Friday, 15 August 2008

Not Quite Hollywood

A review by my very good friend James Jackson, second hand dealer in broken dreams, guru in cyclic behavior patterns, master in the fine art of retaliation. The man who once proclaimed "I'll never get selected for a cab ride from Dawson Street at 1am", coordinator of many fallen aristocrats, "Can these Royals revive, and if so, how so?" is his quintessential essay that has been published in 14 and a half different languages. Let the man speak, and shall I so.

"Attention scarf-wearers, ACMI-hangers, indie-film ideologues and Australian cinema haters, here is more about the history of our motion picture industry for you to monster. Just take a seat in your natural habitat of St Kilda and check out Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood as I did recently. Were you aware, as you strolled the aisles of Video Busters Collingwood laughing as carefree as a tampon, at the various crap and therefore apparently funny low budget genre pictures on display that some of these were made right here in Australia? Like, no, dude, we only make shit films like Malcolm and Crocodile Dundee which I’d never, like, watch because my lecturer said they were like totally commercial. Not half as commercial as the likes of The ABC of Love and Sex: Australia Style (1978) (no relation to Aunty) and Turkey Shoot (1982). These films are part of a genre now referred to as ÓZploitation so we no longer have to call them “fucking awesome Aussie films” and many people have taken them very seriously for quite some time. One of those people is the man who was dubbed “Quinto” in an interview with Triple M’s The Cage a few years back. That’s right: Quentin Tarantino.

Now I have got your attention … Quinto features heavily in Not Quite Hollywood for good reason because once again, regardless of your feelings about his work, as you watch him pontificate there is no doubt he knows his movies. Also, he is the only person I have ever heard speak who shares my level of enthusiasm for Turkey Shoot. This is a typical example of an OZploitation film – it is low-budget, independent, full of violence, sex and gore and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. In a dystopian, totalitarian vision of 1995 where the safari suit has survived and Stussy probably never existed, dissidents are sent to re-education camps. Once there they become part of the archetypal upper classes hunting the lower classes for sport narrative. Also, Australian wrestling legend Steve Rackman (Donk from Crocodile Dundee) plays a sub-human monster and one character is literally vitamised by a machine gun (probably not far from the truth if you believe Randall Jarrell’s excellent poem Death of the Ball Turret Gunner).

Many have seen cause to laugh at Turkey Shoot. Call me a wowser but I can see nothing funny about it. As Trenchard-Smith mentions in his director’s commentary on the DVD, the film was supposed to have more elements of social commentary but due to budget restrictions it ended up seeming more like pure exploitation. Not to me. After all, in Ben Pimlott’s introduction to the1987 edition of 1984 he reminds us that “others” have explained the book as nothing more than “a feverish tubercular hallucination” and “a lampoon of prep-school life”. In its brutality and ability to greedily slurp the audience into a terrifying existential vacuum, Turkey Shoot rates well alongside the sacred cow Apocalypse Now and other such Raging Bull.

Speaking of Dennis Hopper, he also features in Not Quite Hollywood because he made the trip out to our distant shores to star in the title role of Mad Dog Morgan (1976). Once here he proceeded to be a complete fuckwit for the duration of the shoot. Ask anyone if they have ever heard of this film and if they were aware Dennis Hopper was in it and see what happens. Ask any film student and they will look at you as if you were trying to engage them in a discussion about Woyzeck (1979 and/or 1994). So, Philippe Mora, I hope it was worth it, although I suspect, as is the case any time an Australian production hires an American star, it was not. Still, it can’t have been as bad as Mick Jagger in Ned Kelly (1970).

Not Quite Hollywood has come along at the right time, when we are beginning to mythologize the glory days of the Australian film industry and the 10BA tax break. The likes of which, wide-eyed Labor true believers, I can assure you, will never be seen again. Barry Humphries was, as usual, in the vanguard of this heightened cultural consciousness with his Flashbacks series which gave mention to what has come to be known as the OZploitation movement. But there have been many other celebrations of this “recent” genre, including the documentary concerning the 30th anniversary of Stone (1974) and the excellent postmodern Mad Max documentary Welcome to Wherever You Are (2001?). Nonetheless, for a general overview of the movement, Not Quite Hollywood should be anyone’s first point of reference.

Those seemingly perpetual pre-pubescent creators of Saw get to have their say but don’t let that put you off. They explain how they were influenced by Mad Max. Fortunately Hartley shows the footage (no pun intended) of Max offering Johnny the Boy the hacksaw then plays the hacksaw footage from Saw. If those dudes were a band they would be Wolfmother. And while much of Quinto’s work is little more than a medley of very cool scenes from films his audience has never seen he is at least honest. Quinto does not claim to be influenced by something when he has merely lifted elements straight from a previous film which he discusses in Not Quite Hollywood in relation to Patrick (1978).

So for the purposes of housekeeping Not Quite Hollywood is a highly informative documentary and an important addition to a small body of work concerning a part of the Australian film industry most have no idea ever existed. For anyone interested in the history of our motion picture industry it is essential viewing. But I would encourage you also to consider the nature of “exploitation films” and whether perhaps that term is being used far too liberally these days (I mean by you, scarf-wearers). True exploitation films are of the type actor/director/producer Bob Wyatt told me I should make if I wanted to earn a quick buck. Get a van, a camera, and a girl who is willing to take her top off then drive around, stopping only for her to flash unsuspecting pedestrians while you film their reactions. Take your masterpiece to festivals where international distributors will buy it just so they own the rights in case it turns out to be another Girls and Guns, makes a million dollars and undercuts their profits. My father met this guy in a gas station in Santa Monica so he had to know what he was talking about. But as you watch Not Quite Hollywood ask yourself how many of the films mentioned are truly exploitation and how many are unique cinematic vision realised with a small budget but a big heart."

James Jackson below "I'm not quite ready for my close-up ... I'm not quite James Jackson yet".

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