Not Quite Hollywood (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros crack open a couple of tubes & check out Not Quite Hollywood
Australia—home of kangaroos, koala bears and high rates of skin cancer. It’s also a matter of record that the land of Oz long cemented its place in the history of cinema, producing one of the first ever feature-length movies to be filmed: The Story of the Kelly Gang. In the intervening years, cinematic ventures such as Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout presented the then-still-mysterious land Down-Under in a light that pleased the Australian tourist board…
…until this cosy and almost quaint depiction of Aussie culture was blown apart by the rise of movies that painted Australia in more realistic colours; these movies depicted sex and violence. They were crude, lewd, rude and outrageous and the Australian public couldn’t get enough of them. The Aussies began to prove that they were capable of making films that were able to be bawdy, exciting, entertaining, and above all, phenomenally successful.
To some, the thought of sitting through a documentary might be akin to grouting the bathroom tiles, but Not Quite Hollywood is something no self-respecting fan of genre movies (and film in general) needs to rocket up their ‘to do’ list. It takes a breakneck look at the wild and woolly world of Australian exploitation cinema, which exploded in the early seventies and dominated screens across the continent (and around the world) and for a while it looked as though things would never be the same again.
Starting with the fall of utterly draconian censorship (which made the BBFC at that time look almost liberal by comparison) which allowed for the birth of Australian exploitation cinema, it traces the early rising (and unexpected exportation) of Alvin Purple and Barry Mackenzie[i/] to the global success of [i]Mad Max. Using an inventive mix of new and archive interviews, clips, trailers, animation and a shot of laconic Aussie humour, we hear from those directly involved with the rise of populist Aussie cinema, including directors, cast members, producers and even stuntmen, writer/director Mark Hartley has managed to assemble interviewees on the subject than you could ever have imagined.
Once the strictest censors in the Western world had been overthrown, liberalism (in the British sense) began to thrive as a nearly non-existent industry began to produce groundbreaking films such as The Naked Bunyip, paving the way for lucrative looks at sex. Roaring down another lane on the highway to cinematic hell came biker-pic Stone, mercilessly beating the hell out of convention and almost single-handedly dragged the Aussie movie business onto the global stage, before the onset of tax-loss incentives produced rubbish which almost destroyed the thriving business for good.
Split into several sections, the first part of Not Quite Hollywood examines the movies that contained generous dollops (or should that be splats?) of sex and vulgarity. Up first for examination is John B Murray’s The Naked Bunyip, which caused a sensation when released in Australia, as it was a pseudo-documentary that contained some very frank nudity, mixed with comedy and starred Graeme Blundell (who would very shortly become a superstar) and Barry Humphries as Edna Everage (before having Damehood thrust upon her). For those of you wondering, the Bunyip is a mythical Australian creature that stands alongside other such nonexistent beings like the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness Monster or the intelligent Swampie…
The movie that really brought Australian cinema to the attention of the rest of the world was Bruce Beresford’s The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972); co-written with Barry Humphries, Bazza was the very definition of the ‘ocker’ Australian and the character had quite an impact upon how the rest of the world saw Australians—Humphries created the character to send up the beer-swilling, crude members of Australian society he despised, but much like Alf Garnett in the UK, the people he was sending up embraced the character and the joke was lost. Beresford and Humphries comment upon the making of the movie and the cultural impact it had, with the dry and erudite Humphries being as entertaining as ever.
Though we really weren’t taken with Barry Mackenzie (the character was too[/]i broad, and Barry Crocker repeatedly bellowing ‘don’t come the raw prawn’ irritated), it was great to see [i]Alvin Purple (1973) given well-deserved coverage in this documentary. The tale of the young man set upon by gorgeous women at every tune was a smash, reportedly paving the way for the filming of the UK’s Confessions films. With a wry smile, actor Graeme Blundell talks about the role and the disastrous effect upon his marriage, which wasn’t too good, as his wife was a feminist and didn’t exactly see the funny side of the bawdy antics of Mr Purple. It was nice to see that they managed to track down several cast members, the director, the cinematographer, the writer and the associate producer to talk about the movie. Although this movie kick-started the Australian film industry, British director Tim Burstall only put it into production when his arty Two Thousand Weeks died a death and his following sex comedy Stork was big business.
This segment also introduces notorious Australian (porno) producer John Lamond, who is interviewed in a strip-club with a shapely performing bumping and grinding away in the background. Lamond is one of those people who simply doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks about him and is happy to be cushioned from criticism by the large amounts of money that he has made. Lamond rattles off numerous amusing anecdotes and really is a fascinating interviewee.
As an addendum to the popularity of sex comedies, we get a quick look at how the Aussies went to Hollywood and tried to take on the ‘porno chic’ wave that was sweeping the US at the time (to the point where it almost became mainstream!) and the result was a pair of movies, Fantasm[i/] and [i]Fantasm Comes Again, both of which had appearances from the legendary/notorious John C Holmes—and, yes, you do get shots of his infamous appendage…
Not Quite Hollywood then moves into the horror/thriller section and casts an eye over several titles that stood out, including Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback (the one about the giant pig on the loose in the Outback) and Richard Franklin’s excellent Road Games, which had Jaime-Lee Curtis and Stacey Keach being terrorised as they truck across vast expanses of desert. Mulcahy, Curtis, Keach and Franklin are all interviewed (Franklin passed away before this documentary was released and is dedicated to him) and all speak positively about their experiences, even if the thorny issue of bringing in an American star to play the lead in an Aussie movie is also explored, with Jamie Lee Curtis speaking quite frankly on the subject.
Speaking of bringing in American stars, special mention is made of what happened when somebody had the bright idea of casting such a volatile actor as Dennis Hopper to play the lead role in Mad Dog Morgan, bringing with him more strife than they bargained for! The result was a catalogue of cocaine and alcohol-fuelled rages, narcotic-based disappearances and brushes with the law. Possibly to atone for his sins or just to set the record straight, an older and infinitely wiser Hopper appears onscreen to account for his actions, and to get him in front of the camera for the documentary is testament to the skills of director Hartley.
The main movie to be featured in the horror section is Patrick, which has developed a reputation as something of a minor classic over the years, and Susan Penhaligon and Richard Franklin speak about the movie, whilst Quentin Tarantino enthusiastically witters on in his usual fashion about how great the movie is and admits that the concept of comatose person showing brain activity by spitting ‘inspired’ him for Kill Bill. Clips are also shown from the Italian sequel-cum-rip-off, Patrick Viva Ancora (Patrick Still Lives), which shows the influence that the Australian film industry was starting to command—you know you’ve made it when Italy starts to copy your movies; it was the following year that Mad Max spawned a ridiculous amount of imitations, which is also touched upon in this documentary.
There are some impressive participants who appear on-camera for this documentary; the Mad Max section is particularly good, easily beating the pretty poor effort that MGM were able to muster a while back with their ‘special edition’ region one release of Mad Max on DVD. Astonishingly, there is also some brief behind-the-scenes footage of the filming of this landmark movie included in this documentary. Oh, and it was very cool to see the Goose himself, Steve Bisley, talking with such enthusiasm about the shooting of Mad Max. It’s also nice to see archive interview footage of producer Byron Kennedy, who passed away before the filming of the third movie in the series. The creators of the Saw movies appear and say how much the ending of Mad Max inspired them when it came to the climax of their movie—most exploitation fans didn’t need this explained to them…
The work of stuntman Grant Page comes under close scrutiny in one section, paying tribute to a man who almost single-handedly helped to shape the Aussie action movie by performing various stunts, to the point where he even starred in a couple of movies, Death Cheaters and Stunt Rock—Tarantino must have been inspired by this concept, as he ended up making a movie that starred an Antipodean stunt-person with no previous acting experience. There is footage of some of his stunts going awry, which really has you agog and you appreciate the man and his efforts even more.
The ambitious Man from Hong Kong— Enter The Dragon with tinnies, essentially—is extensively covered, with interviews from director Brian Trenchard-Smith, actors Roger Ward, Rebecca Gilling and George Lazenby. All are united in their intense dislike of Asian superstar Jimmy Wang Yu, who was a racist, a misogynist and a very odious individual in general—actor Roger Ward offered to beat the living shit out of the objectionable Wang Kerr, but was persuaded not to. Former Bond star Lazenby (who, according to one interviewee in this section, had effectively been blacklisted by the industry after walking out on the Bond franchise) recounts how an unfortunate mishap with some fire-retardant gel left him with a burnt hand and a determination never to be set on fire during a movie again. In any case, it might be that Wang Yu got off on the wrong foot with the crew from the outset, as the movie originally went into production under the title of The Yellow Peril.
The chronicles of Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot (a.k.a. Blood Camp Thatcher, Escape 2000, et al) makes for hilarious viewing, as cast and crew all willingly disclose sometimes astonishing titbits about the production of this movie that offended so many, from the slashing of the budget right before production was due to start, to the treatment of the cast during the shoot. Stories of live ammunition fired at actors, on-set accidents and a disgruntled cast are all uncovered here with surprising candour and actor Steve Railsback seems particularly bitter about the whole thing (though one certain person connected with the film casts doubt on how aware of anything Railsback was at the time…)
Not Quite Hollywood has interviews with several prominent Australian film critics to provide a more balanced perspective on the films featured—most of them are the very sort of prissy, bitchy venomous old queens that hate anything popular; most of them are obviously pissed off that not every movie released in the seventies and eighties was Picnic at Hanging Rock. Critic Bob Ellis is unintentionally hilarious, combining the subterranean grunts of Bud Spencer in later films with the demeanour of a man waiting two weeks for a really good crap. When mentioning a particular director or film he dislikes (which is most, by the way) he merely emits a rumbling sound as though the names physically hurt him. One certain producer relates a story of how the most vocal critic to be interviewed for this documentary, Philip Adams, walked out on a screening of Turkey Shoot about halfway through the film, saying that maybe he thought that ‘one of his sarcophaguses was being stolen’. Funny stuff!
In a bid to encourage film productions, the Australian government granted movie investors a tax break, known as the 10BA, which allowed investors to write off 150% of the money they put into a movie; this had the effect of anyone with a bit of money to chuck around wanted to sink it into movies, subsequently, more movies began to be produced and the result was that the quality began to suffer as investors were prepared to put money into any old crap just to get the tax write-off. This was the beginning of the end for the boom in Australian moviemaking.
The last great movie of the period was Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead End Drive In (1986), which was appropriately titled, as drive-ins were dying out both in Australia and the US, as were the kind of movies that had been playing in them. The same year, Paul Hogan unleashed Michael J ‘Crocodile’ Dundee on the world and along with certain ad campaign (‘come and say "g’day’), Australia began to be recognised for more upmarket things than cheap movies that featured tits, car-crashes and violence. To us, it doesn’t matter if it’s Vince Gill quoting AC/DC, Graeme Blundell’s arse going like a fiddler’s elbow or Hoges fleecing gullible tourists, we love ‘em all!
It was disappointing to see that The Return of Captain Invincible (which starred Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee) was lumped in with the above 10 BA movies and quickly brushed aside in a short montage of clips and a vaguely dismissive quip from director Philippe Mora. Granted, the movie was a mess, but it was one of the few Australian movies of the period that was actually seen outside of the country in the early eighties. Oh, the third instalment of the Alvin Purple series, Melvin: Son of Alvin (crassly retitled Foreplay in the UK) is only glimpsed briefly in a clip used to illustrate what a drive-in cinema looks like, and from the looks of it, they didn’t put much effort into restoring said snippet.
The interviewees are all engaging (apart from the aforementioned critics, most of whom have their heads firmly lodged in their arses) and are more than happy to speak about their experiences, good or bad. On a personal note, it’s surprising to see how many Prisoner Cell Block H cast members appear in front of the camera, including the gorgeous Christine Amor, who has barely aged a day in three decades. Speaking of the participants, special mention must go to burly cast member Roger Ward, who provides some highly amusing anecdotes about the movies he had worked on and comes across as a bloody good bloke. When this guy says he’s going to give the world back their heroes, you know he’s going to damn well do it! He is certainly one of our favourite interviews in the project, with Graeme Blundell, John-Michael ‘Outrageous!’ Howson and David Hannay fighting for a place at the top.
If we had to be brutal and criticise an element—if just to prove that we aren’t intimately involved with the director—it would have to be that some of the clips (mostly from said 10BA films) are taken out of context for enhance the movies’ point of view. The compilation of the weakest elements from Return of Captain Invincible is one thing, but what they did with Howling III: The Marsupials is rather damning. The film revolves around the shooting of a distinctly mediocre werewolf flick, and there is a screening of the ropey footage which showcases horrible overacting along with dreadful, cartoonish effects. This stuff is presented as though it is part of Howling III itself, ignoring the knowing humour which runs through it, just to further a point. There is no denying it is anything approaching a classic, but it was unjustly represented this time in Not Quite Hollywood.
The only other point is that given how Alvin Purple and Alvin Rides Again were such important films in bringing the industry to life, they really missed the opportunity to highlight how the belated sequel Melvin, Son of Alvin was symptomatic of the exploitation of a system was destroying Australian genre films. We have a soft spot for this underachieving movie, but Not Quite Hollywood shouldn’t have let the use of a successful property through the 10BA system go by without holding it up as an example.
Regardless of such very minor quibbles, Not Quite Hollywood is made by fans of Aussie cinema for fans of Aussie cinema and we certainly count ourselves as two such aficionados; having been brought up on such stuff, we were just glued to this enchantingly documentary from start to finish—it’s the kind of thing where you honestly wished it wouldn’t end. Director Hartley has turned what was an obsession into a labour of love and his infatuation with Down-Under crowd-pleasers is evident in every frame.
This movie has a made-for-DVD feel about it, but this is not meant in a negative way—the whole thing is very stylised, with colourful wipes and transitions that look fabulous and add to the sense of fun. What is remarkable is the level of love and care that the filmmakers were able to put into Not Quite Hollywood—going to the effort of locating the original negatives of the movies and grading them, so they all looked as fabulous as possible. It’s interesting to note that out of the one or two movies weren’t able to be sourced straight from the neg and Mad Max was one of them…
The real shame is that the restoration and grading done on the clips was done with so much care and love that they look better than any full release of the movies will ever do. This is a costly, time-consuming process which only a complete nut or a philanthropist with Alzheimer’s would do for an old movie with little potential of generating revenue, so enjoy the footage here, as it won’t look any better.
The sound-mix is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds lovely—there is background music playing through much of the interview footage and the audio on many of the clips from the action-orientated movies have been augmented to give them much more punch (no pun intended) than would have been heard ordinarily, with some pleasing amounts of bass being produced every time a car explodes or a fist connects sharply with someone’s face (not to mention every discontented grumble from Bob Ellis almost triggering the subwoofer). In fact, the volume had to be turned down a couple of notches—something rarely done and a tribute to the gutsy effort put into the track. It must be pointed out that the audio heard on the clips from Mad Max beat the living hell out of the sound-mix on the region one MGM disc…
Not Quite Hollywood doesn’t skimp upon the extras, either, with an impressive array of supplemental features for your viewing pleasure.
Audio Commentary: This is not a traditional example, as although it is a collection of interviews, some are screen-specific, recorded as they are watching the movie. Many of the ‘cast’ are back, and many recount things which didn’t make the final cut. Some relevant information is divulged, pieces of which almost changed certain context and motivation (see the above about Tim Burstall) and it allows for clarification. This is a joy to listen to, with Trenchard-Smith being one of the stand outs. As we discovered, the track is best listened to without the image, as it becomes disorientating to hear interviews as the voices fail to match up. A worthy listen.
Interview: Director Mark Hartley speaks at length about the making of this documentary, along with his thoughts on the genre and the efforts that he and his team went to in terms of tracking down the best copies of the movies featured and the lengths they went to in order to get interviewees; Hartley is a pretty engaging interviewee and it makes for a very pleasant and informative watch. There is footage which would be worth grafting onto an extended edition here, as the optimistic ending of Not Quite Hollywood is brought down to Earth by some depressing news from Hartley, reflecting on the events after its’ release. It is worth noting that Hartley stresses that all of the interviewees gave their time for nothing and were happy just to be interviewed about their experiences; Hartley also says that any conspicuous absences are down to certain people asking for too much money—two certain stars of the second Mad Max movie come to mind…
MIFF Ozsploitation Panel: This clocks in at just shy of twenty minutes and consists of some of footage taken from the Melbourne International Film Festival, at which several prominent contributors to Not Quite Hollywood appear on a panel to talk about their experiences in moviemaking. Although some of the anecdotes from the documentary are repeated here, this offers a little more background information on the history of censorship in Australia. Brian Trenchard-Smith and Roger Ward are two of the people on the panel, but executive producer of biker movie Stone, David Hannay, comes off best, as he explains how the real Hells Angels were paid in beer and marijuana and how he witnessed a guy getting scalped after bad-mouthing them. Good stuff!
Quentin Tarantino and Brian Trenchard-Smith: The enfant terrible of the 90s meets the bane of Aussie film critics and is slightly subdued when in the presence of the British-born director—QT still says ‘all right’ far too often, but it's a fun exchange of thoughts between two filmmakers. Trenchard-Smith presses Tarantino on the complete version of Kill Bill, who still insists that it's going to be released, but we'll believe it when we see it. Tarantino gets the last words in this thirteen minute documentary and guess what they are...?
Trailers: Presented here is the trailer for Not Quite Hollywood, along with a selection of previews of classic Aussie movies from the period the film covers; they consist of Patrick, Turkey Shoot, Long Weekend, Road Games and Dead Kids (or Strange Behaviour, to us). They’re all fun to watch, but the condition of them makes you appreciate just how much effort the people behind this gem of a movie went to in order to present the best-looking clips they could find.
Not Quite Hollywood seemingly ends on an optimistic note, interviewing young, upcoming filmmakers who are hopeful that a new wave of Australian exploitation movies are on the way; the people behind Wolf Creek and Storm Warning—as these interviews were recorded a while back, the movies they made have been released, but sadly it looks as though the new-wave is not forthcoming. Despite this slightly sour taste in the mouth, Not Quite Hollywood is simply wonderful—it’s witty, informative and makes you want to seek out many of the movies featured, which is the point of the exercise; there are many Aussie movies waiting to be embraced by a new generation of fans.
Watch this documentary—Mark Hartley, your blood’s worth bottling!
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 30th March 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Trailers, Audio Commentary, Interviews
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mark Hartley
Cast: Graeme Blundell, Steve Bisley, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Barry Humphries, Quentin Tarantino
Length: 99 minutes
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