Reviewed by Matthew Caron
Released by Magnolia Pictures
Just released to DVD this week is Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary examining Australia’s so-called Ozploitation flicks by director Mark Hartley. Not Quite Hollywood relates the story of filmmaking in Australia from its surprisingly late birth in the grindhouses and drive-ins at the tail end of the 1960s. Australia produced nothing at the beginning of that decade, but as international productions increasingly began to use the country as a location and employed local crews, creating a local industry in the process. Domestic films soon appeared in the form of soft-core nudie comedies like 1970’s The Naked Bunyip, whose makers used crude humor and lots of forbidden public hair to stir up controversy and publicity. (A bunyip, by the way, seems to be a kind of kangaroo-dragon hybrid with human breasts that is peculiar to Australia. It is too fucking weird to flourish anywhere else.) The ensuing ballyhoo moved the local censors to create an ‘R’ rating to prevent children from entering theaters showing The Naked Bunyip, with the unintended consequence of created a mainstream market for sexually explicit movies. The first Australian box office phenomenon to exploit the new ‘R’ rating would be the Barry McKenzie series of films, which follow the adventures of a gangly globetrotting simpleton on the prowl for sex. Not merely an international ladies man, Barry is also exceptionally prone to stepping in dog shit and projectile vomiting. It is with both pride and embarrassment that Barry McKenzie hurling from atop the Eiffel Tower is cited as an early milestone of Australian cinema.
Inevitably, some filmmakers bristled against this image of Australia as a nation of horny barfing yahoos and set to work making serious films. Among them was Peter Weir, whose 1975 Picnic At Hanging Rock was the first Australian film to earn international critical success. Meanwhile, many other directors began to focus on the lucrative horror genre. Films like Richard Franklin’s Patrick set into motion a wave of bloody thrillers, monster flicks and slashers which continues today as evidenced by contemporary cult hits like Wolf Creek and Rogue.
1974’s Mad Dog Morgan, a bloody period piece starring Dennis Hopper at his cocaine-addled looniest, ignited Australia’s grand tradition of action movies when it became the first Australian picture to achieve a big theatrical release in America. More than any other mode, the action movie is where Australian filmmakers really shine, due in no small part to a large pool of local stuntmen eager to risk life and limb for the sake of a great shot. Just as Hong Kong cinema made its way to the international marketplace on the backs of martial artists willing to break their necks for a great fight scene, Australian stuntmen propelled the local industry by driving flaming cars and motorcycles into walls and over cliffs, or else allowing themselves to be run down by these vehicles. All this motorized mayhem led to a uniquely Australian style of action-packed road movie took shape and began raking in money at the box office. As Quentin Tarantino puts it, they’re mostly about “marauding packs of bullies in cars they could never afford, roaming the highway looking for people to pick on, women to rape and guys to beat up.” Mel Gibson was pitted against these Australian road bullies to great effect in Mad Max.
Despite his status as a non-Australian, Quentin Tarantino is all over this movie, flailing his arms around like a crazy person and wearing a ski hat that somebody gave him for free. I admire him for knowing more about these films than even the people who made them, but I’ve seen Q.T. featured in about a half dozen cult cinema docs and he is always dressed for the night shift at 7-11. Dude needs a wife or assistant or something.
Tarantino’s stupid hat notwithstanding, this is as entertaining a documentary on the trials and joys of filmmaking as you’re likely to come across and the array of outlandish film clips on display is simply jaw-dropping. Hats off to director Mark Hartley for conveying the history of moviemaking in Australia and presenting its horniest, barfingest and explodingest efforts with such skill and affection. It must have been very dirty work.