Doc of the Day: Not Quite Hollywood Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Not Quite Hollywood

Posted in Days of Docs by - January 27, 2012

In the 60’s and 70’s, there was a new wave of artistic innovation and cultural relevance in Australian cinema. Tasteful, thoughtful films were made. This documentary is not about those films.

Poster courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

Dir. Mark Hartley, 2008, 103 min

The most melancholy day of my life so far was the day that I realized I wasn’t going to live to see all the movies I wanted to. Every single day I learn about at least one film that makes me think “ooh, that sounds interesting!” and mentally file away its title for later reference. It is very likely that there are movies on my to-see list now that will remain unwatched by me forever. For a little cinema-loving freak like me, this is a very sobering thought. And that sadness compounds every time I discover an entire catalog of movies I was never even aware of before. That happened to me with this film.

But the melancholy only came on after the viewing, because Not Quite Hollywood is too much damn fun for one to feel bad while watching it. It’s a documentary about wild, lurid movies and movie-makers, and it has the gonzo attitude to match its subject. It’s a love letter to exploitation film: to swamp-bottom budgets, awkward non-actors, unintentional comedy, and the reckless pursuit of the most insane ideas and imagery possible.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, the previously nonexistent Australian film industry boomed into life. Movies such as Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Devil’s Playground, The Last Wave, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, and more all brought artistic credibility to the Aussie auteurs. But this was also the time of revolutions anti-war, sexual, drug, and more. There was electricity in the air and a hunger of the baser instincts. While Peter Weir and Fred Schepisi made intellectually provoking work, a different crop of filmmakers were all too happy to indulge the lower tastes.

Thus was born Ozsploitation. It was the age of the drive-in theater, when inexpensive productions easily lead to hefty profits. The R rating’s advent meant the censors could do nothing to stem the tide of sex and viscera. Domestic audiences ate it up, and a certain subset of foreign viewers were delighted to be able to walk into these films fresh, never knowing what insanity would blindside them. If gratuitous boob-displaying and/or ridiculous violence aren’t your thing, exploitation might not interest you (also, you are boring). Personally, I was cackling with glee throughout the picture. I find the sheer audacity of exploitation cinema absolutely riveting. Not Quite Hollywood features a nonstop cavalcade of baffling scenes and moments from these fearlessly weird movies. The grand majority of them I had never heard of before (Mad Max is likely the only title the casual viewer will recognize), a good deal of them I’d love to check out, and most of those I probably never will. *sigh*

Directors, producers, actors, stuntmen, movie critics, and fans of the form (including Quentin Tarantino!) are on hand to reminisce about this heyday of cheap, shameless cinema. Although “reminisce” is perhaps the wrong word. These people don’t so much recall these events as they do relive them the way a war veteran may experience a flashback. The regulations of working conditions back then were, shall we say, lax. Directors bribed women to show more skin. They staged car chases without permits, safety cordons, or the informing of citizens. They set stuntmen on fire with unnerving casualness and regularity. Seeing this fearless, anything-goes atmosphere, it’s easy to see how such brazen work was the result.

The doc is divided into three segments, based around the major genres of the movement: farce, horror, and hardcore action. Comedies such as The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and Alvin Purple flaunted incredibly crude humor and uninhibited nudity. Scary movies like Patrick and Razorback only matched their disturbed imaginations with their baffling lack of sense. Action films like Mad Max and Mad Dog Morgan demonstrated a bottomless capacity for the invention of harm to inflict upon the human body. The doc moves on a film-by-film basis, introducing a title and then giving you a behind-the-scenes look at it from the people who made it, as well as the reaction to and influence of each movie.

The odd thing is that, despite the rather low aspirations of the filmmakers, startling artistry often sprung up in these films. Even in the scant examples we get to see, there are many moments of stylistic originality and non-ironically interesting content. The New Wave arose as a response to the perceived lack of native identity in Australia. In seeking only to engage a culture of freewheeling ideals and love, these people made valid contributions to that identity. That’s part of why they can look back on all those zany exploits fondly.

A true education in film includes more than the “important” entries in the canon. You must also be willing to explore the strange, seedy underbelly of the art. If there’s a negative aspect to Not Quite Hollywood, it’s that it moves at such a breathless pace that you almost can’t absorb everything that it has to teach you. But hey, that’s all the more reason to give it another watch. It’s an uncommonly entertaining piece of education.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

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