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The 70s - 80s was an era of filmmaking in Australia that resonated with a movie revival – and a larrikin spirit, although some people thought the genre films of the times were rude, crude and without any real merit. But the filmmakers are having the last laugh now, as director Mark Hartley and some of the film’s subjects, Brian Trenchard Smith, Antony I. Ginnane and Alan Finney explain to Andrew L. Urban.

Action, horror, nudity, sex and bad taste, as seen in the cheap and cheerful genre films of the 70s and 80s, now labelled Ozploitation … the umbrella name for the maverick Aussie movies ranging from Barry McKenzie to Mad Max, from Long Weekend to Turkey Shoot, from Alvin Purple to Stone … that’s the subject matter of Mark Hartley’s film Not Quite Hollywood. It’s like an expose of Ozploitation films, and even before its commercial release (August 28, 2008) the film had triggered enough interest in the genre films of the 70s and 80s to generate some new DVD releases. Brian Trenchard Smith, one of the subjects of the film, was busy recording commentary tracks for Death Cheater and Danger Freaks (both 1976) while he was in Australia for the Melbourne and Brisbane film festival screenings.

"full of raucous laughs"

Also getting a DVD release is Stunt Rock (1978), which had a one-week season in Melbourne but has since become a cult hit in the US, and Brian’s bigger budget The Man from Hong Kong (1975) starring George Lazenby, is getting a re-release in the correct aspect ratio (2.35:1). “Considering it was shot by a future Oscar winner, Russell Boyd, and the second unit cinematographer was also a future Oscar winner, John Seale, it deserves to be seen as it was intended,” says Brian. He describes The Man from Hong Kong as “live action Tom & Jerry”.

“Not Quite Hollywood has prompted a lot of interest in these films – and not just mine,” he says. “It’s an incredible piece of work; it’s both a minutely detailed piece of scholarship but it’s also full of raucous laughs. It’s a great overview of those films that came after the end of the Menzies era of repression,” says Brian. “I was really impressed by the film … and it was very kind to me, so that’s not hard to take, is it?” No, nor the fact that Quentin Tarantino delivers an energetic and enthusiastic endorsement for the whole movement.

“There’s something of a sense of rediscovery of these films now,” says director Mark Hartley, “and I am often asked when will these films be available on DVD; of course many of them are, but they haven’t been very visible. I think Not Quite Hollywood provides an opportunity . . . in that people perceive that these films may have some, perhaps limited, cultural value.”

[NOTE: Sydney’s Chauvel cinema in Paddington is presenting a special program of seven Ozploitation films from September 3. See at right for details.]

Harley was surprised how widely many of these films have been seen overseas. “Talking to potential buyers from Japan or Germany I’d be asked knowledgably about some of the films of the era. Some of these people remember missing school to catch them on their release!”

He was also “amazed how so many critics slagged them off for not being really Australian, yet people like Tarantino recognised them as distinctly Australian – even those where they might have been trying to blur the film’s national origins …”

It was back in 1999 that Mark Hartley contacted Brian Trenchard Smith, “having discovered that so many of these films had been effectively buried. He was passionate about bringing them out of the closet and I offered any support I could; I write various letters supporting the project for funding, and when it came to one last hurdle, I picked up the phone and rang the FFC to put some pressure on … I don’t know if that helped, but the project did finally get the FFC greenlight.”

"this is the right time"

But all that was years ago, yet Brian feels that the delays in getting the film into the public domain has been helpful. “I really think this is the right time … I don’t think the public were ready for it a few years back. It’ll be an eye opener – for the whole world, I would think.”

Brian has continued to make genre films and is even making webisodes like the 11 minute Fusion, which he shot just prior to his Australian trip (he’s now based in Los Angeles), which he describes as “another one of my genre cocktails; this is a sci fi police procedural.”

Australian filmmakers should be asking themselves what kind of films they should be making now, says Brian. “There are massive changes taking place in the marketplace, and while it has to be acknowledged that the powers that be who were running things at the FFC in the 90s helped kill finance for genre films, we have to look forward. And Not Quite Hollywood is a great springboard for such a debate. There’s plenty of room for movies that hook into hot social issues. Let’s weld the theatre of ideas into fast paced action thrillers.”

Not everyone has a positive view about the genre films of the 70s and 80s as depicted in Mark Hartley’s film. He interviews writer and filmmaker Bob Ellis, for example, who sneers at the films and the filmmakers with an abiding hatred. “I did think initially that Bob was engaging in a bit of self parody as a toxic curmudgeon,” says Brian. “I haven’t seen Bob for years and I just hope he isn’t the person portrayed in the film, for the sake of his soul! It’s like meeting The Host (Korean horror film character). But,” adds Brian laughing, “he’s entitled to his opinions.”

Meanwhile another Ozploitation filmmaker, Russell Mulcahy, best known for the Highlander movies and the miniseries On The Beach, is returning from Los Angeles this month, with plans to shoot two $30 million horror films. First will be Bait, which will be shot at the Warner Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast. Jesse Spencer, from Neighbours and House, is expected to play a role.

Mulcahy then plans to shoot Martin Gregory, starring the Oscar-winner Adrien Brody, in Sydney and the rainforest around Cairns. Speaking from Los Angeles, to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Garry Maddox, Mulcahy described Martin Gregory as an epic film with similarities to Highlander.

Another subject of Not Quite Hollywood, Antony I. Ginnane, says his initial reaction was a bit strange. “It is the first time I’ve seen myself in a film that presents critical debate and dialogue of ‘good guy, bad guy’, to put it simplistically. But that was just a first response. I am pleasantly surprised to realise that some of the things that were important to us or we had to fight for are now resolved. Like having a foreign actor in the cast, and a resurgence of interest in – and an acceptance of – genre films.

“Also, I am impressed by the level of scholarship and money that went into the film. It is certainly going to be the sole representation of that time in Australian cinema, and it’s a fair picture.”

"a great sense of fun"

In particular, Tony points to the famous or infamous Section 10BA tax driven era of film financing. “The 10BA scheme has only seriously been examined by David Stratton’s book, The Avocado Plantation, which is therefore seen as gospel. I’m hoping that by virtue of Not Quite Hollywood, there will be a different text to reference.”

Indeed, Tony believes the film will grow in importance as a reference. But he does have one regret about the passing of time. “My only sadness is that the trust and the relationship between Australian audiences and Australian cinema has been lost.”

He is also rather upset at what he sees as “a swing back to the right in Australia … it’s not as liberal a Government as had been hoped. I wish we had Don Chipp back ….” On the other hand, Not Quite Hollywood – a collage of material from films many of which are rated R – is now rated MA, an irony not lost on Hartley.

Alan Finney, one of the prominent filmmakers of the era, reflects on the glories of a time when “anything was possible. We didn’t then and we still don’t now really see them as exploitation films. We saw ourselves as doing something in total contrast to the establishment or mainstream. We were coming out of a very repressed period. We weren’t subversive, though; we were just different. Like that doco we got Brian Trenchard Smith to direct about venereal disease, The Love Disease - it was all done with an openness and a great sense of fun – and audiences responded to that.”

"to capture that larrikin Australian energy"

Hartley agrees. “Some of these films are plain escapism, some are good genre films and some are not. I wanted to capture that larrikin Australian energy I saw in them. They were made for audiences.”

Published August 28, 2008

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Dame Edna & Bazza McKenzie

Doing it for Alvin

Chauvel cinema, Sydney Ozploitation program:
PATRICK (1978) – 6:30pm Wednesday 3 September

DEAD-END DRIVE IN (1986) - 6:30pm Friday 5 September

TURKEY SHOOT (1982) – 6.30pm Wednesday 10 September

LONG WEEKEND (1978) – 6.30pm Friday 12 September (Brand new 35mm print!)

ROAD GAMES (1981) – 6.30pm Wednesday 17 September

STONE (1974) – 6.30pm Friday 19 September (Session presented by director Sandy Harbutt!)

RAZORBACK (1984) – 6.30pm Wednesday 24 September

Tickets available in person from the Chauvel box office (Cnr Oxford St & Oatley Rd, Paddington)
or online

Adult $14, Concession $12, Senior/Pensioner $9.00
Season Pass (all films) $70.00

Antony I. Ginnane - then... and

Antony I. Ginnane - now

Nicole Kidman in BMX Bandits

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