ONFILM April 2008
Murray George Newey: 1953 – 1998
Waka Attewell remembers the friend, colleague and producer who took his own life a decade ago this month…
I’d heard about this guy Newey and showed up to a meeting in Auckland to talk about a movie; it was late in the day, I was tired and lost and there was no studio receptionist, I could hear voices, so I walked up the stairs. Mune was already there: Mune was reading poetry from a battered old book and the guy I was there to meet was standing behind his desk weeping – I cleared my throat and a tearful face looked up at me and said “Keats” – I think I fell in love.
* * *
We trawled by night through the back alleyways of Cannes, not so much the savvy Sharks but determined Minnows, the world famous Film Festival was in full flight and we were running to it and from it and we barely had our hands over the tailgate. Glitter and glitz and red carpet, famous people and Stars aplenty. Shit, I even became a close up in the CNN title sequence when some ‘stringer’ erroneously thought I was ‘Bob’ from that David Lynch thing, I wonder who they thought the guy with me was – the guy with the moustache and nose? We wore suits to look like we knew what we were doing, we drank other people’s booze to stay in tune with the event, we arranged meetings to feel included and important – but mostly we wanted to make new work happen – movies happen. We hung out in cafés and spoke bad French.
One morning at breakfast, just down from the ‘Palais des Festivals’ Murray tells some guy from the NZFC, in a café and in public – a guy with two first names – that he was a f**kwit! Then comes back to correct himself in the form of an apology – “No sorry I was wrong” – he waits for the throng to accept his gesture of reconciliation and then says – “No, you’re a total f**kwit!”
We crashed the only worthwhile parties in town and those were the parties of our own making – at those parties we became the centre of attention; a sort of garage party in amongst all the glitter and facade – we made it happen for those ‘not so famous’ players and those who hadn’t bought into the Hollywood machine or the Cannes way – we got written up in the indy trades as the “best party in town” – that was us, buddy, that was you, jeez we laughed: f**k Murray, you were great! We made that town rock because we avoided the bullshit by creating our own ‘bullshit’ – perfect behaviour.
Murray’s dead now, it’s hard to believe he was only 45 when he went, his partner Jane has married and these days I don’t think too long and hard about ‘why’ or ‘how come’ – I guess that day recently when I gave her away at the wedding had a weird but prophetic closure about it – but a day still doesn’t go by that I don’t think of him, or the 8th April; I guess this memory will be like this forever, that’s how these things go… Not that I mind the intrusion so much these days either – it’s not like it was immediately after he did it – all those dark months through winter did seem to linger somewhat.
* * *
Hey Murray, I thought I’d write this article, being it must be at least 10 years, but I’d somehow forgotten the year so I googled you and there you are frozen in time – they wrote you up in the trades in LA – they said how we were working on the prequels for George [Lucas] but we already knew the deal across the ditch had been done – eh? We’d already had a few disappointments that year and this was just another one, though nothing we couldn’t handle – I always thought the old air force hangars at Wigram was a much better idea but somehow the Aussie government came up with a better offer, our government came up with nothing – oh well, shit happens – they used the description “by his own hand” in the Variety article: such a weird clinical way of describing suicide, don’t you think?
I’m sorry I told you off on that Monday morning; but despite that, thank you for saying “We’ll get that movie up” – my movie, always generous to a fault: I saw you standing at the top of the stairs and watching me to the door – I think I waved back (I hope I waved): I now believe you were saying goodbye. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay that morning but I had stuff to do up North but I was keen for you to met the Yank writer I’d dragged into the fray… We were on a high and had broken the back of the story, given it a bloody good “seeing to”, as you said, and we wanted to share that moment with you. I knew you’d understand the hurdles we’d cleared; the coffee you made was great.
* * *
I started to notice that my colleagues in the film and TV business would cross the road when they saw me coming – I suspect the pain of knowing someone who knew too much detail was just too hard – maybe I was seen as a possible reason? You know, after all, close friends should see this coming – close friends wouldn’t let you kill yourself, a close friend would stay about the place: but close friends pick up the pieces and wrestle with ‘how come’ and the ‘why’ – close friends wrestle with the profound truth of something we still don’t understand – close friends deal with it and move on, especially when we accept the only thing that we can – and that is to speak to the finality of it all.
We still don’t talk so much about this taboo – we talk around it – I tried to get some TV stuff up – but they didn’t want it – and no matter what the experts say there’s still more than a slight whiff of “spineless bastard” in what’s not being said – I did myself at about the same time as I blamed myself – also a great New Zealand tradition, find someone to blame – you’ll do – just happened to be the guy in the mirror.
* * *
That Wednesday morning I knew Murray had spoken with the NZFC; the first visitor to the house the day after was Barry E. He’d been previously mentioned in dispatches and it was a generous moment and we all cried together as we chose the clothes that Murray might wear in the coffin – cowboy boots and suit. Somehow the hardest phone calls to field were the ones from offshore; something to do with the different time zone?
* * *
Murray phoned me at least three times via Ian (Mune) through the morning of Wednesday 8th April – I was given a task of delivery to ensure my commitment to dinner, my commitment to friendship, my commitment to fun.
I knew Murray was 35k in the hole, such a small but insurmountable figure. The last meal I’d had previously at Murray’s house was from his garden – he didn’t have the money to buy food and we ate immature corn from the small plot in the backyard – the corn wasn’t ripe but we ate it anyway with a fabulous cream sauce… you were a poet in the kitchen and we made that one of our common voices – along with the music when I got you back playing the piano – we laughed about the lean times and promised each other that we’d get through this rough patch. You were a really funny guy – man, did we laugh – and I better not mention those parties where we all ended up lip-syncing ABBA into a wooden spoon. It was nuts! It was the very best of times.
There’re a couple of things that you can be sure of and it’s the fact that when you do it in the house where you live, the place where you’ve had crazy dinner parties, the place where you live with your partner – Jane; did you consider her for a moment? – the place where you did the final dance on the back of the bedroom door, then you can be sure they will never again spend another night there – selfish? – contrived?
It’s been 10 years and I can now thank you for including me in your end game – I have gained a strength from it that I lacked before – and I actually don’t know of anyone else that could have coped with the dysfunction that occurred around your family – it takes someone like me from a family like mine to recognise the pitfalls and I’m pleased you chose me for that task – though you left Jane hanging (excuse the pun) in limbo, it nearly took her too – and you showed all us vulnerable folk how easy it was and for that I don’t thank you so much – but after all is said and done I still admire you… I still remain your close friend. I took some of the responsibility for what you did and that has also given me strength.
Easter will be coming up and (not that I’m assigning you any significance or connection with this religious event) we’ll light another candle for you… like we have every year since that night you changed our lives. By the way, in case you didn’t know, we still love you and miss you… and see, you’re still making it to the indy trade pages, I know you would still think that was special.
Death is always untimely as are the works of John Keats.
Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain’s to die.
How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.
– John Keats