiwi mix-up of overseas influences, mostly British – Monty Python, Not Only But Also, The Goon Show – but with generous samplings of Barnum & Bailey, Keystone Kops and Salvador Dali. A menagerie of florid stereotypes – gangsters, mad German scientists, British bankers and wild men of Borneo, snake-oil salesmen and Bible bashers – are impersonated most memorably by the mercurial Lawrence and the toffee-voiced Ian Watkin. Blerta associate John Clarke’s black-singleted Fred Dagg stands apart as the true comic original in this circus: the game, bewildered Kiwi.

Creative mayhem on this scale was as unprecedented at the time as Bruno Lawrence himself, and it’s impossible to think of a comparable convocation of multi-talents since. Though Lawrence has passed on, some have dropped out and others continue to entertain us, their musical ebullience, anarchic glee and flashes of lunatic genius can still illuminate our landscape 25 years on. — BG