Thursday, October 22, 2009

Video review: "Not Quite Hollywood"

I'd been dying to see this documentary about Australian exploitation films since I saw a preview for it on the Web last year. If it ever actually came to theaters in the U.S., I never knew about it. It recently came out on video, and I managed to catch it.

"Not Quite Hollywood" focuses on a very specific era of movies made in the 1970s and '80s. I call them exploitation flicks, although most of the Australian filmmakers and stars interviewed for the doc -- and there are dozens of them -- call them "genre pictures." I'm not really sure that's an accurate description, since these brash, fly-by-night movies took off from the American horror and action movies and really forged their own identity.

I mean, it wasn't until Aussies made movies about bikers roaming the countryside looking to pillage rape that anyone would've called that a genre.

Quentin Tarantino, who's a huge fan of these movies and offers extensive commentary (and helped secure financing for the documentary), perhaps said it best when he dubbed them "Ozploitation." That is, in fact, the movie's subtitle: "The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!"

Writer/director Mark Hartley is clearly a big fan of Ozploitation, and loads up with clips of dozens, if not hundreds of Aussie flicks. Many of them are replete with the gore, campy humor and unbridled nudity that were hallmarks of the movement.

But there's also some serious insight into these ultra low-budget flicks and their effect on Australian cinema.

Prior to the 1970s, there basically was no film industry Down Under. With the help of some government backing and the encouragement of some politicians, it finally got rolling. In the mid- to late 1970s, American audiences became aware of what was called the Australian New Wave, with high-profile prestige pictures like "Breaker Morant" and "Gallipoli."

But underneath these respectable films, there was a swirling, writhing mass of exploitation movies. Even some of the prestige guys, like Fred Schepisi, acknowledge that if it weren't for the commercial success of the Ozploitation movies, their films probably would never have been made.

Many of today's internationally-known filmmakers and stars came out of this movement, including Peter Weir, George Miller, Schepisi, Phillip Noyce, Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman (the star of a flick with the unmatched title of "BMX Bandits") and Sam Neill.

Perhaps the highest profile film to come out of the Ozploitation wave was 1979's "Mad Max," which made Gibson a star. It spawned the sequels "The Road Warrior" -- one of my all-time favorite films -- and "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." People perhaps don't realize what a low-budget affair the original movie was. The dialogue of Gibson and the rest of the cast was re-recorded with American actors for the U.S. release, because producers were afraid American audiences wouldn't understand the Aussie accents.

People who dislike movies with a lot of sex, blood and violence probably wouldn't enjoy "Not Quite Hollywood," but I quite liked it. Though I admit I was not familiar with most of the movies, this only gives me an excuse to go rent them and discover more of Ozploitation for myself.

3 stars

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