Must-read account of one of NZ's finest actors

Ian Williams reviews Mune: An Autobiography

Ian Mune
Craig Potton, $49.99, hbk

Told with a refreshing candour (he wrote it because he was desperate for a buck) and exhilarating prose, Ian Mune's autobiography is a handsome book with colour plates, encompassing some 70 years in the life and times of one of New Zealand's finest actors (and, as I also discovered, scriptwriter, director, designer, artist, author, mask-maker, etc.) and those he associated with in the worlds of theatre, film, television and publishing.

Indeed, from page 1 readers are thrust into a ''what makes an actor tick'' scenario as Mune describes his first performance as a 5-year-old in front of a church congregation.

Sadly, Mune's father didn't live long enough to enjoy his youngest son's success, succumbing at a young age to a heart condition, which Mune says left him with a lifelong need to search for substitute father figures.

Of course, there's a lot of life and career to cover when a certain age is reached, and Mune's quickfire prose may not suit all readers - at times it didn't suit this one.

The problem may lie in the chronology, a start-at-the-beginning, end-towards-the-end story of a life well lived, but which makes confusing reading at times due to the lack of date markers (only a handful of year identifications in the whole book), and having characters and incidents from earlier chapters pop in and out of later ones without being fully identified or the context explained.

Who's Derek? I asked myself, returning to an early chapter to find out.

On the other hand, that might be a cue to read the book all over again.

But when a career and life takes as many twists and turns as Mune's, a chronological index of projects he was involved in would have been a welcome addition to the general index.

Having got that off my chest, Mune is a must-read for everyone, and not just readers with an interest in the development of professional theatre, film, television drama and documentary-making in New Zealand.

It's also the story of a mother bringing up three boys alone, and a marriage placed under stress due to the demands of a career that required frequent family moves from place to place, and making do with crumbs as far as an income is concerned.

Lucky for Mune, he had a wife and family who could cope, but only just.

It's also a revelation as far as behind-the-scenes machinations that pre-empt any play, movie, TV series, are concerned.

The ever-growing bureaucracy involved when applying for funding would drive even the most patient person crazy, let alone someone with a ''let's-get-on-with-it'' streak.

That aside, wallow in the name-dropping as Mune shares his showbiz triumphs and despairs; his two years as an actor with a Welsh Repertory Theatre; his lala-land Hollywood with such Kiwi movie notables as Sam Neill, Jane Campion and Roger Donaldson; international stars such as Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson; his room at the hotel where Robert de Niro keeps a suite permanently reserved; his work with iconic Kiwi figures such as Barry Crump and Billy T. James, and the mattresses on the grimy floors of digs in out-of-the-way-places tourists have never heard of.

I loved it all.

Ian Williams is a Dunedin writer and composer.

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