Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ozploitation: Not Quite Hollywood

There was a time when scrappy Australian filmmakers churned out low budget films laden with sex, violence, projectile vomiting, and some occasional cruelty to animals—basically just good, clean Aussie fun. The 1970’s and early 1980’s were truly the golden era of Ozploitation, which finally gets its Chuck Workmanlike due in Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood (“red band” trailer here), opening this Friday in New York.

Hartley essentially divides his survey into four parts: soft-core skin flicks, gory horror films, kung fu and biker actioners, and Ozploitation’s tragic late 80’s descent into cheese, eventually followed by its recent retro Renaissance. Each part has plenty of guilty pleasures to offer, accompanied by insightful commentary by the responsible actors and filmmakers, plus fanboy Quentin Tarantino.

As one might expect, NQH contains plenty of scenes inappropriate for young viewers. Given his subject matter, Hartley takes advantage of the opportunity to show pretty much everything. However, he definitely makes an intriguing case for many of the genre’s high octane films. For instance, George Lazenby getting his one-and-done James Bond butt thoroughly kicked and then burnt to a crisp in Brian Trenchard-Smith’s The Man from Hong Kong just looks like all kinds of awesome. Conversely, many of the grade-Z films Tarantino rhapsodizes over look totally lame, yet the gleeful barrage of bizarre images make NQH relentlessly entertaining.

Serious film scholars can take something out of NQH as well. After all, prestigious filmmakers, like Fred Schepisi (director of Six Degrees of Separation) and John Seale (Academy Award winning cinematographer of The English Patient) started out in the Ozploitation trenches before moving on to proper cinema, but still have fond words for the genre. Indeed, Hartley seemed to have access to just about every surviving Ozploitation veteran, yet his funniest talking head segments come courtesy of a delightfully contrarian Australian writer perfectly willing to unequivocally state on camera that these films are complete rubbish and most of the filmmakers who made them are thoroughly rotten human beings. Let’s hear it for equal time.

Those mere mortals who do not know Hurricane Smith from Mad Dog Morgan might still be interested in the Hollywood stars who turn up to discuss their Ozploitation sojourns, including Jaime Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, and Dennis Hopper. The film’s only drawback is the omnipresence of Tarantino. Certainly, as the foremost Ozploitation lover, his participation makes sense, but after the first half-hour his pseudo-geeky hipster schtick grows tiresome.

NQH is a breezy, enjoyable documentary made with genuine affection for a class of films that have not gotten much critical love. It also has cool visual style inspired by its drive-in-grindhouse roots. Those who are easily offended should not even think about it. However, if your idea of a good time at the movies involves a giant razorback hog chasing teenagers across the outback, NQH will be your version of That’s Entertainment. Heartily recommended with that major caveat, NQH opens this Friday in New York at the Village East Cinema.