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Not Quite Hollywood

I honestly wasn’t expecting the Titanic review to take so much out of me. Then again, it was a very long movie to sit through and I put an unusually large amount of effort into its write-up. I want to write another review this weekend, but it needs to be about something quick. A brief movie that’s fun to watch and easy to write about.

*shovels through the enormous “to-watch” DVD pile in my bedroom*

Here’s a 103-minute documentary about grindhouse films. Yeah, that’ll work.

More specifically, Not Quite Hollywood tells the story of Australian exploitation cinema. With a subject like that, you can be sure of a raunchy good time. These movies were full of explosions, car chases, fake blood, naked women, and stunts that may or may not have been staged. Yet the movie also lays on quite a bit of history, and the history turns out to be very fascinating as well.

See, the movie’s chronicling of Ozploitation begins in the late ’60s/early ’70s. This was the age of the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War, the start of the feminist movement, etc. Additionally, Hollywood had been quite firmly established as the film capitol of the world. And somewhere in there, Australians decided that they were tired of being known only as the nation of kangaroos and koala bears. They wanted to talk about global social issues, and they wanted to do it with a film industry of their own.

So naturally, all of this pent-up energy just released itself without any filter at all. There was of course some attempt at government censorship, but that just made the Australian filmmakers even more determined to get their message out. And somewhere along the way, things became less certain.

Take the rampant nudity, for example. At the start, it was sort of a feminist statement that the nude female form was a thing of beauty for women to be proud of. But then, of course, came the sexism on movie sets and nudity being put into film purely for entertainment’s sake.

An even bigger problem was the overseas appeal. On the one hand, Australian filmmakers were being pressured to make commercially viable films that could compete with the output from America. On the other hand, trying to beat the Yanks at their own horror/action game was always a losing battle. Even worse, putting out bloody and tasteless films for all the world to see might result in a very negative impression of Australia, though it could be argued that Australia’s thriving film industry was a positive thing in itself.

All of these conflicts are portrayed in the documentary. But the general response appeared to be “fuck it, we’ll just keep making the movies we want to see.”

The real meat-and-potatoes of this film is in its analysis of several Ozploitation classics. Mad Max is of course represented, as well as Turkey Shoot, Felicity, and dozens of others. It’s really quite remarkable how so many films could be discussed at such great length in the space of only 100 minutes. As a bonus, the film also profiles such Ozploitation icons as director Brian Trenchard-Smith and stuntman Grant Page.

But how is all of this information conveyed to the audience? Well, I’m glad to say that there’s no annoying voice-over. Instead, writer/director Mark Hartley makes his presence known through some eye-popping graphics and animated segments. The dialogue in this film is provided entirely by interviews with celebrities, some more famous than others.

Ozploitation directors are represented by Trenchard-Smith (BMX Bandits, which starred a young Nicole Kidman), George Miller (Mad Max, obviously), and others. Former leading actors include Steve Bisley (The Chain Reaction), Steve Railsback, and Roger Ward (both of Turkey Shoot). There are at least a dozen former starlets interviewed, including Glory Annen (Felicity), Briony Behets (Long Weekend), and Rebecca Gilling (Number 96).

And let’s not forget the American actors. Yes, Australian filmmakers often indulged in that time-honored tactic of hiring actors from Hollywood to shore up commercial appeal overseas. Though the actors in question were usually washed-up and badly in need of a paycheck, a few bona fide celebrities were somehow roped into making Ozploitation films. And lambasted by the local actors’ unions for their trouble, of course. Such actors include Jamie Lee Curtis (Road Games), Dennis Hopper (Mad Dog Morgan), and George Lazenby (The Man from Hong Kong), all of whom appear in this documentary.

Yet my favorite interviewee in this film has to be Quentin Tarantino. Anyone who knows the man knows that he’s probably one of the biggest exploitation aficionados on the planet. This documentary is about the stuff that Tarantino’s films are made of, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre is on full display here. But more than that, his overwhelming love of Ozploitation and his deep understanding of what makes it so much fun to watch are both so heartfelt and so well articulated that his enthusiasm is simply infectious. Tarantino could have been the only interviewee in this entire movie and it would still be a documentary worth watching.

Instead, we have a wide variety of filmmakers and film critics to tell us all about great Ozploitation films and what happened in the process of making them. In fact, quite a few movies sounded so good that I’m amazed they haven’t been discovered by modern audiences and/or remade by modern filmmakers.

Long Weekend is one example, in which an unsympathetic couple go out camping and get slaughtered by the wilderness. Like The Happening, but on a smaller scale and with less sucking. There’s also Road Games, which is described as “Rear Window set in a truck.” Another example is Patrick, about a coma patient who goes on a killing spree by way of psychokinesis.

Actually, wait. Upon doing some research, it appears that Patrick is getting a remake. And the remake is being directed by… wait for it… Mark Hartley, the same guy who wrote and directed this documentary.

Not Quite Hollywood got me seriously interested in Ozploitation cinema, and I can pay it no higher compliment than that. Everything about this movie is humorous, raunchy, and just plain fun. The interviews are very entertaining, the animations are quite well done, and the featured movies all look and sound like wild rides. Anyone remotely interested in obscure films or cinema history should absolutely seek this one out.

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