Two voices speak from beyond the grave in Numero Bruno, Steve Lahood's affectionate but unvarnished documentary about the life and work of Bruno Lawrence, which has four screenings at the film festival.

The 67-minute film is rich in the remembering of Lawrence - drummer, actor, iconoclast and (as his first film role aptly cast him) wild man.

But the memories of others are interspersed with interview material compiled by Neil Roberts, the TVNZ boss who commissioned the film.


Roberts interviewed Lawrence for his 1990 series of memoirs called Magic Kiwis. The series was made up of 60-second spots but the piece on Lawrence was based on several hours of interviews with which the new film is generously laced.

In hindsight, it's a bracing encounter. Neither man knew he was dying of cancer (Lawrence succumbed in June 1995, Roberts in November 1998).

Each lived fast and died young. And each, in his own way, made an indelible impression on the nation's cultural landscape.

Lahood, the Wellington film-maker who has helmed more episodes of Shortland Street than he cares to count and who now spends most of his time creating visual exhibitions - Te Papa's Golden Days and Rotorua's Tarawera Stories are both his work - didn't know Lawrence better than "to say gidday to."

But a year after Lawrence's death he was surprised that no one else was planning a film biography of the man who bestrode like a colossus three decades of our entertainment industry.

"He was an important mover and shaker," Lahood says, "and no one had celebrated his life or death."

David Charles Gilbert Lawrence was born in 1941 in the English seaside city of Brighton, to an English mother and New Zealand father, and moved here at the age of five.

His first taste of performance was as a jazz drummer but he came to national prominence in BLERTA (Bruno Lawrence's Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition), a travelling hippy roadshow group which entertained and outraged in about equal measure.


He went on to star in dozens of movies and television shows on both sides of the Tasman, some best forgotten but some unforgettable.

His incandescent Al Shaw, the petrolhead father fighting for access to his daughter in Roger Donaldson's Smash Palace, remains the finest single performance in our cinema.

Lahood interviewed intensively and extensively for his documentary but was careful not to compile a reverential homage.

Old mates and former colleagues - Andy Anderson, an emotional Ian Watkin, Keith Aberdein - speak with respect and fondness, but all are pretty clear-eyed about Lawrence's rough edges as a human being: his propensity to turn, as one drink too many hit his cerebral cortex, from amiable braggart to bitter, snarling drunk; his rampant womanising; his passions for gambling and drugs.

But his work both as a musician and as the local movies' most magnetic leading man is remembered too.

Lahood talks to Lawrence's former wife Veronica - still living on the land at Waimarama where they raised kids - and takes in the view of the next generation as well.

Sadly, there is only silence from Geoff Murphy, a collaborator with Lawrence for years before either of them got on either side of a movie camera.

Murphy, now living in Hawaii, refused to talk to Lahood, as he had refused to talk with Lawrence in the last years of his life.

As a result the film barely scratches the lumpy surface of the relationship between the two - one of our history's most ferociously creative partnerships which turned so desperately and darkly sour.

* Numero Bruno plays on Friday (twice), Saturday and Sunday at the Auckland International Film Festival.