Sunday, 19 February 2012

Ozploitation: the remakes never made.



The renewed interest in Ozploitation was a failed revolution in Australia. In 2008 there was a reprise of this genre by inquisitorial standards only - apathy once again has reigned in sleepy down under. There was a "focus" on the genre of Ozploitation, there was much ado by local filmmakers, all celebrating a renewed interest in reviving this "Golden Age" (Whop whop whop) of Australian filmmaking. Did it happen. No. It farted silently out of the media, out of sight and out of mind. A pity really, because the stronger advocates like Wolstencroft seemed really keen on it being a catalyst for some fresh creativity. Instead amateur filmmakers got Gervais disease, and began making a series of pseudo mocko comedy/dramas in the hope that one day, they too might be able to rocket to success and host the Golden Globes.

There were one or two mildly flavoursome genre films heralded to be the next big wave, but were the public all that interested? Not really. Is it true that The Tunnel, speculated to be a remarkable hit with its $135, 000 budget only grossed a pathetic $1, 532? Is this true? However Red Dog, the story of ... well a dog ... topped billing, being the first film in twenty years to gross over twenty million, without the help of a Hollywood hand-up. So, in essence Lassie did indeed come home for the Australian film industry - amazing that a canine can seemingly do better. No wonder Wilfred faired so well. Australian filmmakers, get on your Fat Cat suits. Even so, it would be about time then, keeping in the spirit of claiming New Zealand talent, that perhaps a Footrot Flats remake was in order. I mean even the title, 'Red Dog' sort of wreaks of a difficulty in coming up with basic descriptives. It's almost remedial cinema for the under ten.

In 2008 ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) had the focus on Ozploitation and screened along with Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, films such as Razorback, Roadgames, and Dead End Drive-in. The film, Barry McKenzie being a cultural satire on Australian attitudes and behavior especially as Barry Humphries puts it as 'coming of age culturally on the world stage'. Wikipedia describes satire as: "human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, ideally with the intent to bring about improvement."

Was there improvement? Australian filmmakers would have been better off mocking their kitchen sink dramas, there iconic histrionics. However, it is hard pitching original ideas, these days the investors and cast/crew called to projects want to know what your project is like. If you can't explain to them in less then thirty words, and relate it to something they've seen before, they get cold feet.

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. This makes it a true art form when it comes to the writing process. I'm adverse to putting added pressure on writers, but it really takes a writer to see the would in the way that they write, and perhaps a thorough analysis of comparing themselves to others would sufficiently compare their writing in the script 'market place'.

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

So, it would have been delightful, over the five years to have seen a gust of great original cinema blossom through the focus on form and content from an exceptional period of Australian filmmaking, but it has been five years since that was the case, and I'm afraid, another decade will pass without a blip of the inventiveness needed to recreate the renaissance so lovingly looked back upon.

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