In the Shadow of King Lear

NZTECHO Spring 2014 Issue 62 Back in the Day

King Lear L-R Mick Rose Ian Mune Carl Bland Mark Clare
Left to Right Mick Rose, Ian Mune, Carl Bland and Mark Clare.
Cinematographer Waka Attewell reflects on going behind the scenes with veteran actor Ian Mune on a Shakespearean classic.

William Shakespeare, dead almost 400 years, was one of those blokes other people talked about. I decided it was time to see why so much fuss. ‘In the Shadow of King Lear’ is a documentary about an actor Ian Mune tackling one of theatre’s most difficult leading roles. It all came about by luck and a bit of cunning – we went through the back door then with a wink and a nod. I wrote three pages (which were praised for their concise brevity) and two weeks later I was asked for more.  Apparently when funding creative endeavours it’s measured more by the weight of the ream than the scratching upon the sheet.

Of course, there is never enough money in the production’s budget and my next task was to stretch it nine weeks plus six weeks post-production. The solution was a crew of two, this was to be the last episode in the wonderfully successful ‘work of art’ series, yet another series canned just at the point it discovered what it was.

 

My documentary style is about following people. I’ve followed a quadriplegic up a mountain, a famous Knight up a Holy river, a drunk director to the ends of the earth, all whilst perfecting the art of making myself invisible. So following a guy who’d told the theatre business to get stuffed 15 years previously, vowing ‘never to return’, become King Lear was what we call in the TV business ‘an opportunity’.

I rang Ian Mune’s wife Josie and asked if he had been flattered when offered the part? After a suitable pause she giggled, “Oh yes, he was…” Next thing I’m in a cold church hall in the middle of winter with a bunch of extremely talented actors and in moments Shakespearean verse is dripping off the walls. Put me in the completely novice club when it comes to the inner sanctum of the rehearsal process but my idea of a play starts on the page… but not in this case. Here are a bunch of grownups playing grandma’s steps, and now musical chairs – I love it! Then for the first few weeks it appears that the text is not all that important and the Company seem to be spending a lot of energy making tableau type creations. I was still curious to know how the actors learn all those bloody words and so were a few of the actors. I was on the climb with the cast as we headed towards an unknown summit and anything was possible and eventually the text did begin its long journey from the page to the stage via a few experiments including vast flapping sheets, moving lights, dribbling water all enhanced with a raging music track.

 

We had been filming 5 weeks, just over halfway, frankly I didn’t really know what we had in the can but I knew we had a lot of it. Tensions ebbed between extreme and almost bearable when it came to discussing the way ahead. The cast divided into old school and the young – young with new ideas and a few avant garde concepts from Europe and the old school thespians hung onto the safety net of the text. All while the two directors (Christian Penny and Anna Marbrook) pushed the exploration of the unknown, brilliant but completely nerve wracking. Reading the play as a continuous run was a way to see if the cuts to the text were keeping the structural integrity – the cast were doing their umpteenth version of this, I obediently rolled the camera – tables had been corralled in the middle of the hall. Tony Woollams, the recordist, had retired his pants belt in favour of braces, he held the boom with outstretched arms leaning over the void… being a man of ample girth he’d lost his trouser around his ankles on two prior occasions.

3 Ian Mune Rachael House - King Lear
Rachel House and Ian Mune.
7 Ian Mune storm - King Lear
Ian Mune

It was late in the morning, probably Friday, it had been a long week and we were at the bit where the King, now going mad, was about to challenge the greater cosmos – “blow winds crack your cheeks”. Ian Mune’s voice took on a fury as the storm within and without raged, some of the cast mimed wind and rain. Ian’s voice went low and quiet yet had a power that resonated through the floor, he reached out grabbing a full glass of water in a strangle hold – it shook in his hand, here was Mune the dangerous man, the naughty boy and someone in the room started making thundery noises. Ian swayed back and forth, he then hurled the glass behind him which smashed into the wall, the script he was reading disappeared into a mangled fist… and the tempestuous King arrived – he hissed and growled the last of the speech. Perfect.

 

There’s nothing less perfect or colder than an echoing church hall and after the first few weeks shooting I decided to watch some of the rushes – the pictures looked fine, it sounded brilliant (considering the amount of echo we were dealing with) but that wasn’t the issue. I could hear what the actors were saying but it didn’t make any sense… like their lips were moving but they might as well have been talking Swahili. The problem was that the cast weren’t in character wardrobe, they were in a rehearsal space – some had track pants and bright T shirts, others were festooned with sponsor signage or old film T shirt, some were dressed for shopping in Karori, it was like there was nothing to define them, it was like their images were being sucked into the walls. All I could workout was the optical nerve was somehow being confused with the collage that was somehow affecting the ability of the brain to comprehend the content. Try putting that into google for a solution? Maybe I was just tired and emotional? – I extracted all the colour out of the images and it started to make sense. Go figure?

From this insight we created three distinctive looks – the monochrome look took care of the 9 weeks within the rehearsal space and a 4:3 format. A de-saturated look dealt with any ‘talking heads’. I then set a few scenes as they might appear in a feature film which was shot digitally with a larger crew (16:9 format).

I love the editing process… part of the delight is the chance to ‘show off’ to the editor in that, ‘see what we did here’ way – their fresh eyes breathe life into what I usually find over whelming.

4 Simon Ferry (bg) Carl Bland - King Lear
Simon Ferry and Carl Bland.
1 Ian Mune as King Lear
Ian Mune.

I had budgeted six weeks for the post-production – it took three weeks just viewing the 85 field tapes. We rendered the beast into working files and planned the story as a countdown to opening night. From the early stages I had been cautious of people’s privacy and as the rehearsal revealed itself, as a deeply personal and revealing process, I was even more relieved that I had given the cast final editorial sign off – I had no desire to rip anyone’s jugular out or expose any great foibles to the world.

Getting nine weeks and 85 field tapes to comfortably fit into a 47 minutes was initially a challenge – though to my surprise the story of the journey became more clear the more we took out.

Editor John Gilbert and I must have done something right as there was only one minor change suggested to the cut.

Ian and Christian viewed the final film together and left smiling in the same car.

You can see the completed film on the NZonScreen website.

Ian Mune - Carl Bland
Ian Mune and Carl Bland.
Photo Credits: John McDermott

 

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Mune – an autobiography

TAKE (NZ Director’s Guild Magazine)   February 2010

 

Ian Mune is the darling naughty boy of Stage, Movies and TV – he’s bad in that best possible way – he’s bad because he cares. And we love him more for it.

I had the pleasure a few days ago of sitting in a café with him under Mt Taupiri – breakfast – the owner recognised him and we get 3 Neenish tarts for the moment of notoriety… though she had to ask his name… “I know who you are but I can’t remember it,” she said.

Ian smiled and said his name – she then banged him on the arm, “yeah I know that”. We all know him, we grew up with him, that was him larger than life.

I have to declare my hand. I still think Moynihan is the best NZ TV ever!

Recently a brick arrived in the mail – a book – the word is out – one of our clan has written it – you can’t miss it he’s on the cover. Once described as ‘a face like an unmade bed…’ – it’s actually quite a beautiful face and though the years have wearied the exterior the mind and the wit is still as sharp as a tack… and those eyes have seen a bit… quite a bit in fact.

Opinion and the ownership of it is an interesting subject. Orthodox thinking and toeing the line – Mune says why bother. It’s like you get one go at this life and this is it! I asked him once ‘what do you think happens after you die?’ … he said that ‘all the pain of this life would be finally gone’. Good answer under the circumstances as we were probably both drunk and probably both a wee bit depressed and did I mention the NZFC which always gets a bit of a hiding under these circumstances?

He writes very well, he writes particularly well about the roller coaster ride of a man who chooses to be an artist in a time when the notion is not even seen as a viable option – 1960’s New Zealand where to be a grey bureaucrat was where ambition came to live and die, it was expected… being a painter, or an actor or god preserve being both! What was he thinking? …and what about his wife and the young kids – he must be mad!

The ‘Rockwell-esK’ picture of the rural New Zealand that we can now only dream of is a gritty introduction to a complex life. Ian paints a picture of a man in a vortex as he tries to tame the beast of the creative soul – then we’re with him on the road hitching in winter from one despair to the next, sleeping rough under bushes just out of Levin, midnight flits on unpaid rent… and billowing Wellington wallpaper. Ian writes with a brutally-astute honesty and doesn’t seem to be holding back on beating himself up… brown and white and the state of thinking from a small colonial country… I like this stuff – it reads like a book – it reads like a living history, our history – our people – our mate telling it from the heart.

Pg 66: ‘play yourself – I then realise I don’t know who that is – so I play someone playing me…’ – this is the Mune we know and love… we never knew ‘til now that he knew what we always did.

It seems that a few of us have been in the inner Mune sanctum forever and continue to ‘bags’ him for the sometimes flawed character he is… he’s that actor-writer-director that could – and we knew it was going to be dangerous, that’s why we hang around – to get closer.

The book is out for Christmas. The first thing you do is go to the back pages (index) and look up your own name; we’re performers and entertainers – our ego’s got us where we have ended up… not so much a cork on the tide but a determined paddle against the current. This is very much so for Ian more than most.

I was there for some of it (his life so far that is) – I was sometimes on the edges of it – and then sometimes closer to the centre than I cared to be – a life? It fits neatly into 328 pages… it doesn’t meander – and neither does the Mune. The preface has an apology to those missing in action and the details cut to the floor due to lack of space – but even so we get enough of this very busy life. His life. I could have done with more.

We’re all in it – in the sense that its about being a ‘Kiwi’ bloke – it starts on the stage as that kid that got a reaction – that first addictive moment when they laughed; they laughed with the actor because of the action and because of the timing… all this was to do with a prop (a pea) that did what it was supposed to (or was it a fluke?) – but as they say ‘the rest is history’.

Ian Mune one of the original old hands – a guy who started when there wasn’t a professional Theatre and the Film Business was trying to re-invent itself – both had to be built nearly from scratch – dreams and hard work and sacrifice – you could call him a Pioneer, a Legend… or as the trades now refer to those from that era – Veterans – John O’Shea always used to stutter mmmmmmaaaakes me sound like a ffffuuuucking old car when they call me that.

It goes from there to here and back – Wales and the World – more rough and tumble – theatre in the extreme – celebration and disappointments – a family displaced over 4 months of travel and young kids who don’t recognise their Father – a family trying to find itself again… this is a ripping yarn… a page turner. I like this stuff…

…in the epilogue he refers to ‘a friend gone feral’ – a mutual friend to be exact – it’s probably the constant burden of those damn mental health issues that have create this rift – no ones to blame – no one at fault – I’ve intervened twice now and put the pieces back together… there’s still hope. This book might just do the trick. It’s a great read.

The movie

TAKE (Director’s Guild Magazine)  December 2008

 

The lunch ritual for Mune and me goes like this – one will ask the other “How’s business?” – one, or both, will answer “Business is good” (or not, depending on mood or circumstances.) Whatever, we will now have a tax-free ‘business lunch’ – compliance is complete. On this particular day, downtown Wellington is unusually busy. We push eagerly through a gathering crowd. The monolithic Embassy cinema looms through hanging mist.

 

Courtenay Place is abuzz and I lose Mune, then immediately find him – we’re pulled into the vortex as a throng ensues. The word on the street says ‘There hasn’t been anything like it for years, maybe ten, maybe twenty, maybe never!’ A hush envelops the populous; common people consider pathetic lives, the lack of immediate guidance and confirmation causes panic. We overhear one woman gasp ‘If only there’d been advance word, someone might have rolled out the red carpet.’

 

An over-opinionated film critic is also overheard – ‘Who could have known that such an unknown would redefine the genre? No! Create a new genre! – tell it like it is; better, bigger, brighter than it has ever been!”

 

Then closer, quietly considered, an old guy mumbles, ‘It’s been said that some had abandoned all hope.’ He catches Mune’s eye and adds… ‘completely’.

 

Yet now here we are, by mere happenstance, no bus hoardings or endless TV publicity to sell us back our brains or tell us what to expect – a genuine spontaneous moment – the place of dreams, the place of bliss, the hallowed shrine.

 

We enter the mausoleum. The lights dim like a cloak closing over a small child’s head, like storm clouds over a harvest moon. Somewhere a door slams! The crypt is now secure.

 

Imagine the thrill. Curtains hang like aurora borealis, slowly part like the Red Sea – nearby a small boy child, maybe of Bethlehem significance, is being born – the rotation of the earth pauses, a heart-beat falters, all breath is held, eyes unblinking, jaws dropped, angels ahhh – beyond here must surely be the promised land… all for a mere $14.00! It doesn’t get better than this!

 

A single cello note takes the edges off our teeth, a child screams: within the Dolby surrounds is the violent slaughter of many animals – it sits perfectly as underscore – cutting through like finger nails down a blackboard.

 

Lunch is going particularly well – only the usual thorny issues are immediately present – we order more wine. We come here to moan, ‘not to praise,’ and moan and whinge we do. The discussion of ‘Story’ and ‘National Cinema’ always comes to the fore… it’s our favourite.

 

Who would imagine it would ever be allowed out of its cage, a tale to end all tales, a movie with the tenacity of a pit bull, so dangerous and vital; don’t let the kids near it – even from the safety of your seat it still might rip your face off.

 

From the sliding curtain-opening, we could see the vigor and the mud oozing from every frame; the mist dripping from rafters and the dank reaching up through our guts. Those hills, our distant hills, our land, our hope; it’s the truth found only of the bush; this has got to be the movie of the year, of the decade! Before this, nothing; after this? – well? – it’ll be hard to measure a film-making nation by any other. Before this everything is a ‘has-been,’ a mere copy of what has gone before. From this day forth you merely trifle with the form, even if you come close to this. This movie’s got legs – we see a bureaucrat run from the auditorium to call a special meeting.

 

We finally make it to the food part of lunch – wearing the weighty robe of wisdom and experience does piqué the appetite. We try using language learnt at the many Hollywood script courses, but nothing of theirs can describe it. We abandon it in pursuit of the perfect dream and gain acceptance when, in the real world, none exists. After all this is the dream factory and, though this movie only exists in our imagination, a mere description of what might be, we speak of truth… we order more plonk in celebration of our voice.

 

We finally conclude that it’s been a long time between drinks, real drinks that is, not this sugar-water and piss-weak, cloned Hollywood crap; in fact we’re talking the likes of ‘Ngati’ and ‘Out of the Blue.’ We sit in silence and contemplate the vastness of the void between these projects. We try to think of just one more to include, something to fill the gap, something to occupy the high ground, something to define an identity, our identity – but alas – nothing. We toast Bazza while below us the imaginary red carpet is loaded into trucks.

Murray Newey – In Memorium

Murray Newey – In Memorium

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.

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