Documentary, Australia, 2008
Of the many criticisms leveled at the Australian film industry in the last decade or so, the one I've found myself echoing most is that too many Australian films are dull and depressing. Every picture is filled with gritty, realistic characters and honest, true-to-life stories, but they're all so grim and slow that they're painful to watch.
Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood reminds us that things have not always been thus. It is a celebration of the schlock genre films made here in the '70s and '80s, focusing chiefly on horror, sex comedy, and action. Older viewers will remember the likes of Alvin Purple, Mad Dog Morgan, and Razorback. Most of us young 'uns will recognise nothing here but the Mel Gibson classic, Mad Max. That's because these films were disposable fun. The people who saw them weren't after cultural insights, thought-provoking themes or realism of any kind. They wanted blood, boobs and dynamite. And yes - Australia delivered.
I had been ignorant of this entire movement. I watched with shock and excitement as I discovered the forgotten Australian monster movies. I glimpsed the intimate tan lines of now-revered actresses, watched stuntmen turn cars into steel wastepaper, and saw Australian landscapes transformed into sinister forests and post-apocalyptic wastelands.
These were fairly low-budget films, and according to film crew who were interviewed, the first budget sacrifice was safety. There are some horrific stories of near misses - and not-misses - on set.
Hartley interviewed dozens of people including Barry Humphries, Sigrid Thornton, Quentin Tarantino, and a boatload of 'Ozploitation' fans and filmmakers. Tarantino's input is golden. He is in love with the films and the stories. He recalls seeing and loving the films in their time, but he also demonstrates their lasting creative value: his own work is crammed with genre film homage, and Kill Bill is dedicated to Ozploitation director Brian Trenchard-Smith.
The movies referenced in Not Quite Hollywood are hard to find these days. They have essentially been omitted from Australia's filmic history. Yes, a lot of them are clumsy trash - a fact smilingly acknowledged by many of their creators and even their fans. But Hartley's documentary will have you hoping to catch a glimpse of them in the video store. He doesn't flog them as lost classics, nor Australian cultural staples. He just shows them as they are: bloody good fun.
Happy Australia Day!