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Not Quite Hollywood

director: Mark Hartley

99 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
I salute Mark Hartley, the director of Not Quite Hollywood, for coining the word 'Ozploitation'. In the United Kingdom we recognised the Australian 'new wave' at the turn of the 1980s - we could hardly miss it. The films were celebrated at festivals and in the broadsheets and magazines, and more importantly many of them received a television airing. Cathy's Child, Newsweek, The Getting Of Wisdom, Picnic At Hanging Rock, My Brilliant Career, Don's Party, The Odd Angry Shot, The Devil's Playground, and The Money Movers all arrived on the BBC in 1980 and most would become familiar in repeat screenings.

Video had just arrived and the attention to Australian cinema spread to the low-budget exploitation movies which were available in plentiful number on tape. The current history runs that the exploitation film led to the new wave but here in the UK we did not find Ozploitation films until the arrival of the new wave. There was another brand of Ozploitation rampant in the UK at the time, on the small screens, in television series like Bluey, Chopper Squad, Boney, Doctor Down Under, The Young Doctors, and Phoenix Five, though Not Quite Hollywood; with a clear criteria of independently produced feature films made for theatrical release, cannot cover this. It only gives mention to a series we did not get, Number 96, allowable here because it also had a movie version.

There has been some chatter as to what is new wave and what is Ozploitation, but as much as some would like to draw a line of distinction between the classier and the exploitative more than a few of the films held in high regard could easily bridge both. All that they needed were a genre, while on the other side of this preferred fence there were many genre films so professionally produced that they are deserving of classic status.

The new wave adulation touched on road movies (Mad Max), sex comedies (Don's Party), a violent heist story (The Money Movers), and a Vietnam film (The Odd Angry Shot), that, while subdued in its fighting sequences could not escape a sense of dread over the fate of its young combatants (a cast which included John Jarratt, Graeme Blundell, Bryan Brown, and John Hargreaves). Weekend Of Shadows was one of a number of grim true murder stories (and from New Zealand we would receive the equally violent Bad Blood, Sleeping Dogs, and Utu), while The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978) can allot some of its success to the promotional material featuring in large a bloodied hatchet. By 1982, Heatwave, Mad Max 2, and Gallipoli were clinching the statement on the continuing standard of the Australian movie scene but they were genre, a crime thriller, a post-apocalyptic action fest, and a war movie, all of the same. The ominous air that permeated Colin Eggleston's excellent Long Weekend, was also present in the thriller Summerfield (1977), whereas there was never any question at the time that Long Weekend should be regarded less than high quality.

Hartley's documentary is a fantastic introduction to the films, their directors and stars. It is an exploitation film in its own right including all of the most striking images of sex and violence, action and gore over its three chapters. The film opens on the sex film before moving into horror, and then closing on a mixed bag of action flicks. Over 150 hours of interviews were shot and a 50 further hours of archival material poured over by Hartley to include those, in the few, this is recent history after all, no longer with us. Not Quite Hollywood selects as the key figures Brian Trenchard-Smith, John Lamond, Anthony I. Ginnane, Richard Franklin, Sandy Harbutt, Grant Page and Tim Burstall. Grant Page is found at the core of a lot of the craziness as the stunt talent involved in many of the prominent action films during a period in Australian filmmaking that health and safety procedures had yet to statutorily reach. Live ammunition is fired on sets, real blades are swung, real children are ushered out of the path of oncoming cars and explosions are anything but controlled as a door flies horrifying close to the camera crew, deadly unavoidable if it been a couple of yards nearer. Deaths did occur including a camera crew member struck by a car during the filming of Quentin Masters' Midnight Spares (1983), and three people were killed in a power-boat crash filmed for David Hemmings' Race For The Yankee Zephyr (1981). The other most dangerous film shoots included Stone, Mad Max, and The Man From Hong Kong.

Sandy Harbutt's Stone is notorious. It arrived in the UK in 1982 and reached my local cinema in January 1983. What was not observed at the time was that Stone was eight years old, having been made in 1974. The release, in part, was likely to be down to the popularity of Rebecca Gilling, who by 1982 was recognisable on UK television screens due to imported Australian television fare but also because it could be exploited as new and was heading for video anyway. I was denied entrance to the cinema having previously been grassed up as underage, though I had previously snuck into a large number of X-rated films. My response was to purchase my first VCR and on the first Saturday my first rental was the Video Tape Centre VHS release of Stone. The film played hard and rode hard, from its opening decapitation of a biker with a wire set across a road, and the sexism and violence rarely let up from that point onwards. A genuine biker gang was encouraged to participate but they could not always feign violence and let their fists (ad hoc weapons optional) get away with them.

Hartley credits himself with cleaning up many of the prints for inclusion, but other producers and directors had already been looking after their work. John Lamond's Felicity (1979) recently turned up on an NTSC region-free edition from Severin and the image is pristine, with all the visual polish of an Emmanuelle movie, only ruder and sexier. Tim Burstall died in 2002, but before then had turned his attentions to re-mastering the self-produced movies and thankfully, most of the Hexagon Productions are available on region four DVD with beautiful image quality. Even Terry Bourke has been duly honoured since his death, also in 2002, with an all region (Australian) release of his Night Of Fear and Inn Of The Damned on a double-bill which again presents both movies in perfect image and colour transfers. Even if the story content on any of these films had not been interesting, the camerawork and image should still appeal. Lamond's horror film Nightmares (1980) as featured in the documentary has the same clarity of image reflected in his other work but not in the memory of anyone who caught the film on its UK video release where the transfer was probably poor and zoom-boxed. It gives you an urge to chase many of the films up again (if not a first time) and see them in their full gory glory. Other films would have been edited down even in the pre-cert era and Turkey Shoot appears a lot bloodier than I recall, but then again, some of those details would have been fudged in the old Guild Home Video release transfer.

Hartley does well to cover as much as he does in just under 100 minutes and clearly this could have stood as equally as a series but that is what DVD is for today, and Not Quite Hollywood is intended as an introduction and a springboard for the interest to investigate further on their own onus. On Night Of Fear you can catch commentaries with Carla Hoogeveen and Rod Hay while the Hexagon Collection release of End Play (1976), has a great documentary including quality 30-year-old behind-the-scenes footage. Bourke and Burstall are described as a pair of sods and no-one seems to feel it necessary to debate other than that in their absence. But all of the key players of Ozploitation took liberties with the safety and dignity of their actors and crew. Burstall is a name in Australia but largely a mystery in the United Kingdom as most of his work did not reach video, not unless it was post-Hexagon as in the fun war film Attack Force Z (1981). End Play was screened by the BBC late one Sunday night between Christmas 1979 and New Year 1980 (and apparently shown again the next year), whereas Eliza Fraser was screened by the BBC in 1980 and both made an impression on me at the time. End Play is a superior psycho thriller starring John Waters and George Mallaby and caught up with again after nearly 30 years it is flawed but not in any injurious way. Eliza Fraser (1976) might prove to be more embarrassing today with its un-PC period romp including (in a scene recounted by the still bemused actress) Susannah York half-naked and blacked up to 'blend in' with the natives. Bourke's Inn Of The Damned (1975), and Lady, Stay Dead (1982), both arrived in the UK on video but neither were impressive. Night Of Fear (1972) was unknown outside of Australia until recently and was the victim of censors, branded obscene and indecent, it went all out to shock and was too successful in that aim. Though the documentary covers some of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, it overlooks to alert the viewer to one of the film's more startling aspects. Night Of Fear is virtually an abstract horror film, a dialogue-free torrent of abuse and violence, the participants either screaming or gibbering, moving from one lurid scene to another. It does not work and yet at the same time fascinates.

The majority of Australian exploitation films were not good, and the documentary does not pretend that they were. I saw most of the horrors and can attest to this. Ian Coughlin's Alison's Birthday (1981) was so lame that on its 1983 UK video release it was almost uniquely awarded a PG rating despite being a horror film, but then what else should we expect from a film from a future writer for Neighbours. The best of the films were few but genuinely great: Tony Williams' Next Of Kin (1982) - which I must have seen ten times on my Atlantis VHS tape, is a genuine gem, Colin Eggleston's Long Weekend (1979), Richard Franklin's Road Games (1981), George Miller's Mad Max (1978), and Mad Max 2 (1982), End Play, Bruce Beresford's The Money Movers, and Peter Weir's The Plumber (1979). There is no proper coverage of the latter four here, and no footage at all of three, though cheekily a spear bolt through the thigh from End Play is irresistible to the director for the opening titles sequence. Investigation and enquiry might reveal that the director had a reason for their exclusion; that they fell out of his remit. Hartley is selective about some of the later films for inclusion and allows Philippe Mora's Howling III: The Marsupials (1987) as a lunatic benchmark, and Dead End Drive-In (1985) for it's barmy premise, but also Russell Mulcahy's Razorback (1984) for its style, and Dark Age (1987) for its quality, though disappointingly, no archive interview with, nor even a mention of, its director Arch Nicholson. Though the Bob McCarron crocodile is savaged now it was quite impressive 20 years ago, and it is surprising to discover that Dark Age has performed such an astonishing vanishing act since. Long Weekend and Next Of Kin were never really seen as outsider movies, and Next Of Kin even picked up an award at the Australian equivalent of the BAFTAs in 1983. Sadly, Colin Eggleston followed that up only with a string of lesser films (Innocent Prey, Cassandra, and the script for Nightmares).

You can only cram in so much but so little is left out that it is obvious that outside interference can be the only reason for it. Peter Weir is not going to be drawn and though Picnic At Hanging Rock is attacked over and again as the worst of the new wave morasses, and a few clips from The Cars That Ate Paris are flashed but no discussion is entered into. Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Last Wave. and anything from Gallipoli onwards would not fall under the Ozploitation bracket, but The Plumber (1978) is an unusual thriller (as this was originally made for television this could be the reason for its exclusion, and another television movie worthy of attention would be the 1978 film Demolition), but The Cars That Ate Paris should have been briefly visited as should have been Weir's first horror film Homesdale (1971).

Jim Sharman is another glaring absence. Best known for his British cult film The Rocky Horror Picture Show, he made three more fantasy films during the period covered, Shirley Thompson Versus The Aliens (1972), Summer Of Secrets (1976), and The Night, The Prowler (1978), yet no mention comes. Even earlier oddities like Dusan Marek's weird sci-fi fantasy And The World Was Made Flesh (1971), and Ralph Lawrence Marsden's Poe-inspired horror The Sabbat Of The Black Cat (1973) would have sated my curiosity too. The Clinic (1982) a sexually-transmitted-disease comedy from 1982 is missing and the UK financed science-fiction disaster Lorca And The Outlaws (1985) would have made an interesting story, residing in the Guinness Book Of Film Facts And Feats once as having the lowest ever box-office takings in the UK, it felled Vestron as both a budding production company and a video label. Later films that did not fit the sex, horror and action brackets but were no less Ozploitation, like Gillian Armstrong's teen musical Starstruck (1982) - a fate for the My Brilliant Career director that you think the makers might enjoy dwelling on, and the punk movie Dogs In Space (1986) should also have earned a place in proceedings. But again, this was expected to form the springboard for greater interest and never intended to be the conclusive story of the Ozploitation experience.

The DVD has several supporting features which supplement further tales to put a smile on your face. The Ozploitation panel at the Melbourne International Film Festival, a to-camera interview with Hartley and an interview between Quentin Tarantino and Brian Trenchard-Smith throw up a wealth of additional details and funnies. The images and tales and language hurtle past at such a rate that I found myself going back for a second helping.

The soft-sex films are an area in which I am less knowledgeable and a lot of learning came from the film with Pacific Banana, Australia After Dark, and Plugg were among the titles completely new to me. Some of the directors and actors could withstand a documentary of their own and, who knows, they may come. John Waters was a standard bearer and his appearance always signalled the film as worthy of viewing whether it was End Play, Eliza Fraser, Summerfield, Attack Force Z or the television movie Demoliton. For a time he was the crown prince of the unusual. Most of the tottie was attractive but hardly singular, and Rebecca Gibbs easily the most standout beauty until Virginia Hey, and Natalie McCurry. Not Quite Hollywood is a parade of the perverse and a pantomime of the psychotic. If it does not get you excited into further investigation you are already dead... or one of them pommie poofters.
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