It's perhaps a cliché, but making a picture can be a labour of love for its maker, and it's certainly true of writer-director Mark Hartley. After years of knockbacks, Hartley finally got to make his movie, Not Quite Hollywood. Released to wide acclaim in 2008 by Madman, it won a swag of accolades and awards including best documentary at the AFIs and the Film Critics Circle of Australia.
The roots of the movie reach back to his teen years. As a school kid, he'd seen on TV Australian genre pics like The Man from Hong Kong (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1975), Long Weekend (Colin Eggleston,1978) and Snapshot (Simon Wincer, 1979). Brash, violent, and weird, their bold audience-friendly plots, their aggressive style and punchy pacing were a long way from the cultural credentials of 'respectable' Australian cinema of the mid-70s like say, Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), Newsfront (Phillip Noyce, 1978) or Caddie (Don Crombie, 1976).
While still at Swinburne film school Hartley was compiling 'money-shots', full of 'laughs 'n' gasps' from his favourite Ozploitatation pics, to impress his friends and anyone else who'd listen, with the idea that there was a great, untold story in the work of local filmmakers who worked in genre; like Philippe Mora, who made an Aussie western with Dennis Hopper, Mad Dog Morgan (1976) and the late Richard Franklin who directed thrillers like Patrick (1978) and Roadgames (1981).
Later, once Hartley started shooting music videos in the '90s, crew members – many of them film veterans – would regale him with outrageous behind the scenes yarns about 'crazy' directors, and fearless stunts on pictures that were made here during the 80s… These were the days when the local industry was infiltrated with dodgy money, and filmmaking cowboys, thanks to the notorious 10BA tax scheme.
For a long time – over ten years in fact – Hartley listened, while many an industry player told him that no one would be interested in a documentary about obscure, disreputable B-grade (in some cases Z-grade) Australian films.
Fast and funny, it reduces 350 hours of raw material – over 100 interviews, with a stellar cast including George Miller, Oz genre fan Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Leigh Curtis, and stunt master Grant Page – and clips from 75 films – to a relentless 100 minutes.
Hartley (above) glosses the beginnings of the '70s Australian feature film revival – a flurry of filmmaking after decades of quiet – in the context of social upheaval; Vietnam, sexual liberation, the easing of censorship, the shake-up of old values…
The early pioneering work from filmmakers like Tim Burstall, Philip Adams, John B. Murray and foreigners, Michael Powell, Nic Roeg and Ted Kotcheff whirl by in a maelstrom of rapid cuts, archival material, newly minted digital animation, and choice sound bites, all under-scored with blasts of vintage rock. And that's just the first ten minutes.
The real story for Hartley lies in the way Australian genre and exploitation filmmakers attempted to connect with audiences; even if the funding body sneered at them, critics derided them and audiences (at home) ignored them – only to meet with major success (in some cases) in overseas markets in Asia and Europe.
Hartley, who is refreshingly unpretentious about his subject, his film and himself, says he never wanted to make documentaries. Not Quite Hollywood then, is a bit of an antidote to the self-important air that fills a lot of 'movies about movie makers and movie making'. "It was a film, in a way, for people who didn't like or didn't watch documentaries." For him, the film's aggressive style came out of finding a form to represent the candour of his subjects. "The filmmakers were really irreverent about it all, I was guided by that… I could ask them the most outrageous questions and they would answer them!"
Hartley begs off any hint of 'importance' and 'worthiness' about the film; it is like a cinematic 'party' – more a celebration, than a testimonial. Still, Hartley says he has been surprised by the film's impact, especially overseas. “I don't think the foreign critics realised the depth of the output," he says. "Most people had seen Mad Max and that was about the extent of it. The great [impact] the film has had was that it encouraged people to explore genre films and Australian films in general.”
Hartley says that as a direct result of Not Quite Hollywood, film festivals in France, Eastern Europe, the USA and at the ICA in London have mounted Ozploitation programs.
Even Not Quite Hollywood's style has had an impact on sub-genre of movies about movies; Hartley says he's seen promo trailers for films that cover American Grindhouse films and Euro crime thrillers: "And they're full of animation, multiple interviews and elaborate segue 'links'."
Right now Hartley is preparing a remake of Patrick and finishing a new documentary, Machete Maidens Unleashed, about the large clutch of genre movies – like monster flicks, kung-fu epics and prison movies made in the Philippines in the late 60s til the 90s. "The big attraction about shooting there was that it was cheap and there were no rules." Hartley says that one filmmaker summed up the no-holds barred atmosphere thus, "life is cheap and film stock is not." Hartley says that the new film features stories "even more insane" than those found in Not Quite Hollywood and will revisit Apocalypse Now, which was shot in the Philippines in 1976 (with new revelations about its making), and cover the making of Roger Corman's 'women in prison' flicks as well as home-grown genre films like the James Bond send-up For Y'ur Height Only, featuring the diminutive Weng Weng, an 83cm star!
Like Not Quite Hollywood, the new film features a stellar cast of filmmakers like Roger Corman, John Landis and Joe Dante. Hartley says that Not Quite Hollywood has developed bit of a cult with filmmakers, especially in the states: "In one case, one of the subjects – a top director – wouldn't do the interview until I agreed to buy him a copy of Not Quite Hollywood."
Ozploitation Cinema Picks:
(Richard Franklin, 1978)
Written by Everett de Roche, directed by Richard Franklin and produced by 'Australia's Roger Corman', Tony Ginnane (three of NQH's stars).
This is a psychic thriller about a comatose patient, Patrick who, like Sissy Spacek's Carrie, can move objects with his mind. When he develops a crush on his nurse all Hell breaks loose! Patrick has got a big spooky house for a hospital, and a fine set of Hitchcockian suspense set pieces. Its crazy and incredible but utterly convincing since the cast deliver their feverish performances in pitch perfect style.
(Colin Eggleston, 1978)
Spare and scary, this is lean and mean genre filmmaking at its finest. A bitter, bickering couple take off to the bush in an attempt to repair their failing marriage. Bitter and tortured, the couple carelessly trash the environment and nature decides to fight back! The late Colin Eggleston directs another excellent de Roche creenplay with masterly suspense movie technique, turning the everyday into a world of menace. Briony Behets and John Hargreaves are excellent as the couple and Vince Monton's photography, turning the bush into the equivilant of a gigantic 'haunted house' is memorably terrifying.
(Sandy Harbutt, 1974)
An undercover cop, Stone (Ken Shorter) infiltrates a bikie gang in order to discover who is knocking them off one by one… he finds a tribe of proud outlaws and a conspiracy!
Director Harbutt epitomises the “loose-cannon” spirit of '70s genre filmmaking in Australia (he formed a bikie gang and paid off his 'outlaw' extras with dope and beer!).
By turns gripping and silly, Stone is laced with counter-culture obsessions of the era – a suspicion of authority, an embrace of drug culture, a search for a better society… meanwhile heads are severed, bikes are trashed and fists fly.
Amongst the Easy Rider psychedelia and ropey acting Harbutt does deliver a strong undercover cop movie and a set of real for real stunts unrivalled in cinema… you won't soon forget the spectacle of a stuntie riding his bike off a 30m cliff into the Pacific full throttle!! There's even talk of a remake in the works...
Watch the full-length video of 'Not Quite Hollywood'
Watch excerpts of a Q&A with Mark Hartley and some of the film's key players
Watch an interview with stuntman Grant Page
Editor's Note: Portions of slideshow captions were sourced from "Not Quite Hollywood: The Official Collectors Handbook", written by Paul Harris and published by Madman Entertainment and City Films Worldwide.