Sex, violence, car chases, 70s Ozploitation cinema has it all, and the documentary Not Quite Hollywood shows you plenty of it. Review by Gary Couzens.
All reviews are subjective to some extent, this one more than most. As I have been watching Australian films – of all kinds – for over a quarter of a century, and reviewing them on DVD for most of the nine years to date that I have been contributing to this site, Not Quite Hollywood would seem to aimed directly at me. But then again it isn’t. This is not so much a review as a discussion of its premise and assumptions, some of which I take issue with.
As one contributor put it, with the revival of the Australian film industry in the 1970s, what would in other country be arthouse films became mainstream, while more straightforward commercial fare was marginalised. It was almost as if the image of an entire country was at stake. Nowadays it’s hard to comprehend the critical vitriol that greeted The Adventures of Barry McKenzie or Alvin Purple. It’s not just that they are bad films – as I suggest in my reviews, they stand up reasonably well, though the less said about their sequels the better – but they were seen as bad representations of the country that spawned them. They were seen as stereotyping Australians as vulgar, sex-obsessed, drunkards. It’s a cultural cringe in action, of which more later – all I will add at this stage is that the Australians rival the British in their readiness to knock their own cinematic output.
Love them or loathe them, “ocker comedies” such as the Barry McKenzie films, Alvin Purple and other films such as Stork helped to revive the Australian film industry and provided it with its first box-office hits. Within a few years, Australian cinema was gaining recognition overseas with films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Sunday Too Far Away and Caddie. However, a reaction was setting in, against an image of local films being genteel period pieces or works of “social realism”, which is not entirely fair to films like these ones. (And yes, far more bland period pieces did get made – I’d suggest We of the Never Never as a good example.) Producers like Antony I. Ginnane and directors like John D. Lamond aspired to make films that sold more widely abroad, in more commercial genres. In particular they took advantage of the liberalisation of the local censorship system, and the introduction of the R rating, which restricted audiences to the over-eighteens and allowed a greater number of films to avoid being cut or banned.
Not Quite Hollywood tracks this wave of “Ozploitation” films through the 70s, the great increase in production in the 80s with the 10BA tax incentives (invest money in a film and write 150% of the amount off your tax bill), to their dying out (with the rise of video and the closing of drive-ins) in the mid 80s. However, in more recent years, films such as Wolf Creek, Saw and Black Water have appeared, more in the style of their 70s equivalents. Mark Hartley’s documentary serves up rapid montages of clips from over seventy films, interspersed with interviews many of the actors and makers of 70s Ozploitation who are still alive, and by means of archive some, like Tim Burstall, no longer with us. (Richard Franklin was interviewed before he died – Not Quite Hollywood is dedicated to him.) The film is inconsistent regarding those who have died, possibly due to material not making the final cut. Terry Bourke (director of Night of Fear and Inn of the Damned) gets birth and death years on screen, as does Tim Burstall, but Arch Nicholson (Buddies and, featured here, Dark Age) and Colin Eggleston (Long Weekend) barely get a mention. Also interviewed are fans of the genre such as Quentin Tarantino and, amusingly, a critic (Bob Ellis, also the screenwriter of Newsfront) who dismisses Ozploitation as trash and its makers as “scum”.
The film is divided into three sections. “Ockers, Knockers, Pubes and Tubes” covers the ocker/sex comedies that largely started the industry. “Comatose Killers and Outback Chillers” deals with horror and supernatural films. Finally, “High Octane Disasters and Kung Fu Masters” concentrates on action movies, often involving cars and bikes, and some hair-raising stories about how some of those stunts were achieved.
There’s no doubt that this is a valuable resource for a critically neglected area of Australian cinema, some – but by no means all – of which is worth re-evaluation. It’s often funny, serves up extracts from films I’m certain I’ve never had a chance to see (for the record, I’ve seen about half of the films discussed in some shape or form). You’ll no doubt finish the film with a long list of titles you want to see, many of which, though not all, are available on DVD. However, I have a few issues.
The first is the use of straw-men arguments by some of the participants. Some of them seem to want to oppose Ozploitation with what they describe as “social realism”. Actually, I’d argue that Picnic on Hanging Rock is nothing of the kind (though it’s undeniable that it’s a PG-rated period piece). The waters are muddied further when you consider that some filmmakers have spent time on both sides. Bruce Beresford went on from the Barry McKenzie films to more upmarket fare such as Don’s Party (one of my favourite Australian films ever) and The Getting of Wisdom while Peter Weir, seemingly forever damned due to Picnic, is also celebrated for his earlier The Cars That Ate Paris. Even Burstall, too often targeted as the great sexist vulgarian of 70s Australian cinema, began with a would-be art movie, Two Thousand Weeks and made literary and stage adaptations (Last of the Knucklemen, Kangaroo) as well as sex comedies. In the panel discussion included on this DVD, Antony Ginnane thinks that with about forty exceptions, all Australian cinema is the equivalent of putting a pile of money on a table and setting it alight, as “no-one” wanted to see them,. Well in many cases, I do or did, and since when has box office success necessarily been an indicator of merit? There’s surely room for both types of film.
Secondly, while you could hardly ask for political correctness in a 70s Ozploitation movie, there’s little acknowledgement that some of the content sits uneasily with modern sensibilities. In my reviews of Fantasm and its sequel Fantasm Comes Again, I’ve discussed the use of rape scenes in a softcore sex film, and that’s not the only example of sexualised violence on display here, almost all of it directed against women. (Hartley throws in a male-on-male rape from Mad Dog Morgan, but it’s hardly even-handed.) There are a couple of shots – from John Lamond’s 1980 slasher movie Nightmares – which might have troubled the censor if this wasn’t a documentary – and would almost definitely have been cut had 1980’s BBFC seen the film.
However, this is a highly entertaining documentary that is if anything too short and franticly paced. If you’re a beginner to the subject or already a fan, you’ll end up with a long list of films you want to see – and fortunately many of them are available on DVD if only in Australia.
Not Quite Hollywood is released by Optimum on a single dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.
The DVD is transferred in a ratio of 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. Much of the film is made up of clips from films – most of which come from archive prints. Aspect ratios are respected. Needless to say the quality varies – some clips are not in good condition – but is as you would expect. The interview footage seems to have been originated on HD, and looks fine.
The soundtarck gives you an option between Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 tracks. There’s very little to choose between them. The films shown almost all had mono soundtracks in the cinema, though some remixing has gone on in some cases, such as directional effects in the clip from Long Weekend. There are no subtitles, as is Optimum’s policy.
The commentary features Mark Hartley and eleven other interviewees from the film. This is a supplement in every sense, as it gives additional information about many of the films.
Among the extras is a Q&A at the Melbourne International Film Festival (19:17). Questions appear in text form, and seven panellists answer. Antony Ginnane decries censorship, and how much Australia is behind the rest of the free world, with the relatively recent bannings of Salo and Ken Park and the censorship difficulties faced by Romance and 9 Songs.
Next up, Quentin Tarantino and Brian Trenchard-Smith have a chat (12:58) about their films and what inspired them. The result is just this side of a mutual appreciation session.
And finally director Mark Hartley is interviewed (22:31). He discusses how he grew up watching Ozploitation films and the ten-year process (from idea to completion) of making this documentary. Some revelations are a little alarming – apparently the only known 35mm print of Dark Age (directed by Arch Nicholson, who died in 1990) is owned by Quentin Tarantino, who loaned it to the production. Apparently some other films are in very bad shape – Terry Bourke’s sex comedy about a seedy detective agency, Plugg, described by at least two critics as one of the worst Australian films ever made – is a named example. What these say about the possibilities of future DVD releases I can’t say.
Finally, there is the trailer for Not Quite Hollywood plus those for Patrick, Turkey Shoot, Long Weekend, Roadgames and Dead Kids, all of which are distributed by Optimum.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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