Friday, October 23, 2009

On DVD: "Not Quite Hollywood"

What a treat this movie is. Not Quite Hollywood is a raucous, joyous history and celebration of so-called “Ozploitation” cinema, low-budget genre pictures made in the 1970s and early 80s by the then-thriving Australian film industry. Some never made it off the continent, while others were repackaged for U.S. exploitation markets, unspooling in the same grindhouses and drive-in theaters as their American counterparts—where their infectious energy and low-budget charm inspired would-be filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino (who appears in this documentary, of course).

Mark Hartley’s doc is a free-wheeling good time, an affectionate tribute that provides a history of the movement and a treasure trove of fascinating and frequently hilarious clips. After briefly setting up the emergence of the industry, and glimpsing a few of the early films shot in Australia by outside filmmakers (like Wake In Fright and Walkabout), Hartley plunges us into the cream of the Aussie crop, separated by three headings.

First is “Ockers, Knockers, Boobs, and Tubes,” spotlighting the skin flicks and gross-out comedies that embarrassed some natives and warmed the hearts of others, including the “Barry McKenzie” films (featuring Barry “Dame Edna” Humpries), the “Alvin Purple” films, and the “Fantasm” pictures (so sleazy, they had to go to California and populate them with porn stars). “Comatose Killers and Outbreak Chillers” focuses on the always reliable suspense and horror genres, including the thriller Road Games, for which future Psycho II director Richard Franklin imported stars Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis; Razorback, a stylish if goofy creature feature from future Highlander director Russell Mulcahy; and the creepy horror picture Next of Kin. “High Octane Disasters and Kung Fu Masters” covers the action movies, from the brutal biker epic Stone to the martial arts cop flick The Man From Hong Kong to the insane people-hunting potboiler Turkey Shoot to perhaps the most famous Ozploitation movie of them all: Mad Max.

Not Quite Hollywood is inventively assembled; Hartley and co-editors Sara Edwards and Jamie Blanks use split-screen, zippy photos, funny reframing, and clever montages that match the momentum of the subject. It clips right along, from its smart opening sequence (utilizing ancient drive-in concession commercials) to its charming ending, crafted with a sense of humor and a genuine sense of fun.

The picture eschews narration, telling the tale in fast-paced interview bites with seemingly everyone who even passed through the industry. We get plenty of astute insights from the folks who saw the boom through, including director Brian Trenchard-Smith, screenwriter Everett De Roche, and stuntman-turned-actor Grant Page (the clips from opus Stunt Rock! , which mixed stunts, rock music, and magic, are a scream). Producers Anthony I. Ginnane and John D. Lamond are oily fascinating (you want to hear everything they say, but you want to take a shower afterwards), and a reflective Dennis Hopper shows up to confirm the mind-boggling war stories from the set of Mad Dog Morgan, a film he shot at the height of his excesses. Entertainingly grouchy film critic Bob Ellis functions as a curmudgeonly voice of opposition. And there is exactly the right amount of Quentin Tarantino—you get his enthusiasm, but a manageable amount of his obnoxiousness.

The film is full of great stories: how Aussie TV star Abigail helped drum up publicity for her full-frontal turn in The True Story of Eskimo Nell, how Trenchard-Smith accidently set one-time James Bond George Lazenby on fire, the dangerously out-of-control production of Trenchard-Smith’s batshit Turkey Shoot. But Hartley also keeps his doc on track, framing the laughs and thrills with context of where these movies came from, and exactly why they disappeared. Hartley’s documentary certainly isn’t for all tastes—the first section is just filthy, and parts of the first and second chunks are stomach-churning—but put this one in front of the right audience, and they will eat it up with a spoon.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a flurry of terrific “movies about movies,” films like A Decade Under the Influence and Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession that move beyond the realm of clip compilation to penetratingly examine a time or movement in popular culture, and function as compelling documentaries in their own right. Not Quite Hollywood is of that class—it’s smart, it’s well-made, and it’s a hoot.

"Not Quite Hollywood" was released on DVD on October 6th.

1 comment:

  1. Really not quite.Not Quite Hollywood is jammed with well-preserved clips of the Aussie movies that started pushing the limits after censorship was essentially dropped in 1971.