In his survey of New Zealand Films, Cinema of Unease
(1995), Sam Neill argues that "a national cinema gains its
distinctiveness as much by its performers as by its auteurs". Neill
identifies Bruno Lawrence as the key male performer, "the archetypal
man apart", embodying the profoundly influential New Zealand national
myth of the 'Man Alone'.
Lawrence was an iconic star
in Will Holtzman's sense of the term, an actor who is "an amalgamation
and distillation of cultural impulses". The period of Lawrence's
stardom - the early 1980s to the early 1990s - was a time of crisis and
change for the New Zealand Pakeha (white European) male and Lawrence's
developing persona was a key focus through which those changes could be
registered and considered. Lawrence's own cultural formation blended
the macho aggression and mistrust of authority that characterised the
Kiwi bloke, with a counter-cultural rebelliousness. It is this
complexity that Lawrence brings to his performances, which have an
insistent physicality, both violent and tender, coupled with the
ability to project a deep and unsettled interiority, as if his
characters are haunted by a sense of other desires and aspirations that
they cannot articulate. These qualities express the abiding
contradictions of the Man Alone, whose masculine self-sufficiency is
always revealed as incomplete.
This study analyses
Lawrence's embodiment of this central cultural archetype, and his
importance to an evolving national cinema. Covering Bruno Lawrence's
eighteen New Zealand feature films this is the first critical study of
the career of an actor who was bound up with the revival of the New
Zealand cinema. From the formation of the touring multimedia
performance bus, Blerta (Bruno Lawrence's Electric Revelation
Travelling Apparition), through the films Wild Man (1977), and Smash Palace (1982) to The Quiet Earth
(1985), Lawrence became established as the most familiar and ubiquitous
of New Zealand's actors and something of a counter-cultural icon.
Specific sections of this publication concentrate on Lawrence's early
career; Lawrence as a performer; Lawrence's supporting roles - in films
such as Bridge to Nowhere (1986), and Utu (1983) - and the atavistic Man Alone; the 'central' Lawrence films, Smash Palace, Heart of the Stag (1984), and The Quiet Earth; and Jack Be Nimble (1993) as a film that appears to move beyond the idea of the Kiwi bloke.
publication concludes with a compehensive filmography - which includes
information on Lawrence's overseas productions, short films and
television programmes - and an extensive bibliography.