Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Noone Shoots Cars Like Australians

If you hadn’t worked it out by now, I like movies – a lot. It really makes no mind to me what genre, country or decade; I can find a lot of films that I have found a lot of enjoyment in (even, going against what I said on the sidebar, romcoms). But, part of me has always had a soft spot for exploitation cinema, or any sub genre that has dovetailed the suffix –ploitation onto whatever it is the film makers are exploiting: Canucks, Nazis, Cars, Blacks, Nuns, Midgets, Sex...nothing is safe from being exploited (hell, the film Alabama’s Ghost has been dubbed Everythingspoiltation). For those of you not familiar with the so-called exploitation genre, in a nutshell – Exploitation films have been around since the so-called Golden Days of Hollywood, but the “Golden Era” of the exploitation genre was roughly the late 60’s to mid 80’s (with a bit of a comeback, at least in spirit, over the past few years), anyway - a subject is taken and the stereotypes (real or imagined) are expanded and expounded for the subject of an often lurid, sometimes over dramatic, sometimes horrific story. The thing about exploitation cinema is, while it can encapsulate pretty much all “traditional” genres, they all have a low budget, almost guerrilla filmmaking feel to them.

Much like Canucksploitation (which played with every single Canadian stereotype there ever could be), the film I will be dealing with today also exploits the mores of a country - in this case, Australia. Yes, folks, today’s film is the recent Mark Hartley documentary Not Quite Hollywood.

Breaking down Ozploitation genre into three main sub-genres; sex, cars, horror – Hartley gets the story of many known and unknown examples of the kinds of films that came out of this crazy country from those who were there and those who wish they were. Opening with the political morass of the late 60’s, the film soon shows how young filmmakers of the day (much like their counterparts from around the world) embraced a politically-backed openness inspired by the perceived notion that Australian “culture” was a non-entity, especially within the film industry of the time (with only the occasional film being made here at the time).

Moving to the “first wave” of what would come to be known as Ozploitation (a phrase coined by Quentin Tarantino and Mark Hartley) – with sexually open, permissive and explorative films; many of which would be skirting “soft core”, even today; the movement opened with a pretty much open and honest portrayal of what was to come with films that dealt flat out with Australian attitudes of sexuality, coming about in opposition to Australia’s rather tight censorship laws and subsequent opening therein. Films such as The Naked Bunyip, Stork, the Barry McKenzie and Alvin Purple series amongst others showcased not only the embracing of this newly won openness of sexuality, but also of “ocker” Australian culture. Unfortunately, for me at least, being born around this time and having these characters somewhat worshiped as “real Aussies” (having these satires endorsed as legit hero worship has always made me a bit sad) helped form my cultural cringe. Needless to say, this movement eventually received a backlash, mainly from the same political quarters that allowed the opening to begin with, thus helping to inspire a more “cultured” series of films which dealt with moments of Australian history without the need to throw in some boobs.

From the original “open” movement, and it’s classier big brother (which actually lasted for most of the same period that the entire Ozploitation movement was enjoying its golden time), there was an introduction of more ‘genre’ films – those of a more horror/thriller bent, mirroring the rise in the same sort of films in the US and UK. Drawing inspiration more from Wake In Fright than those mentioned above, these films showed that Australian directors could more than hold their own in genres that were exploding all over the place. To me, this is where the movement truly came of age, essentially opening with Long Weekend and giving us great film like Patrick, Road Games, Razorback, Harlequin and even the Mad Max series; not only that, I feel that this is the period that has been the most influential. The genre period drew, as these films often do, from all manner of sub-sploitation areas – cars, nuns, nature, psychic horror, teens; you name it, nothing was off limits. Hell, these directors even made no secret of the other directors whose styles they were emulating (let’s face it, that is something that has been going on since the beginning of film).

The final movement that is covered is straight out, balls to the wall action. Moving concurrently to the more genre-centric, this gave rise to such films as Stone, the above-mentioned Mad Max, The Man From Hong Kong, Mad Dog Morgan (the film that caused Dennis Hopper to be banned from Australia for nearly 3 decades) and Turkey Shoot, as well as lesser actioners like BMX Bandits and The Return of Captain Invincible. Showcasing the most insane, over the top stunt based films of the era, these films just show that most of the names involved had no fear and gave no heed to things like safety and human limitations. If anything, this section just proves what the previous two had said – that Australian cinema could do what the rest were doing just as good, if not better, because – quoting the film “we didn’t really know what we were doing, we just kind of leapt into it and tried to shoot the living crap out of it”. And that really sums up the whole era.

In addition to the various movements within the overall genre, there are also quasi profiles on some of the bigger names that helped push it forwards – Barry Humphries, Tony Ginnane, Brian Trenchard-Smith and Grant Page not only get their stories told, but in places get to tell their side of the stories, too. And, while this isn’t a film that goes into that much of the film making process, it does cover a bit, but it is more about the film makers journey; in this case, many film makers all pretty much on the same journey – doing what they think will be entertaining because they don’t know any better.

To me, when it comes to documentaries – the hallmark of a great documentary is: once you have seen it, you want to do it. And Not Quite Hollywood makes me want to make insane genre films.

(oh, and for the record, I have seen about 30 of the films mentioned in this thing)

1 comment:

  1. And what do we make of this gentleman of leisure?