TURKEY SHOOT: PRODUCER SHOOTS BACK
At the Sydney premiere of Kill Bill the other day, Quentin Tarantino dedicated his film to the gory, Australian-made ‘humans-as-prey’, Turkey Shoot (1981). Critically savaged generally, even some of the cast rubbish it on the just released DVD, while our critic Richard Kuipers says “It is impossible to defend Turkey Shoot, therefore it is essential viewing,” and adds: “..the guiltiest pleasure in Australian film history.” The film’s producer, Antony I. Ginnane, shoots back at the critics (and the cast) - with both barrels.
I had to read Richard Kuiper’s review of my 1981 production “Turkey Shoot” several times to clarify whether his reaction was simply a retread of the largely negative reviews of the film that appeared when it was first theatrically released in Australia in October 1982, or whether he was attempting a re-evaluation. It would seem, a little of both.
Andrew Urban has invited me to comment on the review and I intend to do that but also, for the record, to clarify some historical inaccuracies and partisan points of view that occur in the director/cast commentary on both the Umbrella and Anchor Bay new DVD releases as well as in the interview featurette with director Brian Trenchard-Smith, also included on the DVDs. The commentary on the disc was recorded in Australia and I was in Los Angeles at the time and unable to participate.
" it is very easy to defend Turkey Shoot"
Firstly, the review itself. I think, contrary to Richard’s assertion, it is very easy to defend “Turkey Shoot”.
It was my intention, when electing to produce the film, to continue to widen the genres in which Australian filmmakers had previously ventured.
In a world imbued with the sensibilities of “Caddie”, “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “Storm Boy”, I held the view that Australian filmmakers could, and should, try their hand at thrillers (“Patrick”), horror (“Thirst”), fantasy (“Harlequin”) and action adventure (“Race to the Yankee Zephyr”).
With “Turkey Shoot” the idea was to take the savage, ultra violent horror sub-genre previously explored by Italian directors like Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi, with a nod to the cannibal and flesh themes that would subsequently be covered by Romero, Cronenberg and ultimately Easton-Ellis.
At the same time we wanted to overlay the proceedings with a post camp, post “Clockwork Orange” sense of black humour.
The funding mechanisms for Australian films during the 1970s had been via Federal and State government entities and, as only a passing review of the last 35 years of Australian cinema clearly indicates, that leads to ultra conservative content choices.
“Turkey Shoot” via funding from a newly listed public company (Filmco Limited) and with additional private funding raised via the 10B (not 10BA Richard, that came later) was immune to those pressures.
But, of course, as Mikita Brottman points out in “Meat is Murder!” (1997), when you break taboos the horror and disgust experienced by those observing the consequences, reinforces those basic taboos and that is certainly what happened with “Turkey Shoot”.
Reviewers in the popular press in the 1980s were generally either hack journalists slumming, or reconstructed Sight and Sound/Lindsay Anderson disciples who couldn’t see a value in taboo breaking violence and the presentation of the unfettered human being. If it’s okay to dismiss Peckinpah, Fuller and Nicholas Ray, what chance Brian Trenchard-Smith and Tony Ginnane?
Philip Adams, whose taste in cinema commentary ran to damming “Mad Max”, walked out of the AFI pre-selection screening of “Turkey Shoot” for the 1982 awards, publicly labelling the film a work of ‘unrivalled sadism and brutality’ and ‘pornographically violent’ – although he subsequently claimed in The Bulletin, he was merely heading to the bathroom.
Another goal we set for the film was financial success and like “Patrick” and “Harlequin” before it, the film achieved that objective. It was a huge drive-in and video success in Australia; a theatrical and video success in the United Kingdom; and played in cinemas in over 50 countries including the USA where it grossed over US$1.5 million (in 1983 dollars). To this day, only 19 other Australian films, theatrically released in the United States, have grossed over US$1 million.
"a favourite of tastemakers as diverse as Joe Bob Briggs and Quentin
It became a favourite of tastemakers as diverse as Joe Bob Briggs and Quentin Tarantino.
The recent wave of DVD reissues of the film now rolling out in the USA, Australia, UK and Germany has reignited a groundswell of interest both at the academic and fan level.
Today its subject matter is as timely as ever and in an Australia where right wing bureaucrats are again beating the censorship drums, it is a lesson to the timid current generation to continue to explore and break boundaries and to find a commercial formula in which to do so.
With regard to the factual errors and partisan opinions expressed by Brian and the cast:
1 - Yes, the budget was reduced very late in the pre-production process by A$700,000. Brian elected to stay on like ‘a good soldier’ as he says. Of course his logistical skills and ability to make the most of a tight budget was precisely why we hired him in the first place - and, of course, my admiration for his “The Man from Hong Kong”. But the material cut from the script (which essentially was a long preamble to the capturing of Steve Railsback and Olivia Hussey) is, in my view, more than adequately compensated for by the credits montage which sets the tone of the film’s future visually and economically. Certainly the film seems less dated because of its zippy opening than if there had been a more 1960s oriented preface.
2 - In the commentary, some of the cast, notably Lynda Stoner, trash the film. Lynda may now say that it’s a ‘puerile bunch of crap’ but in Scene (the weekly Melbourne TV Guide, September 11, 1982), she stated that critics had ‘misunderstood’ the film. “It is a black comedy essentially showing the way society is heading,” she said. Lynda’s engagement to Derryn Hinch terminated during the “Turkey Shoot” filming. Perhaps some Freudian transference is at work here? And, while Brian may have not endeared himself to Australian cultural bureaucrats as a result of directing “Turkey Shoot” he has nonetheless managed to assemble a diverse and creditable filmography over the years.
"push for a tolerant, plural and diverse film culture to flourish in
Ultimately one would hope that a new generation seeing “Turkey Shoot” for the first time, will push for a tolerant, plural and diverse film culture to flourish in Australia. The recent commercial fall-out from the unwanted concentration on domestic comedy in Australian cinema over the last 2 to 3 years, yet again demonstrates that only a broad based inclusive palette of content will ever free us from the intellectual censorship that inevitably stifles creativity.
(Ginnane has been involved in all aspects of the film industry for 30 years and has produced 54 feature films, MOWs and mini series: 20 as Producer and 34 as Executive Producer. He has offices in both his home town of Melbourne and Los Angeles, from where he runs his business.)
Published October 23, 2003
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Producer Antony I. Ginnane
Director Brian Trenchard-Smith
Reviewer Richard Kuipers