Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Ozploitation



This post has been adapted from an original I wrote for another Blog.

I am reminded of the line from Danny in Withnail & I, "They're selling Hippy wigs in Woolworths man".

In 2008 ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) had a focus on Ozploitation and screened along with Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, films such as Razorback, Roadgames, and Dead End Drive-in. The film being a cultural satire on Australian attitudes and behavior especially as Barry Humphries puts it as "coming of age" culturally on the world stage. Now that we've "all grown up" we can explore these films in the same way that Jazz now can be found in swish bars where talking is not permitted and moderate drinks with no smoking is the key to enjoying an art form that was once fueled by the throngs of speakeasies.

I don't know whether to appreciate the homage by the high-brow or to wonder if they haven't spelled out the death of any revival in the same way that middle-glass bling-girl shops have advertised their latest "daring" fashion with Sex Pistols posters, the message made by Barry Humphries now lost as merely a definition of what an Australian exploitation film looks like.

Of course Barry McKenzie Holds His Own is ribald satire.

Wikipedia describes satire as: "human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, ideally with the intent to bring about improvement."

Not much has really changed since Barry McKenzie Holds His Own except we've refined certain policies on cultural representation (As has the rest of the world), but if you tune into local radio or follow our commercial television progress, or simply listen to what people have to say on social networking platforms - we are still very much slugging down Fosters like the virgin Bazza. We've learned to keep our mouths shut unless in the right company, and culturally we still await approval from mass media before we nod our heads or give a thumbs up.

One of the strongest effects of satire is that people can actually believe that the person creating the satire actually holds to the ideas behind it, and many people will isolate aspects of satire and take it personally depending on their own experiences in life. Perhaps this in part is the repulsion first felt by Australian audiences when they initially encountered the first Barry McKenzie film "The Adventures of Barry McKenzie". How successfully we've applied the "was and when" attitude in order to escape having to be re-offended.

Pride keeps us from following the path of creating contemporary satire in our own backyard, when by example of what great works have been produced using the form, it would make good sense to now explore using it as a tool for bringing about change in say, our ever wilting film industry.

Modern examples of satire include work done by Sacha Baron Cohen with Borat, Ricky Gervais with The Office, and John Cleese with Fawlty Towers. Examples of satirical films include ... The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin, This is Spinal Tap by Rob Reiner, Mash by Robert Altman, Dr Strangelove by Stanely Kubrick, and American Beauty by Sam Mendes.

So what exactly is Ozploitation? How can it be reinvented for these contemporary times?

Ozploitation falls under the unbrella of genre filmmaking and sometimes even self-references other genres through-out. Genre films are films that can easily be identified by their components. For instance horror films will have creatures of varying kinds, moody music, and very often gore. Action films will contain car chases, gun fights, brawls and usually have "good guys" and "bad guys". Crime and gangster films will have suits, packs of villains, big bosses, cars with tinted windows etc etc.

What exploitation films do is take these genres and bend them into subgenres so within horror we have the likes of vampire movies, cannibal movies, zombie movies, splatter movies. Within action films we have the likes of biker movies, spaghetti westerns (Also a subgenre of Westerns), and chambara films.

Exploitation films usually style their content with sensational violence, drug-use, sex, hot political or social topics, kink, bizarre characters, eccentric and often over-the-top dialogue and anything else not conventionally seen in mainstream commercial films. They also tend to be made on lower budgets although filmmakers like John Waters and Russ Meyers have made bigger budget films that still reflect an exploitation stylisation. So the word "exploit" is used because films of that milieu exploit the themes upon which they use in their narratives.

We've got the wrong end of the stick if we think that a couple of car chases and a gun or two makes an Ozploitation film. These components need to be exploited, yes to entertain but also to grab the public by the balls and shake them. It wont happen until filmmakers begin collectively rethinking what they are doing instead of just putting one foot in front of the other depending on which way the wind blows.

Reminding me of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy line as spoken by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz to the people of earth ...

"Apathetic bloody planet, I've no sympathy at all."

For a bit more information on Ozploitation, you can read the summary as written on the Grindhouse Database website.

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