Not Quite Hollywood

English Title: Not Quite Hollywood

Country of Origin: Australia

Director: Mark Hartley

Producer(s): Craig Griffin, Michael Lynch

Screenplay: Mark Hartley

Cinematographer: Kurt von Moller

Editor: Jamie Blanks, Mark Hartley, Sarah Edwards

Runtime: 98 minutes

Genre: Documentary/Ozploitation

Language: English

Starring/Cast: Phillip Adams, Quentin Tarantino, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Bob Ellis, Richard Franklin, Anthony I Ginnane

Year: 2008

Volume: Australasian

Through interviews with film-makers, actors, cultural commentators and a significant international fan – Quentin Tarantino – and a mountain of clips, Mark Hartley’s feature length documentary celebrates Australian genre cinema from the 1970s and 1980s.  The film is divided into three sections, showcasing different genres, directors and producers, all united by their marginal status in mainstream histories of Australian cinema. In rough chronological order, the film opens with a section entitled ‘Ockers, Knockers, Pubes and Tubes’ that concentrates on the ocker comedies beginning with Stork (Tim Burstall, 1971) and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (Bruce Beresford, 1972), and the various sex documentaries and pseudo documentaries (for example, The Naked Bunyip, John B Murray 1970; Fantasm, Richard Franklin [as Richard Bruce], 1976; The ABC of Love and Sex, John Lamond 1978) that made the most of the new freedoms afforded by the relaxation of censorship regulations in the early 1970s. The second section, ‘Comatose Killers and Outback Chillers’, focuses on the thrillers and horror films that made the names of film-makers like screenwriter Everett De Roche (Patrick, Richard Franklin, 1978, and Long Weekend, Colin Eggleston, 1978), director Terry Bourke (Night of Fear, 1972; Inn of the Damned, 1975), and producer Antony I Ginnane (Snapshot, Simon Wincer, 1979; Thirst, Rod Hardy, 1979; Harlequin, Simon Wincer, 1980). The final section, ‘High Octane Disasters and Kung Fu Masters’, features the action cinema of Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man from Hong Kong, 1975; Stunt Rock, 1978; Dead End Drive-In, 1986) and the stunt- and car-chase-driven films that showcased the talents of some of the real unsung heroes of Australian cinema, Grant Page, Peter Armstrong, Guy Norris and their stunt teams.

Not Quite Hollywood might just as accurately have been titled Not Quite Australian Cinema. The film begins from the premise that the films it covers have been unduly overlooked by critics, historians and scholars of the Australian cinema, often despite enormous box office success. Much of the blame for the marginalization of these films is placed at the feet of former Sydney Film Festival director and long-time film critic for The Australian newspaper, David Stratton, well-known to Australian audiences as one half of the ‘David and Margaret’ couple who have dominated film reviewing on Australian television for many years.  Stratton’s books on the Australian film revival, The Last New Wave (1980) and The Avocado Plantation (1990), are said to have set the tone for later writers by reviling or simply ignoring many of the films produced in Australia in the 1970s and 1980s in favour of a canon of films and directors deemed more culturally and artistically worthy. Perhaps predictably, Not Quite Hollywood swings the other way. The back-slapping, anecdotal, revisionist history told through the many interviews with key figures from the time is only occasionally interrupted by Bob Ellis and Phillip Adams, who are only slightly uncomfortably cast as defenders of the mainstream views. The interviews and clips from the films are interspersed with the fan-boy enthusiasms of Quentin Tarantino, whose geek-chic profile and encyclopaedic knowledge of exploitation and genre cinema are milked to the full. In sharp contrast, Ellis’s scorn for these film-makers and their films is total, but it is his withering and slanderous assessments of the characters, talents and practices of producers like Antony I Ginnane and John Lamond that leavens this sometimes stodgy stew of self-congratulation.

Director Mark Hartley gained access to many of his leading players through his work researching and filming extras for the DVD releases of many of the films that are the subject of Not Quite Hollywood.  The list of interviewees is impressive, although Tarantino is permitted way too much screen time at the expense of those who were actually there.  The cult director’s presence appears to have been geared to marketing the documentary, first to investors and subsequently to audiences within and outside Australia, although, given that many of the films celebrated here owe their notoriety to spectacular and opportunistic marketing, perhaps this should be considered a laudable decision.
The film’s colourful, fast-moving style mirrors its subject matter. The many scurrilous, surprising and shocking ‘war stories’ that comprise the best of the interview grabs are entertaining and informative, while some of the most impressive parts of the film are the titles and original, animated montage sequences that pepper the film. The frenetic editing of sequences from the films blurs together explosions, car crashes, fist fights, dodgy monster animals, naked bodies and fiery stunts into a visceral spectacle that never allows the viewer to think too deeply about what they are seeing.  Although this is true to the credo of the exploitation style, it means that the film largely misses an opportunity to engage the films’ critics on their own terms by fully demonstrating the skill, artistry and hard work that made these films possible. The main exception is in the last section, in which the work of stuntmen like Grant Page, and the risks that many actors and crew were prepared to take in an era before occupational health and safety guidelines, clearly show the craft, commitment and labour involved in producing spectacular, commercial, genre cinema. Ultimately, the film endorses Tarantino’s view – if you do not like this kind of stuff, get out of the cinema – rather than make a case to convince the doubters, many of whom still occupy powerful positions in the Australian film industry, that these films deserve to be rehabilitated.

Author of this review: Ben Goldsmith