Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not Quite Hollywood - Review

While the rest of the world was discovering tony Australian arthouse fare like Peter Weir's The Last Wave and Bruce Beresford's Breaker Morant, a radically alternate cinema was being ground out for the Aussie masses. These other films reveled in nationalistic bad manners, sex, nudity, motorcycle gangs, nature gone berserk, kung-fu and car crashes. Essentially unknown to every Yank except Quentin Tarantino, this forgotten netherworld of 1970s/1980s OZploitation films is now the subject of Mark Hartley's rollicking new documentary Not Quite Hollywood.

At the dawn of the 1970s there wasn't even an Australian film industry to speak of. Then a sudden relaxation of censorship laws and an influx of government production money unleashed a 15-year flood of genre cheapies. Hartley partitions his overview of this delirious era into three chapters, starting with "Ockers, Knockers, Pubes and Tubes." These were satiric sex comedies featuring male and female frontal nudity flavored with a uniquely Australian crassness. Unsurprisingly, several of them starred the fictional Barry Humphries personages of Dame Edna Everage and Barry McKenzie. In the "Comatose Killers and Outback Chillers" segment we meet up with all manner of parapsychological and supernatural mayhem, from the catatonic telekinesis of Patrick to the 25-foot crocodile of Dark Age. Finally, "High Octane Disasters and Kung Fu Masters" includes the best known of these films outside Australia –the dystopian Mad Max series (and its not so well known "Mad Max-on-bicycles" cousin, BMX Bandits, starring a 15-year-old Nicole Kidman).

In keeping with the tenor of these films, Hartley's doc gallops by at a breakneck pace – to occasionally mind-numbing effect. Eye-popping graphics and more clips than you could hope for alternate with nearly 100 talking heads. Most of these are directors, producers, actors, film critics and stuntmen unfamiliar to U.S. audiences. There are a few recognizable faces though, and boy do they have some crazy tales to tell. Dennis Hopper recalls being so boozed and coked-up during the shoot of Mad Dog Morgan, he was pronounced legally dead. And ex-James Bond George Lazenby conveniently forgets punching out the director of The Man From Hong Kong after his blazing stunt jacket refused to come off.

The main interviewee and de facto tour guide of Not Quite Hollywood, however, is Quentin Tarantino – lots and lots of Quentin Tarantino. So much so that it might be a deal-breaker for full-on QT Haters. But with his extensive knowledge, outrageous pronouncements ("Aussies shoot cars with this fetishistic lens that just makes you want to jerk off") and rabid enthusiasm, his ample screen time is deserved. In fact, were it not for Tarantino, this film would probably never have been made. In a recent indieWIRE interview, Hartley revealed that the exhaustive Tarantino material was filmed before anything else and then used to pitch investors.

In that same indieWIRE piece, the director states that "If anyone leaves the theater keen to add a couple more titles to their Netflix queue – then I've done my job." Mission accomplished, I'd say. My own mailbox anxiously awaits the arrival 1986's Dead End Drive-In, in which society's miscreants are herded into a drive-in theater-turned-concentration camp and forced to eat junk food and watch B-movies. If that premise sounds more utopian than dystopian, you're gonna love this documentary. Not Quite Hollywood opens Friday, August 14 at Landmark's Lumiere Theater in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.

Here's the official trailer:

And here's an extensive YouTube playlist of Ozpolitation trailers: