This could rightly be considered only half a review, and thus uninformed, as I unfortunately got separated from the concluding reels of Mark Hartley’s new documentary Not Quite Hollywood about halfway through a screening. But the first detailed examination and celebration of wild Australian genre cinema from the 1970s and early ’80s has more than enough re-tilled salaciousness, wit and good-natured reminiscence — even in its first 45 minutes or so — to merit a look from cinephiles looking to expand their frame of bawdy reference.
In contrast to Stateside grindhouse flicks or same-era exploitation fare from Brazil and other South American countries, unabashedly commercial Australian films were often less compartmentalized than their international peers. “Down under,” movies of the Carter and early Reagan years — which were readily available in America on big city arthouse screens, as part of a wave of foreign cinema that was predicated on sales of the exotic, no matter the narrative specifics — were basically divided into just two camps: austere fare like Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Getting of Wisdom, My Brilliant Career and Breaker Morant and then… well, everything else.
In 1971, with the introduction of the R certificate, Australia’s censorship regime went from repressive to very liberal-minded virtually overnight. This fact, combined with the commercial mindset of many nascent Australian filmmakers who savvily created works that reflected the “wild Aussie” personalities and natural landscapes that they believed international audiences most of all wanted to see (and/or bagged on the British, a rival dating back to the country’s founding), helped usher in a wild and woolly period of anything-goes native cinema, full of abundant gore, nudity, gross-out gags and the like.
Hartley loads up his Not Quite Hollywood with clips of other movies, which contributes to a dizzying pace, but he also does a good job of tying together all the personalities on both sides of the camera, and highlighting both individual breakouts (Tim Burstall’s wild 1971 comedy Stork, say) and overall trends. Interviewees include Felicity director John Lamond, along with other members of the raincoat brigade (Barry Humphries in particular gets in some saucy asides), as well as more “legit” (or at least mainstream recognizable) figures like Oscar winner George Miller. Of course, because he’s such a film geek, Quentin Tarantino even pops up.
The overall snapshot that comes into focus is one of unashamedly gleeful creation and experimentation — of a young, artistic aristocracy plugged into a surging wave of social change, and just making cinematic hay while the sun was out. It’s a lesson that a lot of navel-gazing American independent filmmakers — mired in achingly sincere apings of Hollywood convention, designed to catapult them to “the big leagues” — could actually stand to take to heart. For the film’s trailer and more information, click here. (Magnet, R, 103 minutes)