By Davin Sgargetta
It’s hard not to think of what might have been when watching Mark Hartley’s new documentary, ”Not Quite Hollywood”. Just try and imagine an Australian cinema that grew out of the 70s and 80s genre and exploitation movies that are aptly portrayed in this triumphant debut. Sounds like utopia.
But instead, as the film demonstrates, they were outcast, shunted and labeled as the embarrassing and contrived produce left on the slimy basin of an otherwise elitist industry. Weren’t we wrong?
”Not Quite Hollywood” takes us through the catalogue of â€˜Ozploitation’ films produced during this period of social and cultural awakening in Australia that gave international audiences our unique perspective of what was then popular cinema. Experts of the time rejected these projects as our attempt to copy international filmmakers, while global audiences recognised the difference and appreciated and enjoyed the Australia perspective. Were we copying, or giving an Australian interpretation?
It’s not so much an historical pocket-pissing; it’s more a carnival ghost ride through the wild exhibits and twisted minds of the time. Sure many of these films were crass, uncouth, sloppy and vulgar, with cheesy lines and dodgy make-up, but many of them have also become recognized as some of the finest work that has come out of this country, particularly on a production level: films like Mad Max, Razorback, Long Weekend, The Man From Hong Kong, Patrick and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie all get their due credit. Many of the films pushed filmmaking to a new and often life-threatening level. And when you consider that they were made in a time of extreme censorship, the achievements are magnified.
There’s almost not enough time to squeeze it all into its 98 minute running time; the film ends up, rather appropriately, being an over-stimulation of the senses, flipping through each graphic sequence like a 15 year old boy who’s found his old man’s porno mag under the bed. And viewers will be left smiling in a very similar manner.
It has everything, from tits and arse, to blood, gore, violence and the gutter-mouth dialogue delivered in the cockniest of Australian accents, that couldn’t better depict this expressive societal age.
With interviews from just about all the filmmakers, actors and producers of the time, from George Miller, Tony Ginnane, Jack Thompson and Barry Humphries, to the overseas invaders such as Dennis Hopper and Jamie Lee Curtis, this is a truly honest perspective of an era when almost nothing was taboo and shock value was the highest order of business. Quentin Tarantino is the true token American interviewee who almost ironically shares his views on the period – ironic in that token Americans were common in the films of this period to the disgust of the local talent – and we accept him thanks to his exceptional knowledge and exuberant enthusiasm in our movies.
At the very least, ”Not Quite Hollywood” is worth seeing for the conversation it will no doubt ignite among film buffs, particularly cult film fans and those who can remember this era well. For anyone remotely interested in Australian cinema, I also highly recommend it. It’s an appropriately toned and honest account of an Australian industry that showed so much promise and proudly flexed a humour-muscle that has since been hiding under the flabby tissue of a depressing and dreary era. But it leaves us with a sense that this muscle is still strong enough to at least carry hopes.