Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!

Not Quite HollywoodSynopsis: Free-wheeling sex romps! Blood-soaked terror tales! High-octane extravaganzas! Welcome to Not Quite Hollywood, the wild, wonderful story of “Ozploitation” films. Join Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dennis Hopper and many others as they take you on an irreverent journey through the ’70s and ’80s, an era when Australian cinema got its gear off and showed the world a full-frontal explosion of sex, violence, horror and foot-to-the floor action.

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Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! 7.5

eyelights: the slick editing. Tarantino’s enthusiasm.
eyesores: the mish-mash narrative.

‘Not Quite Hollywood’ is a feature-length documentary on Australian exploitation films of the ’70s and early ’80s. Affectionately dubbed “Ozploitation”, this is a genre that I knew very little about going in; I’m already not a huge exploitation film fan, let alone of such a remote variety. But I was curious to find out more about it.

In fact, I was even a bit eager: after having seen the trailer for it, it seemed like a whole lot of fun.

The film is, in fact, a blast to watch. Like ‘The Kid Stays in the Picture‘ (although less so), it features fast and slick modern editing technique, which make the content appear exciting. Unlike ‘The Kid’, however, it has an unfocused and non-linear narrative that makes it difficult to truly get a grasp of the events and get a sense of the genre’s place in history.

One of the key issues to surface is that the film begins in the late ’60s, goes to the mid-’70s, goes back to the early ’70s, goes through the ’70s, returns back to the mid ’70s, and then continued until the mid-’80s. It doesn’t seem to know where it wants to be, leaving us with an ambiguous  impression of how everything transpired, and what influenced what.

This is chiefly due to the fact that writer-director Mark Hartley, a dedicated fan and researcher of the genre, wanted to group up the film into categories: sex comedies, horror and action. In so doing, he ended up jaunting all over the place. And, although it might have been a good way to explore each sub-genre, he only does an overview of each.

This is further complicated by the countless film clips, which frequently flash by so quickly that it’s difficult to form an opinion of what is on screen. Their titles flash by even faster, so even if we like what we see, good luck knowing what it was unless you rewind and take notes. Frankly, as an Ozploitation newbie, I found it very difficult to keep up.

‘Not Quite Hollywood’ is obviously conceived by and for fans of the genre. Quentin Tarantino, a connoisseur, was a huge supporter of the documentary and got involved in the making of it. He is one of the many interview subjects over the course of this film, and his enthusiasm is palpable. Actually, his energy was rather infectious – in a way that recalled his earlier years.

The rest of the interviews was a mixed affair; some were very interesting, others not so much. What I hated was that the cast and crew were identified by name and role, but were never given a context – we didn’t know which film they had worked on, how they were related to the film currently being discussed, …etc., something that ‘Tales from the Script‘ did extremely well.

So, as a novice, I was watching a bunch of disjointed talking heads, half of the time with no sense of why they were there. The problem with this approach is that I don’t feel compelled to go out and find one of those people’s films since the ‘Not Quite Hollywood’ does such a poor job of selling them to me. Why is that person or film important? Why should I care?

Who knows!

Another failing is that the film gives the impression that Ozploitation films were influential, and that they gave rise to the Australian film industry. However, it is apparently a largely ignored genre there and is hardly acknowledged in Aussie history. ‘Not  Quite Hollywood’, in its bias, failed to put it in perspective, skewing the impression that it gives.

But it certainly is enthused about its subject matter and does an excellent job of conveying  it. In fact, there were a bunch of films that were talked about with such reverence, or which were noted for their impact in some fashion, and it made me want to see them to understand where they fit in the big picture. So I took down a few notes and will surely track down some of them.

For instance:

  • ‘Wake in Fright’: released in 1971, this psycho-thriller helped put Australia on the map. It premiered at Cannes and, to me, looks like a pretty intense trip along the lines of ‘Straw Dogs‘ in some way. At least such was my impression from the few clips we saw.
  • The Barry McKenzie films, which spoofed a certain class of Aussies and which were wildly popular. These films changed their reputation on the world stage – and not necessarily for the better, given that it played up stereotypes and was purposely crass. It was meant as satire, but not everyone got it – not even back home.
  • The Alvin Purple films, which were sex comedies that blew onto the scene  after the Aussie censorship laws were abated. The first one was the biggest grossing Aussie picture to date, despite scathing reviews.
  • ‘The ABC of Love and Sex: Australia Style’: A documentary released in the late ’70s, it purported to show the ins and outs of Aussie sex lives. Frankly, I’m not just a little curious: what footage that was shown here looked like a delightful romp.
  • ‘Roadgames’: I’ve been meaning to watch this one again. It is discussed as a classic by many of the participants, so I have to give it another chance. It’s notable for the controversy of hiring American actors as leads – a common practice at the time.
  • ‘The Survivor’: If only because it was the first Aussie film made on a million-dollar budget. It was a flop, but I’m curious to see what they had intended to make. Apparently its undoing was that they decided to make it cerebral instead of visceral. Intriguing.
  • ‘Razorback’: When I first heard of it, months ago, I ignored it: it looks horrible. But, it was apparently stylistically ahead of its time. So I guess I should see that.
  • ‘Next of Kin’: Tarantino said that it’s similar in tone to ‘The Shining’. He was also quick to add that he’s not overpraising it. It certainly looked interesting.
  • ‘Long Weekend’: Tarantino raves about this film, which seemed like a psychologically intriguing piece – if vile, given that the couple we watch are out battling nature in the most violent of ways.
  • ‘Mad Dog Morgan’: Featuring Dennis Hopper, this was the biggest OZ film at the time of its release. It’s notable for Hopper’s antics: he was so drunk and coked up the whole way through that the production was a nightmare and he had to be dragged out of the country. But, since he was playing a crazy person, he fit the bill.
  • ‘The Return of Captain Invincible’: WTF? A superhero action-comedy musical? That’s got to be of the so-bad-it’s-good variety of films, a little like ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star‘. Call me curious.
  • ‘The Man from Hong Kong’: While it didn’t seem that notable to me, it’s nonetheless a  memorable entry. I’d like to see it if only because it stars George Lazenby and because it looks so do-it-yourself, that many of the stunts actually look dangerous. There was this one explosion that had a car door flail right by the camera; they’re lucky no one got hurt.

Speaking of which, the movie spends some time discussing Grant Page, a stunt man who knew no fear. Since everything was makeshift and done without any safety regulations, he would do the most extreme, craziest stunts without ever worrying about the consequences. He stars in ‘Stunt Rock’, which also features a rock magician band, Sorcery. Yes, ‘Stunt Rock’. Hah!

We also meet and hear about Anthony I. Ginnane, a producer who is considered the Aussie equivalent of Roger Corman – except not nearly as friendly. He was an extremely influential figure, for good or bad, financing tons of exploitation films at the time. Another important figure, Brian Trenchard-Smith, is given equal amounts of screen time and is also interviewed by Tarantino, a huge fan.

‘Not Quite Hollywood’ talks about tons of other notable films, but ‘Patrick‘ (which Tarantino reference in ‘Kill Bill’) stood out for me, having seen it somewhat recently, and because of my love of director Richard Franklin’s ‘Psycho II‘. Franklin is featured in this film in some of his last on-screen interviews, passing away not long before its release. The movie is dedicated to him at the end.

It also talks about the extremely influential ‘Mad Max’, which was a huge success despite the chaotic production, which was littered with broken bones and other injuries. But what a success!!! It also talks about the current resurgence of Ozploitation, having disappeared for twenty years and now making a comeback through such films as ‘Wolf Creek’ and ‘Saw’.

All in all, ‘Not Quite Hollywood’ is an entertaining documentary and it makes for a nice highlights reel of some of the more notable moments, people and films in the Ozploitation genre. It’s a compelling trip down memory lane for those in the know, but it’s not quite as good a primer for the uninitiated. Still, it’s a good time throughout, and it’s informative enough.

It’s well worth seeing.

Date of viewing: April 14, 2014

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